Ever wondered why you feel so exhausted after visiting a museum?
If you’re anything like me, after being inside an hour or so, my feet start to drag and I find myself questioning whether this was really the best use of my free time. Intellectually, I know art appreciation to be an enriching activity and one that enhances me culturally, but physically it can sometimes feel like running a marathon. And I don’t think I’m alone in this conflicting range of sensations associated with visits to museums. I would go as far to venture that one of the main reasons for many people’s general aversion to museums is the tired and overwhelmed feeling that their cavernous marble galleries inspire. Indeed, museums are beasts unto their own right. One must learn how to handle them and mitigate their effects if one is to enjoy the art which hang upon their walls.
It’s a shame really, how many people despise museums and are adverse to art appreciation, and, I for one, wouldn’t be surprised if one of the contributing factors to this is something that I like to call Museum Fatigue.
Museum fatigue is the pain in one’s lower back after standing on marble tile all day. It’s the dehydration that comes from “no outside beverages”, or from skipping lunch in order to see more exhibits. The weariness comes from being overwhelmed by more colors, textures, ideas, and placards than one sees in one’s normal day-to-day life, and, of course, those notoriously obnoxious school groups. It is not an easy or light matter to try and wrap one’s mind around obscure or ambiguous concepts found in art, and all that pondering takes a tremendous toll on one’s body and mind.
The good news is that museum fatigue can be defeated so that we can all get back to why we visited the museum in the first place: ART!
Indeed, the purpose and role of art is to enjoy, to inspire, and to question one’s assumptions and beliefs. However, like with most extracurricular pursuits, what you put into art is what you’ll get out of it. So if you are one of those people who practically run through each gallery in order to receive a stamp of approval for seeing every piece of art in the building, then you’re probably going to miss out on the beauty or revelations that come from slowly and meditatively wandering through the building. Indeed, to fully engage with art, one must often pause, consider, reconsider, and, sometimes discuss the piece. (And, it helps even more to study about the artist and their life prior to visiting the museum. But, really, who’s got time for all that?)
Trust me, quality time with a few pieces is much better than moving at breakneck speed through each room. And because I firmly believe that art deserves ample time and appreciation, I’ve compiled methods that I have found to be successful in beating Museum Fatigue:
Go early in the morning, as close to when the museum opens as possible. There will be fewer visitors and you’ll have more peace and quiet as you wander the exhibits. One of the main contributing factors to Museum Fatigue is one’s fellow museum goers. Navigating around other people while also avoiding touching or bumping into the art, is exhausting in it of itself, and then add to that long lines for the restroom and noisy school groups, and we’ve got ourselves a perfect storm. Admiring artwork moves to the back burner when one is distracted by large crowds, the other visitors’ poor museum etiquette and loud voices.
Bring a water bottle with you to refill at water fountains. And then drink the water! It can be easy to get dehydrated when visiting museums due to the temperature and humidity levels required to preserve art and historical items that are counter-productive to the comfort of humans. While I would be remiss in recommending drinking water in the actual galleries, keep an eye out for hallways, bathrooms, and other areas where you can step out and take a quick sip at frequent intervals. Sipping often versus chugging half the bottle at once will help you to stay hydrated and reduce the number of trips to the restroom.
Utilize benches found in the galleries and take periodic breaks. No one will judge you for taking a few minutes to sit down and rest your legs on the furniture that is expressly provided for visitors to relax on and admire the art in more detail. In fact, you might find that you enjoy the museum more by spending extra time in each room and slowing the pace of your visit. I recommend sitting down before you start to feel tired or experience an achy back, so as to stave off the pain for as long as possible. Your body will thank you.
Skip the heels, new, or thinly-soled shoes on museum day. Museums are infamous for having very hard floors that are rather unkind to one’s lower back and legs, so wear your most comfortable shoes even if it’s at the expense of fashion. I recommend sneakers with thick soles (not Converse All Stars, for example) or comfortable boots. Also: take advantage of the coat check or lockers to drop off heavy items and outerwear that will be burdensome as you carry them around for many hours.
Break up your visit to the museum with a trip to the café, even if it’s just to sit down and drink water. Better yet, snack on a granola bar that, if you were strategic, you brought with you in your bag. Or indulge in a coffee, tea or salad from the snack bar. I personally love museum cafes and find them to generally have high quality food (with a price to match) and beverages for purchase. Being around so many people while also reading and concentrating on art will essentially suck out all of your energy, so refill and refresh half way through your visit.
Plan your visit ahead of time by browsing the museum’s website and try not to select more than six galleries or sections to visit on one day. Better to be under ambitious than to over exert yourself and leave the museum disgruntled, exhausted, with a vow to never step foot in one again. If you don’t have time to research the museum ahead of your visit, ask the museum staff for their recommendations or request a list of the museum’s highlights. When it comes to art, it’s better to meander slowly through galleries, taking your time to pause and fully immerse yourself in the art than to hurriedly speed through just to say that you saw the whole thing. Chances are that you’ll remember and get more out of your visit if you spend more time on fewer pieces than less time on more.
Post below if you have any additional tips for enjoying museums, and I’d love to hear if these suggestions help you more fully enjoy your next visit!
All photos are my own taken at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, PA