Welcome to the Art Museum Adventure Guide!
As an art historian, I’ve visited countless art museums and galleries. I’ve had some great times, some not-so-great ones, and everything in between. Now, I’ll give you my top tips about how to have the best possible experience on your own museum visits. With these simple suggestions, you’ll feel like a pro in no time.
Choosing a Museum to Visit
There are all sorts of art museums out there, from massive to tiny, internationally-famous to obscure, touristy to niche, and everything in between. Some can be fully explored in a few hours, while others would take days, weeks, or even months. Some include every kind of art imaginable; others focus on specific artists or styles. In other words, there is an art museum for everyone.
I can’t tell you which museum to visit. That depends on your interests, location, etc. What I can suggest is scoping out a museum on its website before deciding to visit. Here is what to look for.
Not every museum features the same kinds of art. Most museum websites have a tab called collections, art, or explore, where you can find out more about what’s on display. You’ll usually find some indication of the museum’s highlights – the artworks it considers to be its finest. You’ll likely also find a list of departments or collection areas, which represent the different categories in which the museum owns art. Not every area is equally weighted at every museum, but clicking around will give you an idea of what is emphasized most.
Click the exhibitions, on view, or what’s on tab to find out which exhibitions will be available on the day of your visit. Art museums have two types of exhibitions – permanent collection galleries and special exhibitions. Permanent collections galleries contain installations entirely of artworks owned by the museum. They’re shown pretty much all the time, though museums do change it up every once in awhile. Special exhibitions, by contrast, are only on view for a limited time – anywhere from a few weeks to about a year. They often include loans from other museums.
I definitely don’t suggest completely pre-planning your itinerary. Being in the moment and opening yourself up to new discoveries are part of the adventure. However, it might benefit you to start out with a general idea of what you’re most interesting in seeing, since you most likely won’t get around to everything.
Why Visit Museums in Person?
In the age of high-resolution photos and virtual experiences, you might wonder if there’s still any need to visit museums in person, especially when it requires traveling a distance. In my opinion, so many of the best aspects of museum visits simply cannot be reproduced digitally, especially the experience of immersing yourself in a whole building full of art. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of these digital resources. I just think that they can’t really replace museum visits. Click here to read my blog post in which I explain the unique benefits of a real-life museum visit and give some suggestions about how to get the most out of each one.