I don't visit museums nearly as often as I should, but I have made a promise to myself that I will start visiting one at least once each quarter. When you already have a million ideas swirling around constantly in your head, it can be easy to forget to lift your head up and look at the art world outside of your own. But it's so important to do that!
If we only see our own work all the time, we only create more of what we already know. Getting out into the painted world of someone else is refreshing and inspiring. It makes us aware of new techniques and materials. Or old techniques and materials we've not used before. It gives us the chance to see the world from someone else's point of view, which may end up challenging our own views.
When headed to a museum, here are a few ways you can gather inspiration, other than wandering around aimlessly (which can be fun too though!).
1. Visit only one artist's work. Walk past every other work of art and go directly to the artist you've chosen. Before you go, read up on the artist's history. Many times, their personal lives give more insight into why they painted the way they did or why they chose particular subjects to paint. Maybe you have something in common with the artist and you find a new connection to his or her work.
2. Choose two periods of art and compare the work that was made during those times. How are they different? Are there similarities? How did the time period in which the artists lived influence their art and how are you influenced by our current times?
3. Take a notebook and pencil or use your notes app. Pick your favorite painting and list all the reasons you enjoy it. You may discover something new about it - or about yourself. Or maybe there are qualities in the piece that you'd like to put into your work.
4. Find pieces that feel emotionally charged and ask yourself what it is about the pieces that make you feel a certain way. Is it the subject? The brushstrokes? The colors? The size of the piece? Look for paintings that exude different emotions and ask yourself these questions. Why does this painting make me anxious? Why does this one make me happy? Then go back to your own paintings and see how your art comes across to you. Are you saying what you want to say with your work?
5. Go to the lectures and artist talks. This is something I want to do more of in the coming year. This is especially helpful if, like me, you aren’t fond of talking about your own art. Listen to someone else’s perspective on the art being shown and pick up some speaking tips in the process!
6. Take a docent-lead tour. This is actually a pretty fun date-night but can totally be done solo or with a group of friends. The docents know so much about the work and if you get an enthusiastic one, you'll feed off of their energy and walk away inspired. This is a good time to ask questions too.
7. Go with a friend or date and pick your favorite paintings, but don't tell each other! Then try to guess each other's painting. Whoever wins buys dessert. Take the opportunity to ask why that's their fave and you might learn something new about them and about the art.
8. Choose a painting you really dislike at first glance and get closer. Ask yourself why you are so turned off by this painting. Then go create your version of the same subject.
9. Art Frankenstein Challenge. Wander around the museum and photograph several different pieces of art that intrigue you. Pick a piece of sculpture, a painting or two, a vase, a chair, a photograph. Try to choose as many different mediums as you can find then go to your easel and combine them all in one piece. Create a painting, a sculpture, a collage, whatever!
Art pictured above found in the Whitney Museum. Photo Credit Hannah Betzel
10. Go when the museum is having live music. There's something more exciting about seeing art when there's live music, especially if it's after normal hours. I imagine most of the artists created while listening to music, so the work tends to come alive a bit more. Pay attention to what's being played then try to find the painting that best matches the music.
I would love to hear if you have more ways to gather inspiration from a museum! If you enjoyed my list or have an idea I left out, leave it in the comments below!