How Not to Be a Jerk in an Art Museum


If we’re being honest, visiting an art museum can be a pretty anxiety-ridden experience. Don’t get us wrong, there are too many good things about museums to count, but one less frequently romanticized aspect of going to one is simply knowing how to act. Do we stand there and stroke our chins along with the solemn stalwarts? Chatter and show a detached apathy along with the hip 20-somethings? Maybe it’s just us, but finding a place for ourselves among the art objects and their admirers is actually a lot trickier than most people will let on.

So, instead of drowning in self-consciousness, we’re taking a note from a Paper Monument piece this morning by codifying some art museum behavioral dos and don’ts for the modern age, Emily Post style. We’re hoping MoMA’s gift shop will start selling these bad boys by the end of the year.


Smile (or smirk, for the too-cool): Unless you’re there on a second-grade field trip, we’ll assume you’re at the museum because you want to be. So what are you trying to prove with that death stare and perma-scowl?

Follow the rules: Duh. The golden rule for avoiding dart eyes from fellow patrons is to keep that cell phone off, toss the Starbucks cup, and avoid touching anything. We’d also extend the sentiment to hovering a hand over an artwork and yelling “I’m not touching it! I’m not touching it!”

Read up on artists, exhibits, and pieces: There is definitely a thing called subtlety, and if you’re going to name-drop every underground art blog and spout off masked Wikipedia facts, maybe you should skip on this one. But, if you can handle looking at background information as food for thought, read on, curious friend.

Keep to yourself: Museum-going can be a social experience beyond the posse you rolled up with, but there’s a time and a place. Avoid jumping into nearby conversations where you are almost always not welcome and double-avoid hanging out by one piece and making grand statements about the meaning of it all to no one in particular. Because that’s just weird.


Act like a kid: It’s cool, we saw (500) Days of Summer, too. Thing is, you’re not JGL or Zooey, and this is not IKEA, so running around like impish love birds playing tag or giggling constantly is really not the way to go.

Jump into group tours: It may seem tempting to pop into a group tour of minivan moms or seniors on a field trip, especially when their leader asks them a question you think you know the answer to, but just don’t. In addition to being mildly creepy, it’s more than a little bit obnoxious, also.

Buy pointless souvenirs: That keychain may seem badass now, but it’s not really going to do anything to further the image of you as one of those cool, artsy, museum people, in both the ironic and non-ironic senses.

Make out: We know, that sculpture was super beautiful and your significant other does seem really stoked that you took him or her here. But you can wait to cash in that love-check later because, ew. No one wants to come expecting Picasso and catch an eyeful of your PDA instead.

Shush people: Nobody likes that guy. This extends to non-museums, too. If it’s really bothering you, nicely ask them to be quiet. If they still won’t shut up, then you can hit them with the saliva train.