On Museums

From the Onion:

CHICAGO—Visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago reported Saturday that their trip to the celebrated museum was entirely dominated by the guilt they felt for not lingering long on any one painting before moving on to the next. “I know these are masterpieces, and you’re supposed to let their brilliance wash over you while you contemplate their significance, but I really couldn’t make myself stand there for more than a few seconds,” said museum-goer Vernon Bailey, admitting he spent more time reading the placards describing each painting than he did looking at the art itself. “They have all these Monets and Renoirs in there, but I made it through that entire wing in, like, five minutes. By the end I was just blowing past these iconic works—NighthawksAmerican Gothic, that really famous pointillist one—and thinking, ‘Okay, done, done, done.’ What’s wrong with me?” Other museum visitors confirmed they couldn’t give a shit about paintings and didn’t mind saying so.

I have to tell you that I’ve had this experience. Once we went to a famous painter’s exhibit at the Art Museum in Chicago and I didn’t even know which paintings were his … and wondered what in the world I was missing.

How about your experience in museums? Any stories to tell?

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  • AndyM

    The Musee D’Orsay had an exhibition that travelled to canberra about two years ago. We flew down to visit it.
    After waiting in the sun in a slowly moving queue for about six hours to get into the gallery, the wonder of enjoying the art was lost. it was more a joy of being in the cool of airconditioning. The art was great, and we did enjoy it, but the magic wasn’t there. Maybe a less crowded gallery, less trauma in getting in.

    There’s also the guilt when going to a modern art gallery about just not getting any of it. Despite being a reasonably intelligent person, and wanting to understand it, I don’t understand it or feel moved by it. Impressed maybe by the technical elements of doing whatever it is that was done, but not emotionally moved like a rembrandt can do for me.

  • Our family’s only Art Museum experience is that we bought the Family Membership / Season Pass for the High Museum in Atlanta, and on the first day we went, which was the first Saturday of the month, we learned that all city residents get in FREE on the first Saturday of every month, all year, every year.


  • David Roseberry

    My wife and I went to the Guggenheim a few years ago. It is a tall building with a spiral ramp that you can walk from top to bottom. Design flaw. We started at the top…looking at the modern art…and only wished we’d had roller skates on. We walked quickly downhill…all the way…

    A family member (who is an artist) told me a few days ago that you need to stop to appreciate modern art. You look, you like…or not…you move on. That’s it.

  • William Kooi

    embarrassing. Didn’t see the original was from the Onion. :-/ you can withdraw my previous comment.

  • AJG

    Nowadays we all have been so inundated with images of the famous works of art that seeing them in person just isn’t that big of a deal. For instance, I’m sure that seeing “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Seurat is amazing, but I have to wonder if I that famous clip from Ferris Bueller hasn’t ruined that potential experience.

  • There are two artists in my family, neither of whom is me. I know that they “get” the pictures a lot faster than I do, and if they like it they linger. If they don’t, they spend even less time than I do on it. So I don’t really feel all that guilty.

  • My wife recently wrote a blog post about finding Christ at the Chicago Art Institute: http://intothehills.org/2012/08/31/finding-christ-at-the-art-institute/

  • MatthewS

    oh man, museums in general can do that to a person!

    However, I had the opposite experience last Christmas at the Loyola Museum of Art (LUMA) in Chicago. They had some great exhibits but beyond that, for whatever reason, I was moved nearly to tears by “Christ Among the Doctors” (http://www.luc.edu/luma/collections/collection_details/chirst_doctors.html ). It’s huge, and so life-like. I felt almost like I could sense the presence of the artist (Stomer) working on it 400 years ago. Of course, this is far removed from Modern art, perhaps that helps. Anyway, I highly recommend taking in their annual creche exhibit. Perhaps it will be guilt-free!

  • I saw this originally in the Onion and thought it was so funny. And true! My undergrad is a Fine Arts degree and so I have experienced this guilt so many times!

    That being said, I kind of think Rob Dunbar #6 is on to something. Maybe it’s better to stop and linger at one or a few works than try to ‘get deep’ with every picture in the gallery. In Henri Nouwen’s book on the Prodigal Son, he spends several days staring at Rembrandt’s painting and doesn’t feel obligated to give any time to other works.