A Guide To Appreciating Art Museums

By Lillie Strudthoff

If you’re studying abroad in Europe, there’s a 99.9% chance that you will have to spend time in an art museum at some point. For some people, the idea of seeing important artistic and cultural artifacts is thrilling. For others, it brings to mind images of dusty buildings and a tour guide who sounds like an international version of the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.


If spending an afternoon staring at oil paintings makes you want to stand in the middle of the nearest strada, check out this guide to appreciating art and museums (yes, even the boring stuff):

1. Go by yourself.

I know, I know. You don’t even want to go with the group, so suggesting that your museum time be self-inflicted seems rather ridiculous. But you might find that some of the things you hate most about museums have nothing to do with art. If you go by yourself, you can spend as much (or as little) time looking at the works as you want, and you don’t have to listen to your pedantic classmate monologue about how Michelangelo’s paintings were actually rather sub-par.

2. Go with an awesome tour guide.

Someone who’s funny and entertaining can make even the dullest topics seem awesome. Exhibit A: Bernardo (aka Bernie, aka quite possibly my favorite person in the entire world).


This adorable man was responsible for showing the cast of Jersey Shore around when they were in Florence. His ability to remain jovial while Snooki peppered him with questions about the realness of the “babies with wings” depicted in the frescoes earned him the title of “the kindest, most patient tour guide in the world” from Rolling Stone. His talent for dealing with vapid people is matched by his ability to make 14th-century triptychs seem absolutely fascinating. Seriously, if you’re in Florence, look him up.

3. Pick one (or two, or three…) works or artists to learn more about.

Art history is incredibly interesting when you start digging into it. Art was an integral part of politics, religion, and society, so what might look like a simple sculpture today could have actually been a bold act of defiance 500 years ago. Also, a lot of artists’ lives are crazy in the best way. Don’t believe me? Read a few pages of Renaissance goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini’s hilarious autobiography. He’s basically the artist version of Captain Jack Sparrow.

4. Revel in the ridiculousness.

If you think about it, museums are pretty weird. Where else can you stare at pictures/life-size models of naked people in public and not be considered a perv?

You can also find gems like this.


If you begin to feel unbearably bored, start counting the number of awkward portraits or scary-looking baby Jesuses you can find. No matter where you are, I guarantee you’ll have a high count by the end of the tour.

5. And if all else fails, do it for the selfie.

Tried everything above and still can’t appreciate art museums? Then you might as well make the most of it and have the Mona Lisa in the background of your newest profile pic.