Pop-Cultured: Why We Still Need Physical Art Museums


(Design by Malithi Gunawardena | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kate Button, Arts Writer, Copy Editor


With each passing week in our new reality given the COVID-19 pandemic, I have found myself reflecting upon the habits and activities I miss the most. In these strange times many individuals, including myself, have sought escape in the art world. Music, movies and other creative forms can offer an outlet to experience a reprieve from our current anxiety-inducing news cycles. To cope with the closures and cancelations of gatherings, some films have moved up their release dates, and artists continue to write and record music in quarantine. At the same time, local concert venues struggle to stay afloat given the loss of revenue from shows.

Yet, during this time, I’ve continued to think about the museum industry. While going to a film premiere or attending a concert may seem more enticing, it’s similarly important to recognize the benefits of visiting art museums. 

For almost as long as I can remember, I have always treasured the experience of immersing myself in an art museum and being surrounded by art from all corners of the earth. I grew up visiting the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and in almost all of my travels, I have insisted upon visiting the local art museums. Viewing the different collections and exhibitions while working through the various mazes and corridors offers a truly transformative experience. As a fan of the impressionist painters, I tend to view artwork on two levels — the far away view and an up-close analysis. From a distance, you can examine the entire image and overall effect of an artwork. But up close, the artist’s brushwork, attention to detail and the intricacies of the image come to life. Alone, visiting museums can offer a time of escape or personal introspection. But with friends, this experience can present a unique opportunity to bond and connect over a shared experience. Museums offer an enriching experience in simply taking the time to step back and reflect while engaging with incredible artworks, and there’s something truly beautiful in finding yourself in a crowd full of people you don’t know, speaking languages you don’t understand, all while engaging with and enjoying the same art. 

While social distancing measures have disbanded most crowds and centers of gathering, museums around the world — including the Louvre, the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musée d’Orsay and many others — have turned to online collections and virtual tours to continue offering the benefits of the arts to anyone with an internet connection. More locally, the UMFA has online programming and virtual tours of their collections. In terms of both time and money, being able to visit museums is an inherently privileged experience, but as long as you have access to a computer and the internet, these museums are beginning to bridge this gap through their online offerings. 

It’s hard to imagine what life will look like after COVID-19 — many of our daily routines and habits now look very different, if not changed altogether. But as we imagine returning to work and school, I hope we can also extend some of our experiences in quarantine to our lives. From wide-scale consumption of art to revisiting older practices — like making bread from scratch — this time spent stuck inside our houses has shown us how to enjoy the small things. For that reason, I cannot wait until I can step inside a museum again. The chance to see the artwork, be immersed in the past and take a reprieve from the modern world are all at the forefront of my mind as I look to the eventual end of this time spent in isolation. 

At a point where most items are available digitally, the virtual tours that museums offer may seem like they are good enough, and the physical experience of walking through a museum might seem outdated. While these online platforms are great to continue connecting with the arts in quarantine and can reach individuals around the globe, we still need physical art museums. Walking through a museum allows you to view artworks from various angles and distances — moving from room to room offers time to reflect upon what you’ve seen, and reading the placards next to each masterpiece encourages you to learn about the artists and the history of the moment. The overall experience provides a time to learn about yourself and others while the setting of the museum is a true immersion into a different world. 

In these times, it’s easy to think about what we miss, but I’ve been trying to think about what I’m looking forward to. Even though I may be biased, as I’ve been known to spend almost an entire day wandering through museums, I’m excited for the first moment that I’m able to reenter a museum. But, until then, the virtual tours will have to suffice.   


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