Art Appreciation 101 · Museums

Combating Museum Fatigue

This article is adapted from Intro to Museums with The Art Museum Insider, my short online course about museum visits.

You’ve been walking around the museum for several hours. You’re enjoying the art and generally having a great time… until suddenly you’re not. You see works by your favorite artist, but they don’t make you happy. Instead, you just want to go home, eat something, and go to bed. What’s going on?

You’re experiencing museum fatigue.

Museum fatigue (not an actual medical condition but definitely real) is the result of overwhelming yourself with more art and museum time than you can handle. It can cause back and neck pain, tired feet and legs, dizziness, fatigue, frustration and anxiety, forgetting what you’ve just seen, not caring about the artwork, and a lot of other unpleasantness. When I was in college, I participated in a program where I saw contemporary art in New York City one day each week. My classmates and I were all art history or studio art majors, so we were always happy to spend time with artwork. But even such art-loving people developed chronic museum fatigue by the end of the semester. The good news is that this experience taught me to deal with it, and I’m going to teach you.

Since museum fatigue is brought on by overloading yourself, the best way to avoid it is to pace yourself. Know the limits of your stamina, attention span, etc., and plan accordingly. Don’t try to do something crazy like see the entire Louvre in one day. (Me? Never! 😉 ) If you’re new to the museum experience, aim for a light schedule. It’s better to leave yourself wanting more than to exhaust yourself and decide never to come back. Veteran museum visitors might have higher thresholds, but they’re still susceptible. I certainly am.

Louvre sculpture court
A sculpture court at the famous Louvre Museum in Paris. It would really stink to get here and not be able to enjoy it because of museum fatigue, so plan your trip carefully.

If you’re out of town and want to see as much as possible, pacing yourself can be a challenge. You can also try some of the following strategies to minimize museum fatigue:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, wear comfortable shoes, stay hydrated, and plan time to eat. Physical fatigue is a big part of museum fatigue, so take care of yourself to stay in the field longer. Museum food can be expensive, but sometimes it’s worth it to refuel if it means actually being able to enjoy your museum time. More affordable food trucks tend to park outside city museums, too.
  2. Recognize that you can’t see everything in a large museum. In many cases, it’s completely impossible. Prioritize quality over quantity. Aim to have rewarding experiences with fewer artworks instead of lots of rushed experiences that barely make an impression. Plan your visit so you see whatever is most important to you first so that you aren’t too tired or rushed to enjoy it later on.
  3. Take a break as necessary. Most museums have couches and chairs throughout the galleries, and all have some in the lobby. Feel free to sit down every once in a while. Just a few minutes off your feet can make a world of difference. It’s also a good idea to bend over and stretch occasionally to relieve physical tightness from a lot of walking and craning your neck to see things.
  4. Transportation can play a big role in museum fatigue, at least for me. If you’re stressed out about catching a train or getting back across a city at rush hour, you’ll burn out sooner. When planning your itinerary, leave yourself a little extra time in the name of your sanity.
  5. Don’t try to keep up a busy pace for too long. Museum fatigue builds up over time. You can get away with a day or two of a breakneck pace, but it will catch up to you if you sustain it for days on end. This is often a problem if you’re on vacation and plan to do a lot of sightseeing, especially if you don’t do a lot of museum visits otherwise. In that case, maybe plan a leisure day following a museum day to recover a little. Again, quality over quantity. There’s little point in cramming in lots of experiences you won’t look back on fondly.

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2 thoughts on “Combating Museum Fatigue

  1. Wonderful advice about how to enjoy a museum. I grew up in the NYC area with a brother who was a fine arts major. They were the goid old days. There was no charge for most museums. We often spent part of a Saturday or Sunday at the Metroplitan, the Frick, the Cloisters or some other museum and then left to return again and again. Sweet memories. With significant entrance fees now the norm, having lunch at the museum lets one stretch the day and see more of what it holds. I shall never forget the summer we had an apartment in Rome and were able to pay several days with our children visiting the Vatican Museum and with the aid of the cafeteria extending the day. We even got to the modern collection where we were alone. The Vatican has not stopped collecting religious art. There in the modern collection were 28 (yes I counted) Roualts that vastly outnumbered our family of five.

    1. Those sound like wonderful times! Museums are such great places to spend the day. And the Vatican collections sound amazing. I’ve always wanted to see them. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your stories. Please come back soon. 🙂

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