How to Visit an Art Gallery for Beginners 

August 18, 2022

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in art as an art lover or first-time collector is to begin by browsing an art gallery.  

However, whether it is a lack of information on the walls, the overwhelming size of the collections, or the fear that you somehow aren’t “getting” what you are looking at, there are many different ways that an art gallery can be potentially alienating.

As such, learning how to navigate an art gallery is a valuable skill for newcomers to the art world, and one that isn’t often taught. Read on for general guidelines to successfully plan an art gallery visit.

1. Selecting an Art Gallery Show 

Selecting an exhibition could be as simple as looking in your own neighborhood or getting to know the arts districts of a city you are planning to visit. You can find different galleries on Google, by browsing a city guide’s art sections or by following a specific artist. Once you find some galleries to visit, check out their websites for different shows and exhibitions. 

Choose a show or two that interests you or that matches what you’re looking for in terms of a collection.

Visitors browsing a contemporary art gallery.


2. Do Some Pre-visit Research 

Before going to visit the gallery, it’s important to do at least a small amount of research to better understand the artist(s) and work being shown. 

It is always a good idea to read the exhibition description carefully to understand the scope and scale of the show. You can also do a small amount of research about the show itself if appropriate (via reviews and/or press material) to equip yourself with more context.

3. Do a First Walk Through of the Art Gallery Space 

So now that you have prepared yourself and arrived at the gallery, you will want a viewing strategy. 

Instinctively, many people begin moving through an exhibition, attempting to look at and read everything in the order presented. This may not be the best strategy when visiting a gallery for the goal of finding art that compels you. 

Walking the entire gallery space quickly, from beginning to end, will give you an overall sense of the exhibition or show and you won’t burn out.

Think of reading the space like a menu —  you’re simply browsing to see what piques your interest.

Visitors walking through a contemporary art gallery.

4. Note Which Pieces or Rooms Captured Your Attention

The point of the “once around” viewing is to spark your interest and attention in what is being presented. You then can develop a relationship with the pieces that really grabbed you. 

5. Have a More Focused Walk Through 

Once you perform your first “once around,” do it a second and even third time to close in even more on the artworks that spark your interest most. Use the gallery wall texts to help guide you, but do not rely on them to tell you the whole story of what you are looking at.

During this walk through, make sure to zero in on at least two or three artworks for closer attention as you move through the gallery space. This step is perhaps the most satisfying part of any gallery visit, as it is a chance to really take in and notice something important in the artworks that first sparked your interest.

How you do this is entirely up to you. You can look and appreciate the colors and form, or read the descriptions and lean into the context of the artwork. What matters is that you find it interesting and want to learn more about it. 

Take Cards and Information

After analyzing 2-3 pieces that really capture your attention, make sure to get the card of a gallery attendant or sales associate. They can help be a liaison if you want to make a purchase from the gallery or if you want more information on the artist.

Another recommendation would be to sign up for the gallery’s email newsletter. This will ensure you are fully up to date on the gallery’s upcoming events and can offer more information that would be helpful in purchasing. 

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