Six tips to make the most out of your next art gallery experience

Art Galleries are scary, but with this advice they don’t have to be

Illustration: Maple Sukontasukkul / The Peak
Illustration: Maple Sukontasukkul / The Peak

by Kim Regala, Staff Writer

With the abundance of art galleries scattered all across Vancouver — and on each SFU campus — there are plenty of places to check out. So whether you’re looking to visit one for the first time, or are already an avid goer eager to attend the next, here are some tips I’ve learned from my own art gallery adventures that will hopefully help you make the most out of yours.


  • Brochures and maps are your best friend. 


While it’s most important to create your own interpretations of art, it definitely helps to have a framework that guides the process. Thankfully, galleries provide plenty of resources both in person and online that offer information about the artists, as well as themes addressed in the exhibition. Brochures are commonly found near the entrances, while titles and short descriptions typically accompany each piece. On some occasions, galleries even have numbered maps, giving you a clear direction as to how to navigate around the space.


  • Bring a friend.


Visiting an art gallery by yourself is no foreign concept, but being somewhat shy, my biggest challenge was overcoming this fear of attending a public event on my own. If this sounds like you, then I definitely recommend having someone to keep you company. Taking a friend to an art gallery is a great way to relieve some of this anxiety and even create a cute bonding moment for the two of you. At the same time, a lot of value can come from a second perspective when viewing art. By having someone to converse and bounce back ideas with, your experience of the event becomes more engaging and insightful.


  • Take as little or as much time as you need per piece of art.


Whenever I visit a new exhibition, I always feel insecure that I’m not spending enough time looking at a specific piece. However, I’ve learned over time that there really is no right or wrong amount of time needed to admire art. I’ve seen someone take merely five seconds to glance over a painting while another patron stood still, staring at it for nearly 15 minutes. Some artwork will catch your eye more than others, so feel free to take as little or as much time as you need for all of it to sink in.


  • That being said, don’t feel pressured to LOVE each artwork.


It’s crucial to appreciate and have an open mind about every piece that you see. But, coming into an exhibition with a fixed mindset that you have to love every single one only blurs your judgement. Furthermore, it makes you less critical of what is really striking to you. It goes without saying that art is subjective, so naturally, not everything in an art gallery will be your cup of tea. Instead of forcing yourself to have a deeper connection to every work, spend more time admiring the ones that effortlessly gravitate towards you.


  • Focus on the bigger picture instead of nitpicking over tiny details.


One of the biggest misconceptions, especially when trying to understand modern art, is feeling as if every detail of a piece has a deeper and more complex meaning. But sometimes, it really can be just as simple as a banana duct-taped to a wall. Instead of placing all of your attention on the physical material itself, consider why the piece exists in this particular setting (instead of somewhere else), how it communicates with its framed environment, and how it engages with the other pieces surrounding it.


  • Talk to artists or curators if they’re around.


This advice would have been especially helpful when I frequently attended opening nights of art galleries, which artists and curators also attend most of the time. Keep in mind that as the creators of the exhibit, they are probably the most excited in the room to discuss what you’re seeing and expand on their ideas and inspirations. One of my favourite gallery experiences was a conversation with Minahil Bukhari, at the Audain Gallery’s previous exhibition Currents. She openly shared her sentiments with me about the injustices she saw in her own family lineage, as the stories of women were frequently missing. It’s personal stories such as these that offer us new perspectives that move beyond written descriptions.

I hope that this list encourages you to check out some of the future art exhibitions that are sure to come your way. Regardless, you can definitely see me at one of the many SFU galleries opening this semester.