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Posted on Saturday, August 11, 2018

This is a question I answered on Quora, click here for the original. 

Answer: Because when you’re in an art museum you’re an inter-dimensional time traveler (and this is mentally tiring.)

If you’re doing it right, when you’re at the museum you’re letting each work of art speak to you on its own terms and draw you in. Each artwork is it’s own universe and unique world that you are stepping into. If you’re doing it right, you’re spending some time in that universe and also thinking about the historical context of the artwork, the subject matter, its meaning, and how it speaks to your own life and experience.

This is obviously a metaphor but I make it to illustrate the fact that there is a mental component to the experience that can tax one’s energy, in addition to being on one’s feet, walking around, dodging tourists, and trying to read all the plaques and text on the walls.

I’m borrowing this metaphor from a talk I attended, decades ago, on how to get the most out of an art museum visit by an art historian named Mary Ann Sures.

Her tips for getting the most out of a museum visit and using your energy wisely were:

  • Don’t even bother trying to see or spend time with everything (you can’t)
  • Do some homework ahead of your visit, and learn about what the museum has in its collection. Pick out a few key things you want to see.
  • Do whatever historical reading up you want to do, ahead of time.
  • So when you’re there, you can just spend time with the artworks you want to see, and the pressure to see everything is off.
  • And if something you did not plan to see really strikes you, stop and take a look, but don’t feel guilty about not stopping and looking at everything.
  • Oh, and wear good shoes, take breaks, and have a snack.