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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What NOT to Do in an Art Museum


Yesterday I began a series on some of the smaller art museums around the United States. Virtually every city has one or two. Most are showcases for local art history, or perhaps a single local artist of some renown, and most are relatively minor in importance (as well they should be). But just as important as which museum you should visit is what you should NOT do when you get there. Some of these "no-no" tips are not intended necessarily as hard and fast rules (though a few are) designed to take all the fun out of your dive into fine art. They are intended to enhance your visit, just as the rule, "Don't inhale the water," makes a visit to the public swimming pool much more enjoyable.
 
1.) Don't skip doing your homework. This rule applies to any public attraction you might visit, but it's especially applicable to art museums. Know what to expect, what not to miss, strengths, weaknesses, hours, ticket prices, and where to find the restrooms on each floor. Those are the bare minimum. Beyond that, dig into art styles, periods, content, artists, and media in which you are especially interested. Familiarize yourself with a map of the place. I've never visited an art museum yet in which I didn't get lost at some point.
 
2.) Don't rush. Very few art museums, even those in my series of smaller such institutions, can be adequately covered in less than two hours. Most suggest three to four hours, with the largest, such as the Met in New York, or the Getty in L.A., being all-day affairs. Of course, just as in the Bible, the length of the "day" is open to definition depending upon your age, attention span, and physical stamina.

3.) Don't go alone. That has little or nothing to do with your own personal safety, but everything to do with how much you're going to enjoy the experience. Even if your art interests different radically, each of you will learn from the other. Guys, all things considered, an art museum is a pretty cheap date. And if you already know something about art, or have done your homework as suggested earlier, it's a good way to impress your date. However, if you have romance in mind, don't forget that there probably more security cameras per square foot in an art museum than anywhere short of N.S.A.

4.) Don't EVER take preschool kids to an art museum. That may sound like heresy coming from an artists who has spent most of his life trying to broaden the knowledge and appeal of art to young people; but it's actually the voice of experience. Think about it. Even the brightest child will likely remember no more than ten percent of what he or she sees and hears at an art museum. Others might not even remember the experience at all. The key word in that advice is "preschool." Such kids have at attention span often measured in seconds, and an intellectual appetite for art lasting barely a half-hour. From that point they become rambunctious and difficult to manage. And believe me, in an art museum, as nowhere else, they MUST be managed. The result is that preschool kids in an art museum will ruin the art experience for everyone else in the group. It's simply not worth the effort given how little such children are apt to gain from trekking through an art museum. Moreover, most large cities have museums especially designed for children--by all mean, visit them often.

5.) Don't take a guided tour. This comes with some qualifiers--unless you have very limited time or very limited knowledge of art. I suppose I might qualify that a bit more by adding "unless you enjoy being herded about like cattle." None of those qualifiers apply to me, so I'm what you might call the independent sort, enjoying an "art high" simply not attainable apart from an art museum's polished hardwood floors and austere walls.

Resting Shepherd Boy, 1818,
John Gibson
6.) Don't forget to rest. Unless you have the physical stamina of a high school quarterback, two hours on your feet, moving from room to room, no matter how famous, how great, how interesting the art work, is more than most people can take comfortably. The key is to enjoy the art sitting down, even if it means finding a centralized seat in every gallery (or bringing your own as with a seated walker), then simply pivoting around to each wall for several minutes to contemplate its content. Many people like to choose a favorite work and just sit before it, drinking it in, so to speak. Staggering forth tiredly from room to room, hour after hour is dangerous in an art museum--you might bump into something valuable.

7.) Don't try to see it all. I suppose in some of the smaller museums, that might be physically possible, but the really big ones--forget it. You have to make choices. The oriental or the occidental? Ancient or contemporary? Folk art or conceptual? Portraits or landscapes? Of course none of those choices are necessarily exclusionary, but time and stamina are limitations that consistently have to be faced as one enters an art museum.

8.) Don't skip the gift shop. (as if you could). My own weakness in this regard is books, despite the fact they are heavy when packed away in luggage, and seldom read cover to cover once I get them home (I tend to use them as reference works). They're my way of taking a small part of the museum home with me when I leave. Also, as another tip, most art museum features picture postcards of their proudest holdings. In effect, they serve much the same purpose as unread books, and they're a hell of a lot lighter and cheaper.

9.) Don't ignore the security people. Ask questions. Anyone who is employed by the art museum is fair game, from the custodians on up. However you might be surprised at how knowledgeable the museum guards are as to the works they watch, not to mention how willing many of them are in displaying what they know. Obey them. Respect them. Talk to them. Their jobs may seem rather empty and boring, but you'd be surprised at some of the stories they tell--especially the older personnel--who are also likely to be more trusting and forthcoming with art information than younger individuals.

10. Don't expect to buy camera batteries. I don't think I've ever encountered an art museum gift shop which sells them. By the same token, I've yet to visit an art museum in which my little digital camera didn't run out of power. There are two solutions to this (1.) bring an extra set, or (2.) don't take pictures in the first place. Better yet some combination of the two. The urge to take pictures of what you see in an art museum (for me at least) is nearly overwhelming. Yet very, very, seldom do I come back with anything usable here or even worth keeping. Usually the lighting conditions, security shields, or placement on the wall are so bad you might get the idea museum curators deliberately plot to make amateur photography a futile endeavor. If you must take photos, limit yourself to the museum's sculpture holdings or the museum architecture itself (be sure to shoot the title labels for each item). And even when shooting sculpture, take as much notice of the background as the subject itself (avoid light sources or clutter--human or otherwise).

That's about it, ten things NOT to do at an art museum. Oh...one more, I almost forgot:

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Don't touch anything!





















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