thoughts on | behaviour in art galleries

when i was in university i wrote an essay about behaviour in art galleries. i can't quite remember what class it was for, but it had something to do with people and architecture and public spaces. eventually that subject is what inspired my thesis.* probably because it has always been an issue that has perturbed and fascinated me. without realizing it, the essay i wrote was biased because i was solely concentrated on public galleries. public galleries are spaces in which the art is free to view, or if it is not free, then the visitor makes a conscious choice to pay money to see it. however, they may still be intimidated. i used to think the root of this fear came from the fact that people felt like they were expected to understand the art.


here is a quote from my essay: "when there is few to no people in the gallery, a visitor cannot look to their peers for hints on how to act [around the artwork]. hence, they revert back to the behaviour they believe is expected of them."

in my "make art a part (of your life)" e-course i expanded on this type of behaviour: "there's no doubt about it, art can be intimidating. have you ever been to a gallery and found yourself standing in front of a piece of wildly inexplicable contemporary art, feeling totally awkward? you don't want to embarass yourself by not 'understanding' the piece. you're not sure what you are supposed to be thinking and you have no idea what to do with your body!"

my solution to this is two part. one: spread the word that galleries are fun, and that you don't have to "figure out the art" or know anything about art at all! you can just go in and enjoy looking at beautiful images. two: fill the gallery with people. once this occurs, facades are dropped and people become engaged with both the people and the artwork around them.

however, now that i work in a commercial gallery, i realized something i was missing before. the money issue. people feel uncomfortable in (commercial) galleries because they are afraid that someone will try and pressure them into buying something. and frankly, that sucks. because yes, although it's very important for these types of galleries to make sales, i like to think the majority of us still love art and want to share it with the world.

maybe i'm totally off base. what i do know is that last week i saw a man cup his hands around is eyes and lean up against the windows of the gallery and look inside so hard that his breath left condensation on the glass. he practically kissed the wall in order to have a peek inside. the kicker? the door was wide open just two feet away. and this week i saw two gentleman stand on the literal precipice of the door step and look inside. they both stood there for an inordinate amount of time, but did not come in.

i know that these people are scared of something. something that holds them back from entering this beautiful world of art.

so please don't be afraid. there is so much to fall in love with and if you shed your inhibitions and anxiety, i guaruntee the experience will brighten your day!

*the way architecture and curatorial decisions affect the same traveling exhibition.
** funnily enough this photograph was actually staged. these people do look far too comfortable and that doesn't match the reality of how people are within a silent, mostly empty gallery space.


  1. What can I say, I took your e-course so I feel much more comfortable with art. It is interesting though, that people almost need someone to say, "It's okay, just look. You don't have to have answers or know anything in particular. Just look and see if you feel anything."

  2. Great article! I recently went to a lecture by Duncan Robinson on the evolution of British museums. He spoke about wanting people to laugh and talk openly in galleries, questioning and discussing the art. As an art history student it was really wonderful to hear!

  3. i also recommend handing a person a drink upon entrance to a gallery. not only will the alcohol relax them, it gives them something to do with their hands, alleviating a lot of the "i don't know how to act or what to do" anxiety and providing something to fidget with.

    seriously - it's a good idea. ;)

  4. as silly as it sounds, the drink thing is a really good idea. not necessarily because it gets you drunk or anything, but like kristy said, it relaxes you AND most importantly does give you something key to do with your hands!

    too bad many galleries don't allow drinks right in the exhibition space!


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