Getting the Most From a Trip to the Art Museum

Getting the Most From a Trip to the Art Museum

This fall, the College of Liberal Studies sat down with Mark White, interim director and Eugene B. Adkins Curator of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, to discuss a subject close to his heart: art museums and how to get the most out of them. Walking through the grand entrance of the art museum located on the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus, he leads us down elegant hallways and modern staircases of the FJJMA until we reach a room nearly as impressive as the building itself. His office, located on the second floor of the 40,000 square foot art museum, is a cozy space lined with bookshelves and windows that let in natural light.

Seated in front of a portion of wall left bare – its usual inhabitant, a painting by Abstract Expressionist J. Jay McVicker, currently hangs on display downstairs – we begin the interview eager to get down to business.

“What would an art curator say to someone who doesn’t know much about art?”

Come with an Open Mind

At first glance, art museums can be a bit intimidating. Apart from the priceless pieces housed within their walls, these great structures have enormous historical and cultural significance as well. Museums around the world are working to make the museum experience more approachable by finding new and innovative ways to serve their communities. Despite these changes, however, many visitors still don’t know where to start when they walk through the museum doors.

That is something White understands and works tirelessly to correct.

“We offer a number of programs that might assist those who know less about art,” he said. “Most of our major exhibitions are accompanied by lectures, and we offer Art After Noon 10 to 12 times a semester. Art After Noon is a lunchtime program that focuses on an individual artist and includes both a lecture and a discussion about his or her works from the collection. Visitors can bring their lunch and enjoy the provided drinks and desserts in this relaxed setting.”

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

Photo of Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum by Traci FullerFor visitors hoping to learn a little more about the artwork and see a famous painting or two, White recommends starting with a little research.

“If a potential viewer is interested in the most notable works in the collection, then there are a few options. Many of the most significant works in our collection are displayed on our webpage in reduced resolution. Our collection catalogue also includes many of the key pieces in the collection.”

In general, however, White recommends exploring an art museum at your own pace.

“I would encourage viewers to explore the museum as they wish,” he explained. “Not every style, period, or culture is going to interest all patrons, so I think it’s best to gravitate to what you find interesting. Being an art historian, I might suggest starting with the Old Masters and then proceeding through the early nineteenth century until arriving at the Weitzenhoffer Collection of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism – but that is not necessary for developing an appreciation for the museum’s collections.”

Sports are important at the University of Oklahoma, but so are the arts – and the arts here are just phenomenal.

This is especially true of free museums, like the FJJMA. The Norman community has enjoyed free admission since 2012, thanks to a donation made by the OU Athletics Department. This means that patrons are able to enjoy the museum any time they wish because of support from the Office of the President and the Athletics Department. The museum’s staff members attribute this to part of what makes FJJMA unique in the country.

Sports are important at the University of Oklahoma, but so are the arts – and the arts here are just phenomenal.

Make the Experience Your Own

White also recommends getting involved with some of the activities that many museums now offer. These often range from small gatherings limited to an hour or two to elaborate productions planned in conjunction with other organizations.

“We have a number of events open to the public on a regular basis,” he explained. “Apart from our exhibition openings and lectures, we offer diverse programs that include Tuesday Noon Concerts and Family Days, in which families are invited to an afternoon at the museum that includes crafts and other activities tied to our exhibitions.”

The FJJMA works with various departments on campus to bring musical concerts, dance performances, readings by famous authors, and regular events to the museum. A highly interactive iPad tour is also in development, so museum visitors will truly be able to make the experience their own.

Know that You Can’t Fail

The raison d’être of an art museum is simple; it exists for the communities it serves. That means that a museum’s visitors are usually invited to enjoy the museum in any capacity they choose.

If a visitor is interested in a particular piece, White recommends calling ahead to make sure it is currently on display. In general, however, he feels that museums are already equipped with the information visitors might be looking for.

“No real preparation is necessary for attending the museum,” he said. “Most of our galleries are accompanied by explanatory labels and didactic panels that offer viewers a perspective for interpreting the work on display.”

Museums are for the people, and people should feel welcome to enjoy the museum in any way that they wish. The only thing museums ask is that you come with an open mind and please, don’t touch.

Fred Jones Art MuseumThe Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is one of the top five university art museums in the country, with a collection of nearly 17,000 art objects valued at more than one hundred million dollars. Admission to the museum has been free since late 2012, thanks to a generous donation from the OU Athletics Department that supports the university’s commitment to the collaboration between sports and culture. 

FJJMA touches many parts of the Oklahoma community as well as the University of Oklahoma family, coordinating school districts in the area and 36 departments on campus to bring art and art history into the classroom curriculum.

The FFJMA is one of the few places on campus that brings together the university family with the broader community. It’s both a part of the university and yet apart from the university. It is a place that is for everyone.

Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017.

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Mary Hopper

Mary Hopper specializes in digital and content marketing at PACS. She is the project manager for the marketing department's team of writers, manages the college's digital advertising, and serves as editor and contributor for the PACS blog and social media efforts.