How to Appreciate an Art Museum Like an Art Pro

Jun 15th, 2017

People love art museums - especially when traveling. There's something about going to a top notch museum and getting to experience a really well known piece of history. Despite this love, it's not uncommon for a trip to a world famous museum to turn into fighting the crowds just to see a tiny portrait of a lady with a weird smile. Let's face it, art museums can be large, intimidating, and a great reminder of how much stuff there is out there to "know" and remembering back to that art history class you took as a freshman in college is not always easy.

Visiting museums abroad and at home is one of our favorite things to do. We've come up with a few tips and tricks that help us keep perspective and really appreciate every art museum we visit.

Main alley of the Orsay Museum in Paris, France. By: Benh - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MuseeOrsay_20070324.jpg License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

1. Don't try to see everything. The Louvre, D'Orsay, Rijksmuseum, Art Institute in Chicago, etc, are all massive buildings with fantastically large collections. Our first, and most important rule, for art museums is that we don't have to see it all. Art is like a good bottle of scotch; you can drink it all once but you probably won't enjoy it. Art is best enjoyed a bit at a time. There are a few pieces at the Museum of Fine Art Houston that we adore which means we usually stop by those every time we visit. It also means that we tackle a different collection at the museum each time we visit.

2. Read the collection introductions: Generally speaking, the entrance to a specific collection or gallery has an introduction giving an overview. While it's tempting to walk past these descriptions, take the time to read them. They'll give you a good understanding of why certain paintings are displayed together, what's significant about their history, and a bit about the artist or artists.

3. Go straight to the museum gift store and buy a kids' book: There is almost always a collection of kids' books in the museum bookstore about the art in that specific museum. They're short, concise, and simple. When visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam we immediately purchased a kids' book on Rembrandt and the Dutch Masters which gave us plenty to look for while wandering the halls of the massive museum.

4. Browse the online collection before you go.  Granted, this can feel a bit like homework, but it never hurts to get online and look at the museum's permanent collection and then skimming the work's Wikipedia page. It's helpful to know some of the hidden symbolism or secrets of a particular artist or genre.

5. Listen to your heart. Elliott loves Monet. I recognize that Monet was very talented and his works are fantastically beautiful; but, I don't get excited about Monet the way Elliott does. When wandering the halls, find those few pieces or artists that really resonate with you, that catch your eye and cause you to linger just a bit longer than you thought you would. When you find those, take a look, walk around a bit more, then go back to the work and see how it hits you the second time. It's important to remember to find those pieces divorced from what the rest of the world thinks the best pieces are in the museum. For instance, I think the Mona Lisa is pretty boring. There are dozens of other paintings I'd rather look at; but that's just me. Art is very experiential. You'll enjoy your trip to the museum so much more if you enjoy, take in, and appreciate those pieces that invoke a response in you.

Traveling to check out a couple of museums? Be sure to grab an Oyster Kit for your adventures!

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