The Perfectionist's Guide to Visiting an Art Gallery.

3 Jul 2015

When visiting a museum, art gallery, or indeed, a whole city, do you find you can become a bit like a Sergeant Major embarking on a life-altering mission (hello off-the-scale-unrealistic 'To See' list)?

Even in leisure, The Perfectionist's (and many depressives are perfectionists in my experience) goals are rarely attainable.

So how does a perfectionistic culture vulture explore without becoming a cantankerous, fatigued, hunger stricken "failure", with sore feet?

1) Visit the shop first.

It was my American friend, Michelle, who first got me thinking I need to rethink the way I "attack" an art gallery. Michelle always hits the shop first. If some merchandise of a painting "grabs" her, she'll take note and go see it in the flesh.

This may sound fickle but believe me, if you're as short on energy as I am, this can save you from running out of steam before you've even reached the first gallery.

2) Forgive yourself for not stopping, staring, and reading about, every last exhibit.

The fear of missing something life-altering will not abate by adopting the perfectionistic approach - which can quickly come to feel perfunctory and chore-like. In fact, chances are, you'll only tire out quicker and thus lessen any likelihood of experiencing that inspirational, visceral, mouth agog moment.

3) Don't expect the "must see" or famous paintings to be the ones that will inspire/move you the most.

Professor James O. Pawelski, the director of education for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests planning to spend about half of whatever time you have for your visit by first meandering from room to room. Make a note of what resonates with you (not what you feel should resonate with you). Then go back and spend the rest of your time with just the one or two paintings/sculptures etc you've noted (meet Mr Mindfulness. Again). That means really stopping and staring.

Professor Pawelski is conducting studies to try and uncover why the deliberate contemplating of art can increase our wellbeing.

4) Stop frequently for liquid refreshment.

A stop for a cuppa goes without saying really, doesn't it?

5) Answers on a postcard.

I love Danny Gregory's suggestion to purchase a postcard of the painting that touched/inspired/struck you the most and then post it to yourself with a few lines about why you love it so. Why did it "speak" to you? What did you feel?

We may feel a failure if we've not seen absolutely everything but what's the point of seeing everything but not really seeing anything? Sure, you can say, "Yup, been there, saw that," but did you? Did you really, see it; feel it?

As Professor Pawelski says, sometimes we get more for the price of admission by opting to see less.

What helps you to emerge from an art gallery/museum feeling inspired and sated instead of fagged and depleted?


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