So there is this museum in my adopted city. It is the most classic of classic museums. You know what I’m talking about?
Think grand marble steps, an impressively over-priced gift shop, exhibits filled with mediocre biology facts and a few cool Van Goh paintings, a busy lobby populated by a healthy mix of sophisticated people and people pretending to be sophisticated.
As a humanities major, I feel obliged to be familiar with the best attractions in Cardiff, particularly the museums. However, the dirty truth of the matter is that I hate museums. Really, I can’t stand them.
I tried countless times in high school to enjoy them and consistently came home feeling sick to my stomach (either from looking at too many naked Greeks or from standing behind a fur-coated woman wearing way too much perfume… sometimes both).
All of last year, I told myself I was going to go to the museum. All of last year I never did. So on a lazy rainy day last week I put my foot down and decided I was going to that museum and I was going to enjoy it.
Guess what folks? I had a major epiphany about art, life, and the way to enjoy a museum. I learned that while museums in themselves are not interesting to me, the museum experience can be delightful. In other words, if you don’t like going to museums maybe you aren’t going to museums in the right way.
Here are five steps I designed to help you make the most of your museum experience, even if you hate museums:
Step One: Dress for Success!
The first step to a successful trip to the museum is to get into fancy mode. Dress up a little (for me this meant covering my t-shirt up with the only non-thrifted coat that I own). Do your hair (for me, this meant putting my hair in a pony-tail, which is
basically the only hairstyle I know how to do). Maybe even put on some of that perfume you received as a birthday present two years ago!
Now that you look and smell sophisticated, pull out your most romantic umbrella and walk to the museum.
Step Two: Choose A Viewing Strategy
There are two main strategies to choose from:
- Walk through the museum as the struggling/starving artist looking for inspiration (you know, the one who only has enough money in the bank for one more cup of coffee and is saving it for the perfect moment in which coffee and genius will meet and produce within the masterpiece you’ve been struggling for since college).
- Walk through the museum as the rich woman who walks through art galleries because it is the only natural thing to do on a Monday afternoon.
I forgot to bring my worn journal with me (an essential prop for method #1), so I decided to opt for the second method and put on my best “I’m fancier than you” smile as a slowly meandered through the exhibits.
Guess what? I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Maybe it is cause I skipped the naked Greeks and was lucky enough not to get stuck behind a lady with dizzying layers of perfume.
Step Three: Be Willing To Learn Something
Seriously folks, in high school I reveled in the fact that I had/have no artistic talent or ability whatsoever. Any appreciation of art was limited to the my-goodness-how-is-that-even-humanely-possible-cause-I-could-never-do-something-like-that variety. While that is definitely a healthy feeling in small doses, walking through an entire museum and only appreciating art at that surficial a level gets dreary pretty fast.
I had to stay open to enjoy art in a new and hopefully slightly deeper way. I’ve been thinking about aesthetics a lot recently. I’ve been trying to incorporate ideas about aesthetics into my life (i.e. designing my room, simplifying my to-do list, and organizing my life, school, and the food on my plate in a visually appealing way). All this thought about aesthetics gave me a new way to look it paintings. Something about the Van Goh collection made my heart feel a little warmer:
The spacing, lighting, and use of color struck me as it never had before. I realized that I know nothing about art and/or art history, but a few paintings inspired me to want to learn more:
Then, of course, there was the portrait gallery. Imagine if you were rich enough to spend a gabijillion dollars on a commissioned portrait? How would you want to present yourself to the world? What background, body language, and props would you use? It is like a majorly amplified version of analyzing people’s facebook profile photos…?
I have an embarrassingly juvenile understanding of art, but by dropping my I-just-don’t-care-whatsoever attitude, I was able to appreciate it in my own way.
The contemporary art still jarred me pretty bad. I’m not on that level of art appreciation yet, but can’t you see I’m improving!?!?
Step Four: Don’t Forget The People
I am quite happy to have had a *major* epiphany about the glories of art, still, however, the best part of the museum was (as it always is for me) observing people observing art. Let me try that again… in non-creepy terms:
It isn’t just the Van Goh alone, it is the two high schoolers non-subtly prowling around the Van Goh looking for the best angle for an artsy profile picture of their own.
It isn’t just about the Vermeer, it is about the young couple holding hands as they gaze at the Vermeer, giggling about how they happen to have just the same sort of analysis of every painting they’ve seen so far! It was meant to be!
It isn’t just about the Polack, it is about the fancy old woman who can look at that painting and draw inspiration from it for the 1,000th time.
In other words, it isn’t just about the artifacts, it is about the way that we interact with the artifacts and use them to make sense of the world.
Step Five: Take time to reflect
Don’t let the observations, feelings, thoughts, and questions that undoubtedly ran through you as you observed the galleries go to waste! Sit down, if you have money enough, buy an over-priced black coffee in the cafe and let the inspiration whirl. If not, just sit on a bench for a minute and give yourself time to process. Note any major revelations or BFOs (blinding flash of the obvious) that you may have had.
And there you have it! How to enjoy a museum. All in all, I felt that it was a worthwhile use of 20 minutes of my Monday afternoon.