When it comes to solitary activities and bravery, going to a museum alone falls somewhere between going solo to the movies and eating lunch on your own at a restaurant.
You have some kind of visual stimuli to preoccupy you, and you don’t need to don the armor of reading a book or scrolling through your phone while eating. Rather than something to be tolerated, I’d argue that going to a museum alone is something you should seek out.
When I used to work at a large, encyclopedic museum, I would often wander through the galleries by myself on my lunch break or after work. These were some of the most tranquil, insightful parts of my day, whether I was staring into the eyes of a Cindy Sherman portrait or losing myself in the colors of Rothko. As novelist Patricia Highsmith said, “My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people.”
And a museum has the potential to be a playground for your imagination, if you let it. Here are six reasons to take yourself on a independent date to a museum.
1. You can set your own itinerary.
When you visit a museum like the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- one of the world's largest fine art institutions with a collection spanning 5,000 years -- you need to be highly selective in how you plan your visit, especially if there are certain artworks you have your heart set on seeing. If you went with someone, your companion might be a fan of ancient works but you’d rather spend your time perusing 18th century French portraits. When you’re on your own, you can go directly to the galleries you’re interested in and not waste time on art you have little or no desire to see.
2. You can move at your own pace.
Even in smaller museums, it’s easy to feel rushed or slowed down by another person. According to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, visitors spend on average 30 seconds in front of a work of art. Of course, that probably varies based on the person’s own artistic preferences. On your own, you can spend an hour contemplating that Kiki Smith sculpture or rush past the Jeff Koons balloon dog you’ve seen half a dozen times.
3. You'll learn to enjoy solitude.
Enjoying a museum alone might help you enjoy solitude in general and realize the benefits of having time to yourself. Even if you’re a social butterfly, being alone is an inevitable part of life, so it’s important to learn to be comfortable being alone with yourself. A museum is an ideal way to intentionally practice this, and as a result, you’ll be better equipped for those lonelier times in life.
4. You can meet new people if you want.
On the other hand, when you’re by yourself at a museum, you have more opportunities to meet new people. If you brought someone with you, you’d probably be busy chatting with your friend or significant other. But on your own, you’re more likely to strike up a conversation with strangers, and luckily, art museums are filled with the perfect conversation starters. You could ask someone a simple open-ended question, such as “What do you think of this painting?”
5. You can welcome inspiration in those quiet moments.
If you go the route of remaining alone at a museum, you won’t have the distraction of social interaction. Instead, you can focus on self-reflection, or you could look for inspiration. A museum is the perfect place to bring a sketchbook, hunker down somewhere and draw what’s around you -- whether that’s the artworks or the people -- with no aim or judgment. Bonus: museums are a wonderful place to people watch.
6. It will boost your confidence.
Doing anything on your own, including going to a museum, can be incredibly empowering. Of course, it’s great to have someone to rely on, but it’s especially satisfying when that someone is you. The more you do things alone, the more likely you are to feel that you can tackle any challenge independently.
In the end, a museum can be a great place for singles, couples and groups alike, all seeking a quiet, contemplative space. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but the respective experiences are qualitatively different. The thought of going to a place as public as a museum by yourself might be intimidating, but I encourage you to try it out. You might discover another side to yourself, to the art or to other people that you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.