What if we said you could detox with art? Scholars have suggested that the act of visiting an art museum or gallery can be a ritualistic experience that prompts catharsis, reflection and even revelation.
When you visit an art museum or gallery, you become instantly aware of your behaviour. You walk more slowly. You take caution with how loudly you speak. You don’t eat or drink. You’re hyper-aware of your surroundings and your impact on them.
Some of these behaviours are in line with the establishment's rules, and invigilators are around to stop you getting too close to the art or acting inappropriately. Other rules like speaking quietly are simply understood.
What impact does this set of rules, explicit and implicit, have on you and your experience of a museum or gallery? For many, this high level of awareness can be spiritually reviving, ritualistic and detoxifying.
Art Historian Carol Duncan suggests in ‘Civilising Rituals’ that a major reason for our response to these spaces is architecture. Art museums are often compared to older ceremonial monuments such as palaces or temples - and in many cases are even designed to resemble them, borrowing grand architectural forms like large columns. London’s National Gallery is a classic example (see image below).
Even contemporary museums and galleries that stray from tradition tend to sport impressive architectural features, like grand staircases, large doorways and high ceilings. Tate Modern is a great example of a modern gallery that oozes grandeur through its architecture (see image below).
Architecture prompts a particular mindset, preparing you ‘to appreciate the works of art which you would afterwards see’ (Carol Duncan). Architecture, alongside an establishment's rules, frame and guide your experience of an art museum or gallery.
According to Duncan, such framing is 'common in ritual practices everywhere’. You are placed in a zone, marked off and separated from the usual hustle and bustle of everyday life. Removed from your daily life, you are more open to a different quality of experience. Even a ritualistic experience in a secular environment. You are able to have moments of contemplation and recognition - and even revelation.
Next time you enter an art museum or gallery, consider the cues given to you to inform your behaviour and your experience, and how these make you feel. This immersive experience, so different from daily routine and space, provides relief and a detox from everyday strains and stresses.