I was intrigued by Gretchen Rubin’s Met Museum Experiment, in which she plans to visit the Met every day of this year that she’s in NYC. (She lives within walking distance.)
Her experiment and her goals — to waken her senses, to learn about art, to explore the building space, to see more clearly, though she doesn’t feel she’s a visual person — got me thinking about how I like to visit museums.
Here are 3 things I do that make my museum experiences much richer:
1. Draw, draw, draw! When you try to draw something, even with just a rough sketch, you really have to look at it, and you notice all kinds of things you don’t by just standing around gawking at it. I always have a pocket notebook and a pencil or two with me. (Many museums don’t let you use pen or marker in the galleries.) I stand and copy the art I like, often just swiping a detail here and there from different pieces. (I write more about drawing and “slow looking” in chapter 5 of Keep Going.)
2. Enlist a small child to guide you through the museum. Kids are alive to the world in ways we aren’t as adults. They’re also lower to the ground, so their perspective is literally different. (More on this: “The 5-year-old docent” and “Borrow a kid.”)
3. Don’t read the label before you look at the art. Watch people the next time you’re in a museum gallery. They almost always look at the labels first! Don’t do this. Use your own eyes first. Let yourself be drawn towards what is genuinely interesting to you. Spend time looking at a piece without having someone else’s words messing with your looking. (More on this in Edward Tufte’s essay, “Seeing Around.”)