Thoughts on Museum Visits

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Copyright Paramount Pictures

Recently I’ve come across two articles about museum-going.  The first, which was about how museums are good for you, I linked to several weeks ago.  The second one was in The New York Times last week, and was called “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum.”  The title pretty much sums up what the article was about.

I guess I was not surprised to read that people are actually putting works of art and museum visits on their “bucket lists.”  As a person who loves museums, I’ve got a few left in the world I want to see before I kick the bucket.  But in our crazy speeded-up-take-the-photo-and-go world it appears that people are more concerned with announcing to their Facebook followers that they saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night than they are with actually seeing the art.  According to the article, visitors spend about fifteen to thirty seconds looking at a piece of art.

In some of our large museums one could spend only fifteen seconds in front of each piece of art and still not see everything in one visit. The author of the article, Stephanie Rosenbloom, suggests that it is better to focus in on just a few works that are of great interest than to try and see everything.  I know that when I visit a museum, I’m most interested in the works that show fashion, or in works that involve textiles.  I might spend fifteen seconds at a work that does not interest me, but ten or more minutes on the ones that do.  And I’ve been known to spend entire museum visits at one work that really resounded with me.

Rosenbloom also addresses that most polarizing of modern phenomena, the selfie.  Love them or hate them, the selfie photo is a part of our culture, and it is one of the ways to prove to the social media world that one did actually see the Venus de Milo.  Some museums are actually encouraging the practice as a way to identify with a work, much like Audrey does with the Winged Victory of Samothrace in 1957’s Funny Face.

Even if you do not want to read the article, you must click to it if only to see the photo of people in front of the Mona Lisa. Small wonder that so many people who view it say that the painting is overrated.  When I saw the Mona Lisa in 1991, I was completely moved by it, but then my viewing experience was very different from the one we see in the photo.

I was with a small group of friends in Paris and time was very limited.  One of the group really wanted to bee the Mona Lisa, so we tightened up our schedule to allow for a short visit.  In was a cold day in early April and we were at the Louvre when it opened.  We went straight to the Mona Lisa .  Even though the painting is under thick glass and at that time you could get no closer than six feet, we had the best possible viewing of her.  We had beaten the crowds, which were lighter than normal anyway due to it being off season, and so we spent a good thirty minutes looking and marveling and discussing the work.

As we left we went by the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory, and that was all we had time for.  I’m sure some people would think we did not get our money’s worth because we saw so little of the Louvre, but it was the most magical and memorable hour of that trip to France.

Maybe it is because I’ve been lucky enough to see many of the world’s great museums, but today I’m just as satisfied spending an afternoon in one of the many lesser known, but still wonderful museums.  Some favorites are the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Greenville County (SC) Museum of Art, and the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC.  And next week I hope to spend the day at another favorite, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens.  They have a new exhibition on Emilio Pucci, who briefly attended the nearby University of Georgia, but I’ll also be spending some time with my favorites in their permanent collection.

UPDATE:  Please feel free to share your own small museum recommendations and museum visiting hints.

11 Comments

Filed under Museums, Viewpoint

11 responses to “Thoughts on Museum Visits

  1. Diana coleman

    And I must speak up for the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Fl., a small, beautifully arranged museum of mostly Tiffany. Notable for its history of Louis Comfort Tiffany, as well as his works. Put this on your bucket list, if you haven’t been here, and a return visit, if you have.

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  2. So many museums I hope to visit, some for a second (or third) time. We are lucky to have a small town museum north of us in Brigham City, Utah. Each year they have a fabulous quilt and clothing exhibit. Works created by women from all over the World. I love Museums!

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  3. i must say re: your remark on Stary Night-that has become sadly the norm-being there/click and run and flashing the “look at ME”appears to be the most important issue! Having lived in Washington DC and traveling the Metro with the “throngs ” every day i was so surprised at the comments about the museums…”we paid for these tickets-and you are going/may as well..besidesi don’t want to loose the group!?!!” I love the VandA in London-the Tiara Exibit was wonderful-the garden for lunch and tea-i went back again before leaving last time.

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  4. Wow. That photo of everyone trying to take a picture of the Mona Lisa is crazy! I’m glad I saw her when I was in college before everyone had cell phones with cameras – I don’t remember it being very crowded. I was most surprised she is such a small painting.

    I love that so many fashion exhibits are allowing everyone to take photos and share them online. I feel like I am getting to see so many more exhibits around the world even when I can’t go in person. I soon plan to return the favor by sharing the couple local fashion exhibits I was able to attend. =)

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  5. It’s so hard to visit a museum and not spend more time reading the labels than looking at the art! There is an unusual place in Northern California called the Di Rosa Art Preserve, where there aren’t any labels — and it’s a relief! (You can find the information, but it’s not right next to the art works.) Rene Di Rosa made this rule as part of his bequest. When he retired from the wine business, he was able to afford to buy paintings from many major artists who had been his friends when he was at college (U.C. Davis.) They steered him to other interesting late 20th century artists. At one point, he had acquired so much modern art that he was hanging paintings on his ceiling! There’s a documentary about his collection (it’s called Smitten — http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0809532/?ref_=nm_flmg_slf_1😉 the Di Rosa Art Preserve — including sculpture gardens — is in Sonoma County, wine country. Visits are by appointment, because the collection is large but the space is limited. http://www.dirosaart.org/

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  6. Morning Waters

    I loved the Picasso museum in Paris. Small, intimate and learned a bit more about him. The National Museum in Dublin is a wonder also.

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  7. poppysvintageclothing

    Loved the Victoria and Albert, wished I could have hid in their overnight and kept on admiring the drawers full of textiles!

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  8. I find the Louvre overwhelming, but love going to the L’Orangerie to see the giant Monet murals. I don’t have loads of patience when it comes to viewing art, so walking through the Tuileries to get there is part of the experience. I also recommend going straight to the 4th floor of the Musee d’Orsay to see all of the Impressionists before you get too tired. Then lunch and shopping!

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  9. Both of those articles are very interesting, and I think very important. I agree that going to museums has changed a great deal, even since I was a kid. I sometimes rush in a museum because often I am interested in everything the museum has to offer and want to see it all!

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  10. I grew up in NYC and adopted your museum policy when young. Thank you for broadcasting slowing down when viewing art. A textile museum I really like is the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. It is a small gem of wonder and excitement near Silicon Valley.

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