Art & Design Magazine

Museum Etiquette

By Arfully Yours
Museum EtiquetteI've been going to art museums for over 16 years, and throughout that time I have learned many things. And I'm not talking about art related things. I'm talking about people and their museum behavior related things.
I know I’m at risk of sounding completely snobby and hoity-toity, but it’s a risk I’m ready to live with. Because the thing is, that out of the many things I ignore in a subconscious attempt at being tolerant and open-minded, bad museum etiquette is one of the few points of contentions I’m not ready to part with. It’s the reason I prefer museums during the week, and wake up early on a Saturday hoping to see the weekend crowds arrive as I exit. It is also the reason I have never been able to enjoy the Louvre, and why MoMA—as much as my heart yearns for that place—has never been a pleasant enough experience to warrant some sort of experience of transcendence. 
In short, among all of the good experienced had at museums, I’ve had some pretty bad ones as well. The latter ones have been a direct consequences of other people’s annoying behaviors from which I’ve learnt. And because I don’t think I will ever be able to enjoy any museum at its most desolate state (read: when closed) I have put together a series of experiences and suggestions for those who will at some point in their live visit an art museum. Because I’m servicey like that.
Museum EtiquetteYes, you want to remember everything you did on that summer vacation you made to Paris, or your fall trip to New York. But it always baffles me that most people feel compelled to  take pictures of every painting in a museum when a simple Google search will return better quality images than the ones you just took on your Blackberry? I understand that many museums will allow photography, as long as it done without flash, but I wish they would simply forbid it.
The few experiences I’ve had at MoMA have all been overtaken by a general instinct to throw people’s cameras to the floor (I never followed through). The constant clicking, and in some instances, use of flashes really puts me over the edge. There’s also the issue of people standing in mine and other people’s way just to take a picture of Van Gogh’s Starry night. Here, this is more effective!
And while everyone has the right to do as they please as long as the museum allows it,it’s bothersome. A museum is about enjoying and learning about the art. So go, look, and enjoy. No photos, not flashes, no posing in front of Demoiselles D’Avignon or trying to high five the sculpture of an Ancient Roman Gladiator because it will make a great Facebook Picture. Just don’t, please. Outdoor sculpture gardens and Rodin’s Thinker are exceptions of course!
Image via Flikr
I’m certain that I’ve been guilty of wearing boots that might make noise as I walk through a gallery, I can’t clearly recall a specific situation but I’m sure I’ve done it. But girls, don’t wear heels. First off it’s noisy and disruptive to others. Not to mention that in a few minutes it will become uncomfortable. There is such a thing as museum fatigue, and it will come sooner if you are wearing heels.
The same goes for sneakers. Most museums use wooded floors because they tend to be more flexible and softer on your back as you walk and stand for long periods of time. But the squeaking they cause when they hit the wooden surface is quite unbearable.
In fact any item of clothing that may cause large amounts of noise should not be worn to the museum. The coat check is for leaving your large plastic bags, noisy parkas, long dangly and noisy necklaces. Also, large bags are inconvenient, they weigh on your shoulder and bump into me when you pass by without any regard for those around you.
Just DON’T.
TALKING, NOISE AND CELL PHONESI may be caught checking my text messages in front of a Jasper Johns every once in a while, but is it really ok leave your ringer on and loudly answer when someone calls? Granted, I'm of the general opinion that cell phones loudly ringing are inappropriate in any given circumstance (explains why my missed calls log is generally the one getting all the action), but I would like for people to give the same amount of respect given to art appreciation as you do to a film. Oh wait, people still leave their phones on at the theater? Never mind then.
But seriously, talking on the phone is not acceptable. Unnecessary noise in general is not acceptable. Also, talking about the guy you met last night at the club or how hungover you are from going out right behind me, is also not acceptable.
Museum EtiquetteI don’t have kids, so I don’t know what it is like to have to discipline little people with brains of their own So, my only plea is that you know the limits of your kid’s attention span. If you know they can’t behave, don’t take them. If you know they can only take in an art museum one bit at a time, then do it in such manner. Go in for a few works of art, then come back the next day and, so on. Kids running around or being loud is unacceptable.
I would say that there’s also a specific kind of art that may catch children’s attention better than others. Sculpture gardens—actually sculpture in general —and Contemporary art may be a good way to start, because there is more chance for interaction. Don’t take them to the Renaissance painting Hall at the Louvre, no sane 5-year old cares about Caravaggio.
Image via

RESPECT THE ARTI could go on and on about this, but Stephanie Joynes sums it up quite succinctly:
This is one of my biggest professional peeves. After working in a museum that represented Native cultures, it amazed me how people felt it was appropriate to make fun of people by "playing Indian". They wore Washington Redskins t-shirts and Cleveland Indians hats that actually alluded to the "savageness" or "comical" nature of Native people. Someone actually said to my Cherokee co-worker to be careful or she'll be scalped when she was standing up for herself and her culture. If you are going to a cultural museum, try to learn about the culture rather than ridiculing it.
In fact all of these non-rule rules are generally about respecting the art and the people that are around you looking at the art.

In one of my routine visits to the Menil collection, I experience what could be the worst behavior by a museum attendant in the history of history. It happened in the Surrealism gallery as I admired a taxidermied horse and longed for the removed (at the time) Golconde. The only other people in the gallery were the gallery attendant and a couple looking at Magritte's Empire of Light. As the guy explained to the girl a bit of background on Magritte, the girl pulled out her camera in attempts to take a photograph. Lets just say she wasn’t successful, as the gallery attendant proceeded to not just tell her that the Menil has a strict “no photography” policy in place, but also maintained a rude and loud attitude about the whole thing. When the guy asked not to be rude, that they just didn’t know about the rule, she just kept asking them to leave, to know the rules the next time, that taking the photo would damage the painting, etc. The couple eventually left because there was no way the woman was going to stop, as evidenced by the fact that even after they left she kept on retelling the story to the other attendant who had come over when he heard the altercation. She had a point, there are rules, and people in general shouldn’t take pictures while at the museum, but she was incredibly rude and loud. Not to mention, disturbing to the people around her (in this case myself).
I get it, you have a job to do, and it must be annoying to have to say the same thing over and over again. But don’t take your duty so far that you offend people and disturb others around you. Again, noise is not acceptable.
See, its not so hard to be respectful. Just know the place you’re visiting and respect that other people are there to appreciate the art. My recommendations: Take a sketchbook and a sketch or write down your though on a Cy Twombly. Sit on the benches provided and stare at a work of art, take someone and show them your favourite piece, or let a tour guide explain to you the brilliance behind a Mondrian. And when you get hungry or have a call to take? Go out to the sculpture garden or lawns that museums tend to provide, it’s a good place to be loud and have the snack that you smuggled inside your purse.

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