How to really enjoy a museum.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my experience at the Louvre this past summer. Basically, it wasn’t too great.

mona lisa louvre

Turns out maybe I was just doing it wrong. 😉

According to a recent article in the New York Times, The Art of Slowing Down In A Museum, if people just took the time to slow down – a LOT – we might enjoy ourselves more.

“When you go to the library,” said James O. Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, “you don’t walk along the shelves looking at the spines of the books and on your way out tweet to your friends, ‘I read 100 books today!’” Yet that’s essentially how many people experience a museum. “They see as much of art as you see spines on books,” said Professor Pawelski, who studies connections between positive psychology and the humanities. “You can’t really see a painting as you’re walking by it.”

…psychologists and philosophers such as Professor Pawelski say that if you do choose to slow down — to find a piece of art that speaks to you and observe it for minutes rather than seconds — you are more likely to connect with the art, the person with whom you’re touring the galleries, maybe even yourself, he said. Why, you just might emerge feeling refreshed and inspired rather than depleted…

 If you have an hour he suggests wandering for 30 minutes, and then spending the next half-hour with a single compelling painting….

Might you miss some other works by narrowing your focus? Perhaps. But as Professor Pawelski put it, sometimes you get more for the price of admission by opting to see less…

Professor Pawelski said it’s still a mystery why viewing art in this deliberately contemplative manner can increase well-being or what he calls flourishing… He theorized, however, that there is a connection to research on meditation and its beneficial biological effects. In a museum, though, you’re not just focusing on your breath, he said. “You’re focusing on the work of art.”

Sounds good to me! I’m really looking forward to trying this approach next time I get the chance.

Have you ever done this? Would you try it?


  1. I think it depends on the museum too. One of my favorite museums in New York City is the Frick Collection because it feels like visiting someone’s house. The Frick is basically Frick’s mansion filled with all the artwork he collected during his lifetime. Yes, during the month of October it feels like one of those haunted mansions (huge, grey, dark-toned, etc.) Regardless, each room is different and one cannot help but slow down to appreciate the art in each wall of each specific room. I love it!

    The Met, however, to me is just too big a museum. It’s not as intimate. I feel it’s best to simply visit one section per visit to make it worthwhile.

    In addition, I always try to drink wine before visiting an art museum or gallery — so yes, I prefer to go to one of those wine/cheese socials at a museum. 😉 Your mind is more relaxed and some of the interpretations of the artwork can get quite creative! I first did this at the Van Gogh museum when I was a college student and my friends and I had an absolute blast!

    • Points Pixie says:

      Joey – I love your tip about the wine!!

      And I agree with you – some museums can feel extremely impersonal. I’m looking forward to reallllyyyy slowing down next time I’m in a museum. Maybe I will combine with wine!

  2. Ummmmm duh! This is exactly what annoys me about 99% of museum-goers. They don’t really care about the art at all. At a place like the Louvre or any other major museum people go just so they can say they have been. They spend 2 minutes in front of the Mona Lisa, take a picture or a selfie and then leave. Its the most ridiculous superficial behavior. You go to an art museum to see art, not just to tell people you have been there.

    Personally when I go to a museum I love to get as close to the works of art as possible and just look at the details. I never cease to be amazed when I think about the fact that I am a foot away from a canvas created by a master and am able to see the individual brush strokes their hands created.

    • Points Pixie says:

      j – While I TOTALLY agree with you about people who race at breakneck speeds through museums, taking selfies as they go, I also think that spending more than 5-10 minutes on a piece is really unusual. That’s a very long time to spend looking at anything!

      I’m going to try it.

  3. pinkisnice says:

    I love this advice. I wonder how many people have spent 30 consecutive minutes actively looking at a piece of art in their own homes. It’s a great exercise!

  4. I love the Frick!

    Spent a few days in NYC in October….of course, went to the Met! I agree; it is just to big to see in a day. Besides, if you do rush thru the musuem, have you really seen anything? Don’t these masterpieces deserve more than 2 seconds of your time?

    I’ve been to the Met three times. I’m only a “Met Novice.” The first time was to see the Impressionist rooms. Only the Impressionist rooms. From then on, I’ve narrowed it down to three different themes to see during each visit. The second time: the special punk exhibit, the Impressionists for a more thorough viewing, and the rooftop. These past October: the rooftop, the special tapestry exhibit, and a glance at the Medieval & European rooms exhibit (and by rooms exhibit, I mean actually rooms relocated from various chateaux, etc).

    By not slowing down, one might miss a truly wonderful experience. At the art musuem in Richmond, Va…there is a great impressionist exhibit. BUT if one doesn’t take the time to savor everything…one might miss the awesome Monet hanging in the Art Nouveau/Art Deco section.

    Pick a theme. Pick a concept. Pick a g of art. Focus on that. Yes, there are some intimate art museums one can savor in a day. But there are some that deserve a more detailed approach with many return visits! For example, the National Geographic museum in D.C. has small exhibits that are truly amazing; I discovered Etruscan art this way!

    I love the Louvre, but I wonder how many people miss the sculptures?? They are worth the time to visit too! The Mona Lisa, while great, is only one piece of art.

  5. P.S. There is also a “new” way to look at art in the major museums: a scanvenger hunt. Looking for small details can open up bigger themes and concepts, esp. historical ones. Take DaVinci pieces, for example: we might wonder about the person behind Mona Lisa- but I wonder about her neighbors, her family. What kind of food did they eat at this time period? Did they travel-what did they go and see? Hints for this kind of knowledge are in the details of art- do a scanvenger hunt for types of buttons or kinds of gloves in Rembrandt painting; one learns much about that time from such things!

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