If you’re like me and from a place that doesn’t prioritize regularly visiting museums, you may have what I’ve dubbed ‘museum anxiety.’ For example, you may avoid galleries and museums because you’re concerned that you won’t understand the works presented to you. Museum anxiety is super common, and you’re not alone! However, I’m here to tell you that if you use Instagram you’re ready to visit a museum.
Seriously, looking at art in a museum is not all that different from visiting a museum.
On Instagram, we know how to tell if a post is sponsored or staged. We can see if the person in the post is wearing makeup. If there is something that we can’t decipher in the image, we know to turn to the post’s text for more information. We can use context clues to infer things that may not be explicitly stated. We even know to click on the poster’s bio for further information on the author.
Now, you’re probably thinking, how does this apply to visiting museums?
Great question. Let’s break it down.
Perhaps, you’re on vacation in Florence and you’ve mustered the courage to visit the Uffizi Gallery and you stumble upon the Birth of Venus.
Your first glance tells you that you’re looking at a nude woman standing in a floating shell. She is surrounded by three of her friends. The scene appears to be taking place at the water’s edge. Looking at the image this way is no different than scrolling through your Instagram feed.
Now, you’ll move on to the description written by the museum that’s displayed on the wall. If this was Instagram, Sandro Botticelli (the painter) would post this to further explain his image. Here, he tells you what the painting is about.
It also lists the patrons of the work. Unlike Instagram, artists don’t have to #sponsored. Instead, they often include small details that reference the artist. Here, the orange trees in the mid-ground of the painting reference the patrons––the Medici family. On Instagram, sometimes it’s hard to tell if posts are sponsored or not. That’s why many influencers use tags such as #sponsored or #ad. It is typical of artists to include imagery noting who was a patron of their patron, like the orange trees that were representative of the Medici. This isn’t a requirement though! So it’s important to read the description to note who commissioned the work. Understanding who commissioned a work is important to understanding the narrative of the work. Oftentimes, patrons wish for specific imagery to be included in the work based on their religious, social, or cultural practices.
Now that you’ve read the description of the work you’re now able to look back at the image and have some new clarity that you may not have had before.
After you’ve finished looking at the image you can either search or explore, just like Instagram.
If you really liked the Botticelli painting, consult your guidebook or ask a museum worker to see if the institution houses any more works by the same artist. This is called searching. Just like on Instagram, if you know what you want to find, you can search for it specifically. You can also search for images that showcase a similar narrative. In the case of the Birth of Venus you could look for other Renaissance works that include images from Greek myths (there are a lot!).
If you liked the general idea of the work, but not it specifically it is time to explore. Start with the room of the gallery that you’re in. Walk around and see if anything else catches your eye. If not, that’s okay! Head to another room and see what you find there. This is just like Instagram’s explore page, minus a complicated algorithm. Museums arrange their collections with similar objects near each other. So if you’re interested in one painting, you could like the one next to it.
I hope that this cured your museum anxiety, and now you’re ready to visit your next museum.