Museum Manners – Ten Tips

We visited an art museum last weekend. Visiting museums, whether they be art, natural history, children’s – whatever, is a foundational method to expose children to the greater world around them. We’ve found museum trips can be a lifesaver when raising a gifted child as they help quench their thirst for new experiences. Tips for visiting museums

Visiting museums can provide so many topics for discussion. Not just on the artwork and exhibits but even the architecture of the museum itself. How can you visit the Guggenheim in New York and not talk about Frank Lloyd Wright? Or the Guggenheim Bilbao and not discuss Frank Gehry? That one’s on my bucket list of museums to visit.

One recent conversation was about the philanthropy that has traditionally supported so many of the great art museums. If you had the money to make a substantial donation to support the arts, would you? Or would you choose to support another worthy cause, say education or healthcare?

Personally, I’m a fan of the way the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works out these decisions.

As we wandered the galleries there was an amazing lack of manners and common courtesy shown by fellow museum goers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the kids who were acting inappropriately.

I know I sound like a grumpy old(ish) woman but there would be some serious repercussions if my child behaved the way some of our fellow patrons were acting. Yep, I’m that mom.

My guess is it’s because they’ve never learned what’s appropriate and what’s not. Probably lots of reasons for this but one I keep coming back to is the lack of field trips in elementary schools.

I know there are plenty of school districts that schedule meaningful field trips but the one we’re in isn’t one of them. We’re in a moderately rural district that isn’t well-funded. Pretty sure this district isn’t so unique in that regard.

This year the only field trip scheduled for my daughter’s class is to the local roller-rink. Now, I’m all for a good time with classmates (despite the grumpy old(ish) woman thing) but I think it’s a shame that students aren’t getting those rite of passage experiences that school field trips should provide.

I know you can hear my frustration. Is there a frustrated font? It probably looks like that sarcastic font I know we’re all dying for.

Who knows what inspiration a child may get from gazing on a Matisse or Mondrian? They’ll never know until they get to go and have the time to enjoy the experience.

I firmly believe that everyone should enjoy our museums. Not just those who are up on Miss Manners. But please, let’s all follow some basic rules of civilized society so we might all enjoy the experience.

Museum Etiquette Tips

  1. It’s a museum, not a playground. Unless, of course, it’s a children’s museum then it probably is a playground. But I’m talking about museums that hold priceless works of art or irreplaceable artifacts. These places are not playgrounds even though those long galleries make foot races incredibly tempting. Just say no.
  2. Don’t over pack. Seriously, leave the backpacks in the car. Most museums won’t allow them and they’ll be checked. You really don’t want to knock something over because of an overloaded backpack. Hmm…I wonder how maybe the Venus de Milo lost her arms.
  3. Eat the snacks before you get there. Lots of reasons for this, like no one wants to see or smell your burritos. Or see your Diet Coke spilled on the Picasso. Did you just get mustard on a Van Gogh? You see where I’m going. Not to mention the trash and crumbs that would be generated and that could mean vermin. Yuck.
  4. You don’t have to whisper but it would be so nice if you did. Museums usually have lots of hard surfaces and high ceilings which means sound travels. Yes, you should discuss the art – that’s why we’re all there! Just think of a museum as a library for artworks and use the same tone of voice you would there. Please.
  5. Stay together. I find museums confusing places and routinely get lost even with the help of maps. This is tricky to do when visiting with children but trying to track them down without yelling and running is tougher. See points 2 and 4 above.
  6. No flash photography. More and more museums are relaxing the rules on photography since the proliferation of smartphones with cameras. However, flash photography is still considered a no-no. Over time all those flashes can diminish the vibrancy of colors in the paintings. Not good.
  7. Most museums will allow you to sketch if you’re so inclined. Sometimes this is limited to certain days or times or particular galleries. One common caveat though is that sketching is only allowed in pencil. Not ink, markers, or paints. Makes sense.
  8. Plot your visit in advance. Talk with your children and have them involved on the front end. They’ll be more interested if they have a say in the itinerary. Allow for plenty of just ‘wandering’ time but doing research can give them something to look forward to. Part of learning to appreciate art is learning the back story and symbolism. Help them learn why a certain piece of work is significant.
  9. Different museums have different rules. I haven’t checked them all but all the ones I have looked at have visitor policies available online. Check them out before you head out the door.
  10. Be respectful. Good tip for just about anything. Be cognizant of fellow patrons and don’t ‘hog’ a work of art. Let someone else get close to see it. Practice common courtesy and you’ll be good. Always.

Full disclosure: the picture is of my daughter a few years ago at Crystal Bridges Museum. She spent more time reading about the artwork than looking at the artwork. Oh well.

What are your favorite museum experiences?

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