Over the summer, I attended a writing program at a college near New York City. Besides it being the BEST EXPERIENCE EVER, (complete with angsty poetry, eating tons of Pocky, and watching an obscene amount of reality television with my new friends) there was also a really cool aspect to the camp: They took us to museums! We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum.
In the picture above, you’ll see me with my
totally awesome and cooler than me friends, Charlotte and Lola, on the steps to the MET. Charlotte, Lola and I collaborated on why you should go to museums, and you can read Char’s post here and Lola’s post here!
Why Should Writers Go To Museums?
I’ve always loved going to museums, but I’d never considered them to be apart of the writing process. After all, museums were for art, cool statues, and sometimes history, right?? Nothing to do with literature.
Sure, museums have all of these things, but here’s the cool thing about art, writing, history, and science: They’ve all been stealing from each other for centuries.
So maybe ‘stealing’ is a strong word, but there is so much art that is inspired by writing and vice versa! Anything from paintings inspired by the Iliad to The Da Vinci Code. Those are some pretty literal examples, but the different arts and sciences can be more subtly inspired by each other as well.
This is called Ekphrastic Writing, when visual art is represented in writing. What’s the story of the woman named Mona Lisa? Why does she smile in that way? You can write it! I also know a lot of poets/writers who love to write about past events. (After all, Hamilton is a musical that derives from history.)
Art, history, and writing all have one thing in common: We’re trying to tell stories. Some of these stories are truer than others, and some are more heavy in feelings or facts, but the basic concept is the same. And stories are meant to be shared.
So, where do you find an absurd amount of history and art to be inspired by? Oh yeah. Museums!
What Should I Bring?
Having been to two museums in a short amount of time, I’ve created a small list of items you definitely want bring on your inspirational trip.
- A small bag/purse. If you bring too large of a bag, museum security may make you check it, so try to make it tiny.
- A water bottle. Most museums will let you bring a water bottle in, and I’d recommend it, because all food is very expensive there!
- A notebook. THIS IS A MUST-HAVE FOR WRITERS! I’ll talk about the importance of a small, lined notebook later, but know that this is what will make your trip super special.
- A sketchbook, for artists. It was so cool to see artists working on their own drawings in front of masterpieces.
- Good walking shoes. There are a lot of benches, but you’ll be on your feet a lot.
- A sweater. Museums are super chilly.
- A pen, and a back-up pen. Just in case the first one runs out of ink.
- An open mind. When I go to museums while traveling in different countries, I make a list of things I absolutely want to see, grab a museum map, and make a plan. But when I’m taking an inspirational trip, I just sort of wander, and see where the hallways take me. You may see something you never thought you’d enjoy. Or, you might hate what you come across. Write that down too. Anger and sadness are powerful emotions!
- A museum map. You can usually find one of these at the front desk. I know I just talked about wandering, but believe me. As soon as you have to go to the bathroom, wandering stops being fun. Museums have hidden their bathrooms so no one can find them and that’s just a fact. Bring a map for when you get the urge to go.
- Plans to eat afterwards. I think the ideal amount of time to spend at a museum is about 2 to 4 hours, which is a pretty large chunk of time. In fact, you might start to get hungry. I can’t speak for all museums, but generally, the food there is pretty expensive. I know museums have to make money somehow, especially those that don’t charge an entry free like the Met, and to be honest, it’s pretty fun to eat there, but if you don’t have a lot of cash, grab something to eat before or afterwards.
What Should I Write About?
Okay, so remember that little notebook I said would be really important? Carry that everywhere with you in a museum. You can use it to write down the name of an artist you really like, a story, a feeling, or a thought you had while looking at the art. Later, you can develop these notes into a poem or story.
One poet who presented at my writing program said that when he went to a Modern art museum, he wrote one thing down about each work of art, even if it was just the name of the artist. By the end of his (very long museum trip) he had filled an entire journal, and he used that to write a book of poems. My friends and I didn’t have enough time to do this at museums as big as the Met, but we wrote something down for each painting in one gallery, so you could try that if you like the idea of this exercise. It really makes you think about the paintings.
Most paintings will have a plaque next to them listing the artist, whose collection the painting came from, some history about the art, and and what it was inspired by. These stories are great to jot down in a notebook.
The Other People
Since everyone is welcome in museums, you’ll find people from all different walks of life. Eavesdrop on their conversations. Note their appearances. Be a friendly spy. (Writers aren’t stalkers, I swear.) Who knows, they may provide inspiration for a character one day! My fiction teacher from my program said that she tried to base one character of off 27 different people, so no one would recognize themselves in her work. See if you can take a trait from each person and combine them into one character!
The Museum Itself
Museums are often in incredibly beautiful buildings. The picture above is the ceiling in the Brooklyn Museum! That’s poem-worthy in itself. Be open to writing about the architecture around you.
Are There Any Other Reasons I Should Go?
The MET doesn’t charge an entry fee, and many other museums are pretty cheap. They also often have discounted prices for seniors, students, and young children. If you live near a museum and know that you’ll go back often, you could even get a membership. Museums are a great place to hang out with your creative friends. It’s cheap and tons of fun!
I know, a writer actually exercising? But this is one of the only acts of my writing process that doesn’t involve sitting down, and that’s good. Besides, many writers swear by the practice of walking, saying that it’s when you’re most creative. What do you think? Go to a museum and give it a try!
They’ve Got Air-conditioned/Heating
I can’t tell you how valuable this was in NYC’s July heat.
Okay, I love spending money at gift shops on things I might not ~need~, but everything’s so cute! Pens! Pins! Postcards!
What Museum Should I Go To?
Believe it or not, there’s probably a Museum closer to you than you imagine. You don’t have to live near a major city. Many towns have museums about the town’s history, or houses set up like they were in a different century. However, I’ve also collected 5 of my all-time favorite museums in case you’re in the area!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
This Museum has EVERYTHING. It’s easy to get lost in there. And that’s good.
If anyone just happens to be in France, stop by the Louvre. (And listen to Lorde’s song “The Louvre,” WHICH IS A GREAT SONG. I LOVE LORDE.)
The Museum of Natural History
It’s safe to say that any museum with multiple movies about it is bound to be a great museum. I once spent ‘the night at the museum,” so to speak, in a program that the museum created. We got to sleep under the whale on cots, and explore the exhibits in the dark with a flashlight. I’ve been enchanted ever since.
The Fabric Workshop and Museum
This is a museum in Philly that showcases a different type of art…fabric! When I went, there was an artist who used TYPEWRITER INK to create a pattern! Isn’t that so cool? Everyone there is super friendly, and the gift shop is the thing that dreams are made of.
The Emily Dickinson Museum
Okay, so this isn’t a ‘walk around and look at the exhibits” kind of thing, but this is the BEST museum ever so you should go. Learn about Emily Dickinson. Understand her brilliance. Gasp at the crazy way her poems were first published. Fangirl with me about it afterwards. It’ll be great, I swear. This is my favorite museum. Even though I live hours away, I’ve been three times (driven to Massachusetts just to go!) and I even booked an appointment to write in Emily’s bedroom! (IT WAS AWESOME and worthy of a blog post of its own.) I hope to work there at some point in my life!
Thanks so much to my friends, Charlotte and Lola, for doing this with me! So, do you like Museums? Do you eat a lot of Pocky? What are your favorite Museums? Do you do a lot of Ekphrastic writing? Let me know in the comments! Until next time, you can find me on Pinterest or Instagram.