Museums Amusements

Have you ever walked into an art museum and been overwhelmed by the sheer number of works on display? Where should you start? What should you look at? What should you look for? How can you get the most from the limited time at your disposal there?

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It might help to answer these questions if you first consider why you decided to go to the museum in the first place. Do you simply want to expose yourself to good artwork in general? Or do you want to see examples of work by certain artists or from a specific era or locale? Are you most interested in paintings or sculpture or some other art form? Or if your interest is more focused than that, where do your specific interests lie?

If you already know which works you want to spend time with, head first for those (or schedule them for times when they are not surrounded by tour groups and other distractions. If your subject is blocked by a crowd, don’t fight the mob but look for nearby alternatives of interest until the bulk of the throng moves on, then take your place to enjoy what you originally came to see.)

I find that it helps me focus my time better if I know what aspects I want to make note of—say, compositional structures or effective color harmonies and how various artists have used them. If you’re interested in textures, you may want to consider how some artists achieved visual textural effects on a 2-dimensional surface or how others created physical textures with their medium. In other words, home in on your purpose for perusing the collection so you can spend time with the works that will help to satisfy your search.

The less time you have available, the more important it is to identify and narrow down your focus so you can use your time effectively.

If your interest is as general as simply getting an overview of works in the collection, your time can be spent by walking through the collection, room by room, following the suggested layout, and pausing briefly to consider any specific works that particularly catch your eye.

If you can focus your visit to a narrower field within the general collection, you will be able to spend less time walking and more time studying the works of particular interest to you. In many museums you can refer to a museum map or brochure to locate individual rooms or floors that may feature works of specific artists, time periods, geographical areas, or stylistic approaches. Although you will probably miss much of the collection by bypassing areas of less immediate interest to you, this approach can help you use your limited time more efficiently.

Join me next time as I look in at the Louvre.

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