How to start going to museums

This is an essay aimed at my younger self; maybe it’ll resonate with you too.

First: go by yourself.

Going to a museum with someone else can be nice, but it’s its own thing. You might not match your partner’s pace, which can be tedious if they’re too slow or frustrating if they’re too fast. You might invent opinions about works that you don’t understand to make conversation. You might pretend to know more about some artist or movement than you actually do so that you don’t appear ignorant.

Try going alone. If you have any preconceptions that a museum visit must be some highbrow, enculturating experience to be worthwhile, this will remove them. Without the implicit social obligations, you can just treat it as a walk through a building filled with cool shit to look at.

Second: only look at what you want to.

This can be related to the first point because you’ll want to accommodate your partner’s tastes. But even when you go alone, it’s easy to fall into the trap of pondering each item in an exhibit until your eyes glaze over because you’re “supposed” to look at everything.

Don’t do that. Skip entire rooms if they don’t seem interesting. Skip entire centuries! If you treat your museum visit like you’re eating your vegetables, or like you’re doing the assigned reading for your high school English class, you probably won’t have a good time or absorb anything. You can broaden your interests later once you find a foothold somewhere.

Third: buy a membership.

This step may seem like quite the leap from the first two, but it drastically changed how I think about museum visits. When I buy a regular ticket, I feel obligated to get my money’s worth. I want to stay as long as I can, see as much as I can, make a day of it. It makes it harder to justify steps one and two.

With a membership, though, I don’t feel guilty about taking shorter trips. I can go in for forty-five minutes to see some cool impressionist paintings, or to check out a couple of clocks, or just to hang out in one particular room for a while that has a nice aura. And the moment I feel like leaving, I can leave. In the long run, I actually see more this way because each visit isn’t a special event.

(You don’t always have to spend a lot of money to do this, by the way—sometimes local libraries will give out museum passes, and students may be able to get in for free or at least cheap. See what options you have!)