“Museumitis” is becoming a common disease

“Museums are inextricably related to that phenomenon known as “tourism.” Both museums and tourism are relatively modern phenomena which were once exclusively the province of the rich and powerful and which developed, especially during the Victorian era, into institutions for the ordinary citizen. Both are “public” in that they are mass phenomena that take place away from the private home, and both involve the magic of a “trip,” an out-of-the-ordinary experience. As the crowds increase and heretofore inexperienced classes of visitors arrive, cognitive dissonance begins to cause some to be frustrated and others to be bored. “Museumitis” is becoming a common disease; after half an hour or an hour of what is supposed to be a pleasant experience, the visitor gets turned off, develops headaches, and feels tired. This is due at least in part to the fact that a museum is a strange place in that the subject matter slides past the walking visitor like a kaleidoscope, demanding attention and a change of focus at a pace not experienced elsewhere. In a museum, as opposed to in a church or school, the tempo of the experience is controlled not by the person orchestrating the event but by the visitor himself; and thus a heavy hurdle of the decision-making falls upon the visitor, who must decide to move on or stay, to avoid the crowd or be pushed on at a difficult pace, to read or not read the labels, to glance at or study the exhibit.”
–Nelson H.H. Graburn, “The Museum and the Visitor Experience” (1977)

Posted by | Comments (10)  | February 13, 2012
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

10 Responses to ““Museumitis” is becoming a common disease”

  1. Rolf Potts Says:

    I’m still learning how to approach museums experientially — especially the big museums, that really provide more than one can process in one visit. My strategy usually ends up being to not try and take everything in, but pinpoint one aspect of the museum I want to know well, and spending all of my visit slowly visiting that part of the museum…

  2. Roger Says:

    I’m a self confessed museum nerd. I love museums. They may not all be on the same level of importance, or impressiveness, but I think you can always learn something. If a place is worthy of “tourists” in the first place, there should be something worth knowing about that place. Can they seem stuffy and boring? Yes, but they are usually very uplifting. I don’t think I have ever left a museum feeling that I’d just completely wasted my time. Far from it.

  3. Cynthia Morris Says:

    I know this as ‘Stendhal’s Syndrome’ – where one gets overwhelmed in the face of so much beauty.

    The crowds are distracting for me, as I like people watching as much as anything and I get distracted by others. And annoyed by people taking pictures of master works with their cell phones. Talk about shortsightedness!

    But I’m not commenting to complain; more to offer a couple of ways to make museum going the rich experience it can be.

    One obvious way is to choose your visit times. Go later in the day or at opening time. If you can avoid weekends, do so. Recently in Paris I attended the Stein exhibit on a Saturday and found myself jockeying with many people to see the art. Not fun.

    I agree with you, Rolf, to focus on specific areas of a major museum. Start with must-sees for you and add other sections as you can.

    Go to smaller museums or galleries. Museums devoted to one artist like the Picasso museum in Paris is a great way to delve deeper into one person’s oeuvre.

    Take time at the end of a visit to pause in the café. Make notes about what you saw and what impacted you. If you’re with someone, initiate conversation about what you loved and why. Taking 30 minutes at the end of a visit to fully absorb what you took in will help with overwhelm. One of my favorite drawings emerged immediately after viewing an exhibit and if I hadn’t sat down to capture it, I would have missed the impact of the show.

    Thanks for this piece; I hope my comment helps people overcome museumitis, because I think it’s very worthwhile to look at masterpieces of art.

  4. Rolf Potts Says:

    Thanks, Roger and Cynthia, for the insight. I agree that smaller museums are great — especially out in isolated places, where the clerk or curator is happy to talk with you. Sometimes just asking a few questions in an otherwise dumpy-looking museum can get the curator excited about showing you new aspects of (and the human resonance behind) the museum.

  5. DEK Says:

    I like old-fashioned museums, where large numbers of things are laid out in glass cases with little cards telling you what they are; places one step removed from an Old Curiosity Shop and scarce two steps distant from dusty boxes found in the attic stuffed back under the eave and speckled with owl droppings.

    When I visit a modern museum I may enjoy the choice pieces they have put on display — often in a huge room to themselves and dramatic lighting — but I really would like to see the things they have in the backroom, the hundreds of little things that they don’t put out because they don’t think they would attract the crowds. Things that aren’t so precious that maybe they’ll let me handle them.

    And Cynthia is right about small museums. You may have to ask around to find someone to open it for you, but if it is small there’s a good chance that the person in charge is doing it out of his love for the thing, and will be delighted to show you around and tell you all about it and maybe show you things that they haven’t gotten around to displaying.

  6. One billion tourists around the world in 2012 | Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts Vagabonding Blog Says:

    […] sunrise picture spot. Every experience will be most probably overcrowded and overpriced, museumifying the most beautiful places across hundreds of countries, leveling every experience to appalling, […]

  7. Rare causes hives, know that you might want | MYHEALTHCAREBLOG.NET Says:

    […] cause of intestinal obstructionCold Urticaria FactsWhat is antibiotics Causes of Digestion Problems"Museumitis" is becoming a common disease .recentcomments a{display:inline !important;padding:0 !important;margin:0 […]