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8 Steps To Becoming That Cultured Chick At Art Museums

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I love the concept of going to art galleries: looking artsy, cultured and having movie-montage moments striding through elegantly lit halls. However, when I arrive on scene, I never feel like I absorb artwork in the way that I’m supposed to. I hurry through exhibitions, not feeling smart enough to say anything about what I’m looking at. I’m surrounded by the hard work of talented human beings baring their souls for the world to see and I just nod, “huh, cool.” 

I don’t want galleries to be another space I just walk through. I’ve always hoped they would be spaces that connect me with the world around me. So, how can I be present? How can I properly take it all in? Most importantly, how can I make going to galleries fun?

  1. Check the website!

Before going to a museum, check for their opening hours and whether there’s a shot you can get in for free. Most galleries have a date each week or month that is free to the public, or at least students. For example, the AGO in Toronto is free to the public on Wednesdays from 6-9PM or free all year-round for those under 25. 

  1. Dress appropriately

I find that the best way to be present at any location is to be best dressed for it. I know when I’m carrying multiple bags, I’m going to be weighed down and prevented from fully enjoying what I’m experiencing, especially in an art gallery where I’ll likely be standing for hours on end. This extends to any uncomfortable piece of clothing, especially shoes! 

  1. Follow your instincts

As suggested by Sarah Urist Green from The Art Assignment, try to not look at any labels for context the first time you walk through an exhibit. Simply let your eyes direct you. The second time around an exhibit, take a closer look at art you had a strong reaction to. Which attracted you? Which repelled you?

  1. Process before reacting

Always take time to process art before saying anything about it. Try to avoid making judgements from your first impressions. Ask yourself: Why do you like or dislike this art piece? Why do you like this art piece more or less than others? If you dislike this art piece, what would you rather change about it?

  1. Find context clues

Read labels and signs for facts that inform the creation of the art. Educating yourself about context can place you in the shoes of the artist and reveal what may not have been self-evident to you.

  1. Only you can create meaning

Whatever response you have towards artwork is valid— “meaning happens between you and the work only.” Avoid asking questions like “What is the artist trying to say?” or “What does it mean?” There are no definitive answers to those questions as meaning can only come from you, even if your interpretation is: “This looks like the wallpaper from my grandma’s house” or “This portrait reminds me of someone I matched with last week on Bumble.”

  1. Make it a group date

Gallery going, while fun alone, can be a great partnered or group experience. Make understanding the art a group activity; an open conversation everyone can contribute equal value to. Take every opinion as seriously as yours and your opinions as seriously as everyone else’s.

  1. Ask questions!

Here are further questions Urist Green provides to prompt a deeper understanding of artwork: 

  • What is it? 
  • What is it made of? 
  • How was it made? 
  • How is it presented? 
  • What is the title? 
  • What is the context— to the room and world around it? 
  • Consider any bias you may have with what you’re seeing. Is the art piece something you haven’t seen before and, therefore, something you don’t know how to interpret? 
  • What three words would you use to describe the work?
  • Where is the best place the work could be displayed? 
  • What would you take home for free? Where would you put it?

I hope these tips help you on your next trip to a museum to not only impress your gallery companions but to make the experience more fun and engaging as a whole! As many galleries host artists from all different walks of life, they can be gateways to meditation, contemplation and connection to humanity. The most important thing to remember is to listen to yourself. Follow your instincts— you may walk out of galleries with a newfound connection with yourself, too!

Nikita's hipster high school teachers sparked her love for slice-of-life podcasts, books, and movies. Whether oversharing through introspective conversations or scribbling journal entries, she'll do whatever it takes to make sense of life. One day, she hopes to write stories for the screen, the radio, or for print. On the side, she bakes and plays the piano mediocrely but passionately.
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