A guide to museums: How to Mona Lisa Avoid Syndrome

Museums can often be seen as these huge terrifying entities filled with famous names which you feel you ought to know. At the end of the day, they’re just buildings filled with objects. There is a kind of Mona Lisa syndrome around art. Everyone tries to go see this work and is disappointed, even though there are some amazing works (which are much more beautiful in my opinion). Of course, don’t try to actively avoid these works, but don’t focus all your energy on them. Museums are all about looking and maybe stopping when you see a work you like. Then see who made it so that you have a better understanding of it or getting to see some other works. However, in the case of not knowing where to go in these mazes, you can always use these famous works displayed to try and navigate or go to a section you might be interested in (I.e. Spanish art). However, don’t forget to look around allow yourself to get sidetracked or taken off-piste by the objects that catch your eye.


Another big mistake which I have seen people make is trying to see everything in one go. It’s much better to see a few works and appreciate them than cram them. You’re not revising for an exam you’re doing this to for your own enjoyment. Try to focus on an artist you like. I went on a trip to Rome with one of my friends. She had never been to an art museum and felt that as someone in STEM she did not really know how to start and felt that she should appreciate the works of the greats. On our first museum she began reading every single inscription. This museum had over 100, 000 works easily. You do not have time for that. Just read the inscriptions of the art objects you like if you want to. Or take a picture of the text and the work so that you can look it up later if there’s something you really like.


Of course, the greats are the greats for a reason, as they have created some amazing works. However, solely focusing on what they have made is not the best way to go about a museum. You might miss out on something that is a gem to you. Museums are meant to be a personal experience and are completely subjective to the perspective of their various visitors.


So quick recap:

  • Stop for works you like
  • Look a bit ahead of time and see if the website shows a work, you like
  • Don’t try to see specifically the famous artists or famous works
  • Don’t try to see everything all in one go
  • Take a picture, it’ll last longer
  • Your opinion and what you like is completely valid


Don’t be afraid to visit museums, they are beautiful and there’s always something for someone. It’s like music, you’ll find a genre you like and maybe even some band no one’s heard of. What counts is that you like it.

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