I recently visited the V & A museum in London and went to see the Paul Strand exhibition they had on. Regardless of how interested I actually am with the material, I often find exhibitions, museums and art galleries can become tedious at times. I feel like others may share this feeling. Your feet begin to wane and become tired. You feel uncontrollably lackadaisical and start desperately searching for chairs or post-modern pieces of art that may serve as benches. Maybe you have brought your children and they are beginning to feel irritable even though you are finding the exhibition very interesting. The children begin to complain and this grinds on you until you wish it was time to leave. There are different reasons for becoming irritated during your trip to museums, exhibitions and galleries, but I believe there are lessons to be learnt that can both make you enjoy your trip more and appreciate these works and facts despite how they may bore you.

Returning back to the Paul Strand exhibition, there were a few photos I really liked. Tir A’Mhurain  is a beautiful shot Strand took of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Furthermore, Chopping Block  really resonated with me as its rustic feel displayed a simple part of life. There were others which I also enjoyed and there were also some that I didn’t particularly like. If truth be told, the first lesson that improved my experience was actually influenced by the price of the entry! There was an additional fee on top of the suggested donation for visiting the museum, with this in mind I decided to really spend time indulging in the exhibition and, for want of a better phrase, get my money’s worth.

As I walked around the pictures, I did so very slowly, listening to my breath and trying to become very aware of exactly what I was looking at. If I looked at a face of someone, I made a concerted effort to understand their face and the emotions it revealed. If I was looking at landscape, I tried to understand the terrain, the weather and the wildlife. I certainly didn’t succeed for every photo, but the few which I really understood and engaged with were made memorable and far more enjoyable. There were some which I similarly engaged with but didn’t find particularly enjoyable or remarkable. This approach should similarly work for art, sculptures, facts and models in museums. Really engage with what you are looking at, listen to your breathing and try to release your mind from anything else.

As I have said this did not work for every photo, there were many that I simply didn’t understand, appreciate or enjoy. I really do not think this is anything to be ashamed of, if you have tried to engage with what you are seeing and still do not enjoy it then that’s okay. Similarly, you would not punish a child for not liking a certain food after trying it, there are some things you simply don’t like or enjoy. In fact, I think knowing you do not enjoy or appreciate a from of art or a certain type of history is commendable. What you have actually done is realise that something is not aligned to your passions or interests and you can now spend time pursuing other things you already like or may like. Whilst I did not enjoy all photos at the Strand exhibition, the time I spent trying to engage with the photos left me reaffirming that I enjoy photographs providing larger pictures of a place, i.e. mountains, city skylines, stars and the countryside. Finding an exhibition or a museum boring is not a bad thing so long as you really try to engage with what you are looking at or learning.

One of the other things I really enjoyed about the exhibition was learning about Strand’s life. Whilst I may not have enjoyed all of his work, I can really appreciate the efforts he went through to try to succeed with his work and ambitions. The exhibition stated that he had a passion for getting his art out to the masses but it was often too expensive for most to buy his work. This inspired him to start publishing books with his photographs of certain regions and places, this made his works cheaper to see and thus more accessible. Although I did not enjoy all of his photos, I can respect how much work and effort went into pursuing his passions. At the same time, I realised that the people who created this exhibition have spent a large amount of time and effort in doing so. I would guess that they enjoy all or a large part of Strand’s work although they may have been quite fed up with Strand by the time the exhibition was all completed!

Similarly, in other museums, galleries and exhibitions there are people who create these places for people to learn. These people have a passion for the work they do. There are also members of the public who absolutely adore the work in these places. I think this is an invaluable lesson to bear in mind if you are not enjoying your time in a museum, gallery or exhibition. The people who created these works or exhibitions are very passionate about them and this passion should be remembered and respected. Similarly, you may have a passion which these artists, photographers or curators find unbearably boring. In both cases, trying to engage with what you find boring will give you a kind of respect for what you are seeing and may even make you enjoy it. As a ripple effect, assigning this respect and realising that people have different interests will likely lead you to a happier life as you become a more understanding and thoughtful person.

Thus, there are at least three lessons one can learn from boring exhibitions, museums or galleries:

  1. If you fully engage with what you are seeing/learning you may actually like it.
  2. If you don’t like it then you have learnt something about yourself and can put your time to better use.
  3. Appreciate and respect the work and passion people have put into what you are seeing as it may lead you to a happier life.

In sum, we should go to these places more often, something I have neglected in the past and want to improve upon. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts, feel free to comment your opinions, questions or any problems you have with my views!