To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Why do I like art museums now?

For a long time, I have harbored a dreadful secret: I found art museums dull, boring and not as exciting as the more interactive museums. If someone would suggest attending an art museum, I would casually offer an alternate idea. “Why don’t we go to the natural history museum?” And now, I find myself inviting friends along and looking up upcoming art exhibits in addition to being excited about the science and natural history museums. So, what has changed?

One: I have a longer attention span to pay attention to the art. I am a fast walker—I pride myself on my speed to walk from North Quad to the International Business School. Yet, art museums demand a slowness of you, asking you to look at paintings and sculptures carefully. Art museums are not typically the largest in terms of walking through. I have, for so long, seen the thing on the wall, shrugged and moved on. It is all too easy to do this. I am more interested now, and pay more attention to the art. This is because…

Two: I bring a sketchbook to art museums. Sketching the art requires directing much more focus towards the art in front of you. Now, I look not just at the art as a whole but also how the light hits from a certain angle and how the people are framed. The sketchbook gives me an activity and makes the museum more interactive—an element of museums, as I stated above earlier, I am interested in. Museums are all about personalized experiences, and this is how I personalize mine. I remember the experience clearly and can recall specific pieces in a way I never could before sketching. And as an additional bonus, sketching all the time is fun (one of the most important attributes of the activity), and I can keep track of which art pieces and artists I enjoy most. Keeping track leads me to…

Three: I know what kinds of art I am interested in. From all of my sketches, it is clear I am more drawn to portraits of people and nature landscapes. Rarely, if ever, will you see a sketch from the contemporary or modern art genre in my notebook. And this is okay. Much like how I am not interested in every dish on a restaurant’s menu, I am not interested in every piece of art on the wall. By focusing on what I enjoy, I can better experience the museum and not worry that I am growing bored. By knowing which art I like, I can even seek it out in advance online to ensure I will have a more interesting and personalized museum experience. And once I arrive at the museum…

Four: I walk through the museum at my own speed. Though a museum can be enjoyed alongside any of your friends, I have found the most success in walking through the museum alone. Everyone has different art tastes (see: reason three), and there is no reason to rush someone along or be rushed yourself. That being said, a nice compromise is walking at your friend’s speed or having your friend walk alongside you at your speed. Walking at your friend’s speed gives you a different art museum experience: seeing the art through their eyes. This is especially cool once you yourself have already walked through the museum alone. 

Previously, something that always frustrated me as an art museum non-enjoyer was how different each art museum truly was. At a natural history museum, I knew what to expect. At a history museum, I knew the history would be in chronological order. But an art museum? Each place was unknowable and mysterious. Therefore, I thought I was in for an entirely boring or fascinating experience, with no way of opting out.

Now that I am at college, my after-class activities are much more personalized than elementary or middle school. I even have the whole of Boston just in reach. That being said, am I yet to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or any art museum in Boston for that matter? Yes. Baby steps.

In the meantime, some of my favorite art can be found on Brandeis campus. The Rose Art Museum is stunning, and even more so, the student outdoor art around the Goldman Schwartz building (Brandeis’ art building) and the student art housed inside the building. I am an ardent believer that student art is genuinely better than a lot of what you will find in “professional” art galleries or museums. (Is this whole opinion piece a plea for you to visit the Goldman Schwartz building? Perhaps. Please go and check out the Brandeis student art; it’s so cool, and the hallways feature a near-constant rotation of new pieces.)



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