Museums range in size from large establishments with many rooms, to smaller buildings with one art gallery or a few main rooms. The world’s largest, such as the National Gallery and British Museum, London; the Louvre in Paris, or the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art can each take two to three days to see all the permanent collections fully. Thanks to the Internet, many of the finest have websites which provide information about their collections and how to plan for visits. Some even have virtual galleries online which help visitors to see what is in each room and prepare for navigating the spaces to find what truly interests them when they visit in real time. While planning a visit, check for ticket prices, open hours, café and gift shop information, the museum’s collection of artwork, and any temporary special exhibits. Museums also offer parking and driving directions, and information about public transportation options on their websites.
Choose A Strategy for Touring the Museum
Savvy tourists who have visited many museums around the world follow these guidelines:
• In the largest museums, begin on the top floor and work downward until reaching the bottom.
• Since large museums can house thousands of works, choose the art gallery or sections which are most interesting on each floor.
• Use the museum’s map as a reference guide to save steps and time.
• Rent audio guides to tour the museum’s highlights and enjoy backstories about famous works of art.
• Take a docent-led tour to enjoy interaction with someone who knows the museum’s works well.
Visiting with Children Can Be Wonderful
Though museums are known to have strict rules to help protect valuable and clearly expensive art pieces, these rules are familiar to children. Reviewing “the museum’s rules before the day of the visit, so everyone understands them is the right way to prepare.” says Maple Ridge Art Gallery owner Dale Tennet. On the day of the visit, taking a moment to review the rules quickly will help the youngest children to remember why they are important. Here are a few common museum rules to expect:
• No running
• No touching the art exhibits
• Use indoor voices and talk quietly (just like the library!)
• No eating or drinking in the art galleries
• Find a docent to help if lost or asking questions
Most visitors with children also note the location of public
Restrooms, and make plans to use them on a schedule rather than wait for last minute emergencies. Also, plan for snack and lunch breaks. When possible, have children participate in special hands-on programs the museum offers just for younger visitors. Some museums have a dedicated art room where youngster can use museum art supplies to create their masterpiece during a guided lesson. Plan to purchase toys and souvenirs related to favorite art work at the museum gift shop. Make this the last stop for the day, and set a budget amount for each child before stepping into the shop.
Regardless of the strategy planned for a museum visit, the most important reason to be there is to experience the artwork. For this reason, many experts recommend not worrying about seeing everything. It can be tempting to try; particularly when time is limited. But there is another viewpoint to consider. Some art lovers will visit a museum to see a particular work of art which they have only previously encountered in a book. Their goal is to see that artwork in person and to savor the experience of being up close and personal with one favorite work by a favorite artist. A visit such as this has a very different focus. To appreciate the artistic detail present in that one great work of art, the visitor might go directly to that gallery and plan to spend unmeasured time there. While near the artwork, several methods of seeing it with keen eyes are possible:
• Stand near the work, and gaze at it to see every detail.
• Step away from the work; move as far away as the room will allow, to get a bigger view of the whole work.
• Sit on a nearby bench or couch, and take time to think about how and why the work is appealing.
• Reference the identification card for data and the curatorial comments to better understand the work.
Museums Have Etiquette in Addition to Rules
The rules at museums are set in place to protect the expensive art works. The traditional etiquette includes guidelines for good manners which are set in place to protect the experience visitors enjoy while at the museum. Some have strict policies which must be observed to keep the environment safe and clean. Here’s a common list of expectations:
• Never touch the art work; this includes sculpture, art installations, and paintings.
• Keep an arm’s length away from all art in any exhibit.
• Ask questions of staff members, but always speak quietly everywhere; to avoid disturbing visitors.
• Follow any policies concerning using cameras or video equipment. Most have rules requesting visitors not to use flash. Some do not allow photos at all. The newest rules at most major museum include bans on selfie sticks; which have the potential to harm art and visitors.
• Do not bring large purses, bags or backpacks. Most museums will require leaving these in the checked baggage area.
• Use only pencils when taking notes.
• Beverages or food are not allowed in the exhibit galleries. Plan to have snacks and lunch in the museum café or outside.
Tips from Frequent Museum Guests
Though most museums post their visiting hours, those who spend time often as museum guests plan their visits to avoid the crowds. Arriving at the museum very early, with the goal to be among the first to enter is one of the best ways to see the museum at its best. Arriving an hour or so before closing time will allow ample time for a nice visit after most visitors have gone home.
Bring a water bottle inside a purse or messenger bag for convenience, but step away from the gallery space to drink from it. Use an outer hallway, or step into an adjacent exterior garden, if possible. A small sip while seated on a bench inside an overly warm gallery or hallway may result in a raised eyebrow or quiet reprimand from a museum guard, but this is better than fainting when exhausted. Water coolers are not always convenient. Just be polite and discrete, and do not take advantage unless necessary.
Plan to attend a lecture or concert presented at the Museum and then spend some time at the museum café to talk about the experience over a meal. These events are presented by art historians and professional musicians and are focused on a specific artistic movement or artist.
Consider purchasing special exhibit catalogs or permanent collection catalogs about favorite artists or galleries within the museum. Though expensive, these books are high-quality keepsakes with scholarly information and professional photographs which will provide enjoyment for years to come.
Art for a Lifetime
Art museums exist to share artistic works with the public, acknowledging that art can create life to change experiences and emotional moments of introspection, curiosity, amazement, and wonder. Artists share their creative expressions with others so that all have opportunities to experience art, regardless of financial circumstances. Visiting an art museum is a privilege provided by the institutions which support these amazing buildings and collections. With a bit of advance preparation, a visit to an art museum can open a lifetime of engaging with visual images expressing the range of human experiences and emotions.