I'm an American expat, writer,Youtuber, photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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 woman looking and moving slowly at the Louvre museum in Paris France

How to Slow Down in a Museum

Is there a “right” way to experience a museum?

When we visit a museum, we enter it with expectations. Like a scavenger hunt, we grab a map, create a gameplan and have a list of paintings we think we’re supposed to see.

Instead of enjoying it, we try to conquer it. Instead of feeling inspired and energized, we feel depleted.

Recently while visiting a few museums in Paris, I observed how little attention was spent on the the art but rather the documentation of seeing said art.

While waiting in line for the Mona Lisa, very few people looked up from their phones and studied her smile. A selfie is taken and on we go.

The only art being seen is behind a phone screen.

What if we just slowed down?

the art of slowing down in a museum Louvre museum in Paris France

What if we allowed the painting to call us, draw us in, and allow ourselves to be immersed and consumed by the scene?

According to museum researchers, the average visitor spends between 15 to 30 seconds in front of a work of art.

But what if we observed a piece of art for a few minutes, rather than a few seconds?

Slowing down and viewing art in a more deliberate and contemplative manner can be a grounding and healing experience. Looking at art slowly can be meditative, just as journaling, breathing and walking are. It’s an opportunity for self-discovery, reflection.

Not only can we explore the depth, emotions and story behind a painting, but we can connect with the person standing next to us. Perhaps even ourselves.

When viewing art, I often see my own struggles, desires and life experiences play out in art from the time passed. And I walk out feeling rejuvenated.

So here are a few tips on how to move more intentionally and slow down in a museum

how to slow down in a museum

How to Slow Down in a Museum

1. Celebrate your simple joys when strolling past works of art

Maybe you don’t enjoy listening to the sounds of bustling crowds and sneaker scuffs on the floor. Maybe you’re looking for a more quiet and private experience one-on-one with art. Bring your headphones and favorite music and allow yourself to wander, completely cut off from the sounds of the museum. 

2. Curate your specific interests

Pick a wing and wander, only noting the art that beckons you. If you don’t want to learn about the Egyptians, don’t wander around the Egypt wing! If decorative art isn’t your jam, ask your partner to meet you in an hour in a different wing you both enjoy. Intentionally curate your interests and ignore the exhibits that aren’t vital to your joy!

Consume what is essential and life-giving to you and then choose to only visit those areas. 

3. Follow your gut

Wait for those gut feelings to pull you in, rather than feeling forced to see certain art pieces because you “should” or are “supposed” to. This isn’t a scavenger hunt! Slow down and enjoy the journey of storytelling unfolding before your very eyes!

4. Observe a piece for a few minutes rather than a few seconds

Devote more time to one piece that resonates with your heart. If you have one hour at a museum, spend 10 minutes sitting in front of a piece that speaks to you.

5. Take 3 deep breaths before pulling out your phone 

Let’s be honest here: what’s the point of taking photos of art in a museum? No one on social media, aside from your mom and a few family members, will truly care about the paintings they can see on Google. And chances are, you most likely will not revisit them in your phone gallery. 

By all means, take a photo! But perhaps, ask yourself, “why do I need to document this? Why do I need to remember this for the future?”

After taking 3 breaths, if you still feel intuitively pulled to taking a photo – snap that bad boy!

The Joys Experienced When We Slow Down in a Museum

We can experience more joy when we slow down in a museum because we are more present.

Instead of documenting art for other people on Facebook, we have more time and mental space to imagine how these people lived, how the work was created and wonder at how in the world this piece was preserved for the generations to see it today.

What a miracle to simply….marvel! At all of it.

And we often forget that.

There is no “right” way to experience a museum. It all depends on your personal preference! But there is a way we can delight in it more!

 Instead of feeling exhausted and depleted upon leaving, we can choose to be intentional and simplify.

What is essential to you? Ignore the rest.

In this way, we can now walk out of a museum feeling refreshed and inspired.

Slow down.

Creative Short Film I Made on How to Slow Down in Museums

If you’d like to see more of my films on slow living in France, subscribe to my Youtube channel Simple Joys!

This film and blog post was inspired by years of personally observing this in museums as well as the 2014 NY Times article “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum” 

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The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum

August 4, 2020

  1. Christine Boris Esteban says:

    Helena,
    You are such an inspiration for living! I love that you are in France and are influenced by the French way of life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on viewing a museum. I have been guilty of taking photos of paintings in art museums only to wonder later, why? And while there might be one or two special ones to photograph and keep, it’s more important to pause and look and think and study and enjoy the art in one’s presence. In the moment. Your writing is superb and you are wise beyond your years. Such a joy for me to follow your work, your insights, your experiences and your culminating wisdom. And by the way, I LOVE the way you dress. So classy! I’m sad Americans have gone by way of sweat pants and cut up jeans. Yes, there is a time and a place for those articles of fashion, but more importantly, the way you dress speaks volumes about your attitude and grace and overall approach to life. It’s pretty and feminine and takes me back to a more simple time. You have made me a better person by reading about your experiences and watching you grow as a beautiful young woman. I am changing my wardrobe to relfect a more feminine and classic look and appreciate your “influence” in my fashion life and for my overall peace of mind. Much love to you always, Mrs. Esteban

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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