Art Appreciation 101

Enjoying Museum Surprises

Korean sculptures
Two Korean guardian sculptures at the Newark Museum. They were quite an unexpected delight.

As you guys probably know, I recently visited the Newark Museum to see The Rockies & The Alps: Bierstadt, Calame, and the Romance of the Mountains. The exhibition was wonderful, and you can read all about it here. As I left Newark, however, I was surprised to realize that most of the works I was still thinking about weren’t in the exhibition I came to see. I had found them elsewhere in the museum. (As I just said, the exhibition was wonderful, so this isn’t a criticism.) Sure, I could have predicted that works by John Singer Sargent, the Hudson River School, and a few other favorite artists would be highlights for me. But some of the other pieces that caught my attention were surprises.

It’s easy to assume that you know what you’re going to enjoy and head straight for it, passing by other artworks without paying much attention. Whether it’s because you’ve come to a museum to see something specific or because time is limited, it’s all too easy to pre-screen your experience, even if you don’t mean to. For example, I sometimes don’t visit the contemporary section, since this isn’t an area of strong interest to me. If I’d skipped it here (and I almost did), I would have missed a very cool work of kinetic sculpture that I enjoyed greatly.

So, I’ve definitely learned the value of keeping an open mind, seeing a little bit of everything, and not assuming you already know what is and isn’t worth your time. It can be difficult to avoid the pull of art you know you love, and I am certainly not suggesting that you forego the opportunity to enjoy your favorite artists. Just save time to visit other areas too, and stay open to the possibility of finding a new favorite where you least expect to.

If you need more museum visiting tips, read my advice about how to have a great museum visit.

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