Nick Gray at Museum Hack recently published this 2:27 video on how to visit a museum, which is surprisingly similar to how I visit them. I LOVE museums but my friends are often disappointed that I’ll read the introductory label and then just walk through the galleries non-stop. You might assume I’m just a “streaker” but just like Gray, it’s to get an overall sense of the exhibits so I can choose where to spend my time. I’ve learned you can’t spend an equal amount of time on everything in a museum so I have to choose what will give me the most enjoyment and the best experience. I’ll visit the galleries a second time, stopping at those objects or topics that most interested me in my initial run-through (but always allow for serendipitous exploration). Still, it’s hard to fight museum fatigue and mental overload after a couple hours, but that’s what museum restaurants are for.
I do something similar for historic sites, but in this case I’m analyzing the architecture and landscape to figure out how circulation, organization, views, and alignments are expressed through design (a particular interest of mine). That’s why I often become frustrated by guided tours of period rooms, whose slow circuitous crawl through a dozen rooms leaves me disoriented (and bored, sorry).
How do you visit museums and historic sites? What experiences helped you understand them better or enjoy them more? Share them in the comments below.
I love Nick’s approach with one concern. Museum visits at their best are social experiences, so as I watched Nick “streak” through the museum, I wondered how one might adapt his approach to allow you to actually visit with someone else? I, like Nick, and Max am a quick study, but I love to share my “discoveries” with my companions. My usual museum partner wants to read all the labels and strolls along at a very slow pace; I “range out” in the museum spaces and “report back” on findings (interesting labels, objects or exhibition techniques). I think, in fact, with my partner we have the best museum experiences as I often provide an “overview” while he delves deeply into an object or topic and stops me therefore enriching both our understandings. So, don’t forget that museum visits are about conversations and, of course, breaks with food and drink.
Rather than streaking once I get there, I study the web site (if there is one) in order to plan my visit. This of course is a good way if it is a large art museum with a good web site. For historic house visits I prefer to go it alone without the “aid” of a guided tour. If there is a self-guided tour option with a printed guide, I’d prefer that. The Merchant’s House Museum in NYC provides such a guide and one is free to roam at will. If you have questions, there is a knowledgeable person available to engage you in conversation. This, I think, is ideal—a good way to feel the presence of the past around you as you can imagine the house and the occupants who resided there interacting with the objects around you.I really dislike tours where a group of folks and a guide stand between me and the things I came to see.