Have you ever considered your plan-of-attack when visiting an art gallery? Neither had I.
Have you ever found yourself staring exhausted at art that you queued for hours to see, but now can't understand why you bothered? Me too.
In my twenties, I toured the globe with my husband and we queued our way through the major art galleries of Europe to stare at renowned pieces of art till our eyeballs almost dried to husks in their sockets.
At one point, I recall sitting down in the gutter of an Italian side street to have a genuine, tears-coursing-down-my-cheeks, face-distorted-unattractively, sob-and-hiccup cry. (Husband was thrilled.)
I was confused and disappointed. I had heard of all this amazing art, but when I saw it, I was unmoved. I didn’t understand it and frankly, I didn't even like it. I was over chubby cherubs and the vacant gazes of curvy naked women who were possibly wondering where on earth they'd put their clothes.
As unglamorous as it was, this became a turning point in the way I approached visiting galleries and the art inside them.
The key to getting the most out of visiting art galleries is to understand your motivation for the visit, and to align your expectations accordingly.
In my experience, there are four ways people you can approach visiting an art gallery. Understanding these help to avoid disappointment or burn-out:
THE SCATTER-GUN METHOD
In which you go along to a gallery with no real expectations or prior research.
You browse around, not expending energy on everything, but looking instead for art that piques your interest or that appeals to you in some way. Then you soak it all up by reading the descriptions, making notes on the artists or pieces you enjoyed most, and possibly doing some further research at your leisure another time.
[This is how I tend to approach major metropolitan galleries when I travel, or when I stumble upon small private galleries I've never seen before.]
THE ‘ON A MISSION TO LEARN’ APPROACH
This method involves committing to go and see an exhibition - regardless of whether you're familiar with the artist's work, and in spite of your own personal tastes. You can read up a little beforehand (helpful, but not essential) and then you go to thoroughly check things out.
Focussing just on the one exhibition, you learn what you can about the artist, their work and their message, and then you form an opinion.
It's a learning exercise that can end well if you're prepared to work a little.
THE ‘COMFY SLIPPERS’ EXPERIENCE
Probably a favourite method for many people, this approach sees you head to a specific gallery and/or a specific exhibition which will offer few surprises.
Mostly you are going to see works by an artist you either love or are comfortably familiar with – or to see a style of art you already know you will enjoy.
It's easy viewing, a guaranteed pleasant experience and a lovely opportunity to be inspired. Of course, you can always dig deeper and do research, but the intention is often purely to enjoy the visual stimulation.
THE 'IN FOR A PENNY, IN FOR A POUND' TRAUMA
Also known as "Fiona's nine-straight-hours-in-the-Louvre" approach, this method involves going to a gallery and trying to see everything on display, learn about everything on display, and understand everything on display.
It also involves having a mild stroke as you reach the realisation that you'll never remember it all and will, in fact be more likely to recall how sore your feet were at the conclusion of it all.
This is not a recommended gallery-visiting method!
Of course, the more often you use the 'Scatter-gun Method' and the 'Mission-to-Learn' approach, the greater your opportunities of eventually having more 'Comfy Slippers' moments, and the better you avoid bawling in a gutter with a bewildered spouse beside you!
Can you think of any other ways to approach a visit to an art gallery? Share your own experiences by leaving a comment below - I'd love to know if anyone else has felt the same way as I have on this.
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