Art Museums and Appreciating the Power of Silence

You’re not just staring at 200 year old paint.


moorea atkins

Art in the 21st Century. this photo is the modern world mixed with Grant Woods, American Gothic.

Everywhere you look there is something that demands your attention. Whether that be your phone, your friends, or your pending homework assignments, we’re constantly distracted by Snapchats, YouTube videos, and texts from our friends that we’ve forgotten how to be silent and think. 

I believe art museums are great spaces to do just that, even though most would shrug the idea off as boring and useless. Art museums capture the stories of history and life, and the beauty and pain that comes from it. The problem with being bored in an art museum isn’t the museum’s fault: it’s our inability to be comfortable with our thoughts. 

Most art museums are very quiet. There’s no music, no loud sounds, just you, the art, and silence. It’s often unsettling as we are used to the constant sound of noise. It’s uncomfortable how walking into a gallery makes you feel like you’re in another world. 

This sense of entering into another world can be scary or boring to others. With nothing but the art to catch your attention, many say art is boring because it’s staring at dried paint. While that’s technically true, it’s not the substance but the content that matters. Many pieces require you to engage with it, visually or intellectually. So what does that mean to someone who doesn’t like art?

Well, ask questions. What am I seeing? What does this mean? What story is the artist telling through shape, color, and composition? What are they trying to say? Do I agree with the artist’s point of view? 

These questions are impossible to answer in a crowded busy street. While some say that museums lack creative engagement, the opposite is true. The silence in the museums gives you time to slow down and reflect. Good art is controversial and powerful, and sometimes all you can do is sit there and stare. 

The problem with art museums is not the institution as some people claim. The problem is the practice of being in solitude. Nowadays, it’s frowned upon to be alone with your thoughts. With instant entertainment at our fingertips in the form of smartphones, the practice of being bored is nonexistent. Boredom is where some of the best ideas and creative innovations come from. Why do you think so many artists and writers take months off to go into the middle of nowhere to simply be alone with their thoughts?

Most situations in life are given and take. You’re not going to get anything out of an art museum (or any museum) if you aren’t making an effort to have fun or learn. Don’t expect to be bored when entering an art gallery, expect the unexpected. Expect to learn something through the art, whether that be about history and the struggle of mankind, or how you should not paint cows. 

The next time you’re dragged to an art museum with your family or friends, remember that they are only boring if you make them boring. Learn to appreciate how to sit in silence (and not reach for your phone) and be comfortable with your thoughts. Close Instagram, stop that Youtube video and tell your friends you’re going AFK for a bit. Maybe you’ll learn something new about yourself or the world around us. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll see that art is a force that makes the world go round.