Art a GoGoArt Over Easy



How to Learn More About Art
Part Five: Visiting an Art Museum


For the novice, a visit to an art museum can be a daunting experience. Most museums are very large and require stamina and a good sense of direction to navigate. Taking some time to learn more about the museum before you go is the best way to ensure a more informative and enjoyable visit.


Most museums have a web site, so be sure to check it out before you go; you'll be far more prepared for what you are going to see. To find a museum in your area, link to the WWW Virtual Library web site. This site has links to museums in the United States.

Small or large, most art museums will typically contain two types of collections: Permanent Collections and Special Exhibitions.

Permanent Collection
This is art that the museum owns, either through a direct purchase or has been donated by a wealthy patron.

Art museums vary in what kind of art can be found in their permanent collection. A general collection can range from ancient to contemporary. Whereas a specialized collection will contain a more narrowed focus such as American art, photography, or women artists.

Explore the web site to get familiar with what kind of art the museum has in its permanent collection.

Special Exhibits
Special exhibits are those events that will only be available to the public for a limited period of time. Typically these exhibits feature work by a particular artist gathered from many museums or represent a specific art movement. It often takes years of planning, research, and a collaborative effort between museums around the world to mount some of these exhibits.

Browse the web site for details about the special exhibitions on view at the museum. It's a good way to get familiar with important background information before you get there. Also find out if there will be an additional charge for the special exhibition and purchase your tickets in advance.

Visitor Information
1. Museum's location
2. Phone numbers
3. Directions
4. Parking Information
5. Hours (very important-many museums are usually closed on Mondays)
6. Admission price
7. Information about tours


You have several strategies to organize your visit:

Self-Guided Tours
After previewing the museum's web site, you should have an idea about what you will see during your visit. If you're interested in looking at something in particular, be sure to pick up a map and any other brochures available at the Information Desk. The museum map will be an essential tool to help you locate a specific work of art. Knowing where it can be found in the museum will save you a lot of valuable time.

Docent Tour
Docents are volunteers who have received specialized training in providing visitors with information about the museum and its permanent collection or a special exhibition. These tours are often, if not always, free.

Audio Tour
For a fee, you will be given a cassette/CD player and headphones to tour selected examples from the museum's permanent collection. Audio tours are almost always available for special exhibitions.

Programs and Events
There is often a series of lectures and/or concerts offered at the museum to accompany a special exhibition or a featured artist in the museum's collection. The speakers are typically art historians who are experts in a particular area or museum curators who have organized the exhibition. These events can be highly informative ways to learn more about a particular artist or artistic movement.

Educational Opportunities
Educational opportunities abound at most museums. These might include a children's/family activity room, art classes, research centers, and libraries. Check with the museum to see exactly what is available.

Most museums contain two essential destinations for any visitor: a café and a bookstore or gift shop. At some point during your visit you will long for a place to sit down, grab something to eat and discuss what you've seen with a friend. Museum cafés can often be pretty pricey but they are convenient and the food is usually pretty good.

Museum bookstores are great places to pick up posters, postcards, or books about the museum's collection. If you are visiting to see a special exhibition, do consider buying the exhibition catalog. These are usually very expensive, but if you are really interested in the exhibition these catalogs are well worth the cost. They are written by the top scholars in their field and the images included are usually of the highest quality.


Whether you're navigating the museum on your own or being guided by docent you will encounter two types of information cards posted on a wall near a particular work of art.

Identification card
This card contains all the data pertaining to a work of art. Most cards will include the following information (but not always in this order):
1. Artist's name
2. Artist's nationality
3. Artist's date of birth/death
4. Title
5. Date
6. Medium
7. Dimensions
8. Name of Collection
9. Acquisition number

Curatorial Comments
The information on this card is prepared by the museum's research experts (curators) provides an explanation about a work of art and/or details about the artist's life. The curatorial staff consists of highly specialized experts who have written these comments in order to help visitors have more background information in order to better understand a work of art.

Lately, many museum professionals have questioned the importance of these cards. Supporters believe that they provide a service to the public by helping them understand what they are looking at-especially contemporary art. Critics, on the other hand, think that people spend more time reading the cards than actually looking at the art.


1. Stay at least an arm's length away from the works of art. And remember to NEVER touch paintings, sculpture, or any other work of art!

2. Talk quietly in order not to disturb other visitors. You may always of course ask questions of the museum staff.

3. Most museums have rules about using photography. Be sure to inquire about their policy before using any camera/video equipment.

4. Avoid bringing any bulky backpacks or large purses. If you do, you will probably be asked to check it. These large objects slung over your shoulder might bump a work of art and damage it.

5. If you want to take any notes, use a pencil only.

6. No food or beverages are allowed in exhibit areas.


1. Arrive at the museum early or late; parking is easier and the museum will be far less crowded.

2. Pace yourself-you'll never see everything in one day!


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