Museum and Gallery Etiquette
Since you’ve probably mastered the art of not acting like an animal in public by now, you can focus on the particulars that neurotic museum-goers will be thankful you paid attention to. You can liken the rules of art watching to the rules of Fight Club:
The first (and second) rule of art is: you do not talk about art
Though you’re not necessarily wrong to wonder aloud about the meaning of an artwork, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re a neophyte. It can also be a bother to the people around you. Flaunting your “expertise” is annoying and suspect. Use your inside voice if you must chat, and let your eyes do most of the work.
Third rule: someone yells “Stop!” goes limp, taps out, the fight is over
You’re probably in the modern/contemporary art wing of the museum if this actually happens. (Don’t act like a tourist with a map. Wander with purpose. You’ll be surrounded by amazing stuff no matter where you end up.)
Fourth rule: only two visitors to an artwork
Newbies will crowd around art in sequential order, because they’re usually following the audio tour. Spread out, mix things up, and explore the exhibit without the help of gadgets. This especially comes in handy during ticketed, “blockbuster” art shows, but if you “cultivate a taste for the overlooked, the off-putting, the little understood and the poorly reviewed,” you’re more likely to blend in with seasoned vets. Don’t obsess about reading the museum wall labels, but they’re a handy cheat sheet in a pinch.
Fifth rule: one exhibit at a time
Save the gallery hopping for solo jaunts and First Friday events where you can quietly guzzle free booze to ease the pain of your own ignorance.
Sixth rule: No shirts, no shoes
If you have a problem with nudity, get over it. Works from the Italian Renaissance alone are filled with nude children, nude baby Jesus, and elaborately coiffed male pubic hair (many of the female nudes had none). If that TIME Magazine photo bothered you, get over it. Prepare to see paintings of adult, male Saints breastfeeding. The Virgin Mary sometimes nursed people right in the eye, too (it was said to cure infections).
Seventh rule: art will go on as long as it has to
Gazing at art for several minutes is highly encouraged and totally normal. It’s also the best thing to do if you forget everything else.