A three-part series from JBB inspired by our American Licks collection and our scoop shops’ museum-esque transformation
I love museums now, but, I hated them growing up. After the first 15 minutes they are boring to the max for a child, and yet loaded with adventure and memories (the Time Museum in the middle of Illinois is a fond memory). They can be just as yawn-inducing now as they were then if you don’t understand why you are there.
Grown-ups often have the problem that you must see this or that, and they schlep their kids all over the place to squeeze it all in. They believe that simply visiting a museum will make them smarter, wiser, more interesting. It will not. Not if you can’t connect the experience to something. You must be able to build on that experience somewhere else in your life.
As a grown-up, or at least as a resource-producing human being, I can choose what museum I go to, what part of it I visit, and how long I stay. Which usually means a very specific installation, collection, or exhibit, for a very short time. I don’t allow a membership fee or the price of admission to dictate how long I stay. I go, and when I am tired or bored, I leave. And it doesn’t take long. And it’s always worth it.
In this way, I have changed my relationship with the museum by altering my own expectations. I don’t have to stay for a day or even an hour if I don’t want to. And I never force myself.
Recently I went to view the Dutch masters in Boston and stayed for 1 hour, including the entire audio tour and the museum gift shop. I made an entire trip to Boston just to see this exhibit and came back home in the same day. I would go many times again if I lived in Boston because it was wonderful. But one hour is enough for me to figure out what I like, what speaks to me, and find something I can think/obsess about for the next few weeks. More than that and I turn into a pumpkin. I have popped into MoMA for 30 minutes more than once, which is why I keep up a membership. And, what’s more, I go see the same stuff every visit—up four escalators, then to the left, left, right, left (my MoMA path)—I’m in and out. Some of these pieces are old friends and like old friends I always learn something new when I visit. I prefer this relationship to new things because I get to dive deeper. There’s more context to absorb slowly. Although I have been moved just as much by contemporary artists like Imran Qureshi’s And How Many Rains Must Fall before the Stains Are Washed Clean, an installation/painting on the rooftop of The Met which I will never ever forget.
I like the moment when new ideas begin to take shape—like rock ‘n’ roll, or that era when modernism first began to take hold in Europe. I like those people. Like Manet, who I visit at The Met or Art Institute of Chicago. I like people like that now, who are doing new things that may not be fully understood for decades. Or may be forgotten forever.
Once I realized that I don’t have to spend a whole day at a museum, no matter how amazing or noteworthy, I felt free to inhale the experience in a much deeper, more mindful way. And that is how I do things now. Even if I miss a lot, I get a lot more from the things I do experience. It’s a form of meditation.
Also, it’s worth noting that I am usually alone when I go to a museum, which I find is better because when I go with someone else I feel their pull constantly and it’s unsettling. Or I go with someone who I know well enough.
Here’s the magic. Here’s the why. Here’s the thing: I time travel when I look at art. It feels like I can pick up on the heartbeat of time and surf it. I can feel it, find the emotion, find the artist or creator and stand with them for a moment. It takes a minute to get there, and a lot of research (which I do before I go), and when it happens it’s an intense feeling. It is not academic or woo woo-y. It is sometimes painful and real, and I usually feel small and insignificant in the context of spacetime when I leave, which fills me with incomprehensible joy and inspiration.