What I learned, from working at The Met.
I was so excited. Beside myself with sincere giddiness and disbelief. I'd just landed a part-time gig at one of the world's greatest art museums, temping for one of the greatest fashion exhibitions in history. How on earth did I do that. I had no idea. Nor did I give a single hoot about the embarrassingly low pay. I was going to be a much needed facilitator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2011 Savage Beauty: Alexander McQueen exhibition; the Costume Institute's annual fashion event, and I felt like the most spoiled kid on Christmas morning. That year I was deep in the throes of my second term at The New School studying fashion and fine art journalism. This, combined with a love and admiration for the late designer granted the obvious desperation I harbored for such a position. Aside from my artsy alma mater and a couple of fashion/photography internships I'd completed, this would be my first real experience working in the fine art world, and boy-oh-boy did I walk away with an entirely new set of conflicting ideals after. Both beautiful and damned; much like the Hopper's I cherished. After the prolonged, tremendously popular exhibit finally came to a close I was offered another part-time but permanent position with The Museum, as a Groups Services Associate. Four, sometimes five days a week I sat at the Groups Desk in the Great Hall or Education Center, granting access to private docents, lecturing professors, lost students, and foreigners toting City Passes. I initially walked into The Met happy; utterly grateful. I walked out two-and-a-half years later miserable, bitchy, and utterly hateful. Here's what I learned in that time, and why I believe it all matters.
Stop Complaining About Entry Fees. So you think art should be free, huh? Sure, we should all--every one of us--have access to as much art as possible on a regular basis. Art has been proven to be therapeutic, beneficial for developing young minds, and it's culturally, historically rich. But if you aren't willing to contribute even a dollar to the industry then who is exactly? The Arts Orgs are mostly entirely non-profit sectors. Which means, they rely heavily on government funding and donors. If you so adamantly refuse to pay to play but still insist upon having access, just imagine a world where art museums no longer exist. Can you picture it? It could very well happen. And that thought, to me, is far more traumatizing than a Donald Trump Presidency--which is ungodly terrifying. It costs The Met upwards of $40+ dollars for every person present in the museum, from heating and cooling to insurance and liability coverages. So, pay a penny or the recommended value and shut up already. Just be happy it's still that cheap and accessible to be in the company of such magnificent Greats.
If you're in school, learn something for the love of ____. I can't begin to fathom the amount of college students who literally have no clue. About anything. More oftentimes than not, university students would approach the desk with zero personality, mumbling incoherent "speak" about having to meet their professor for a private lecture, but having zero clue as to what they were studying nor their professor's name. And these were midterm classes, people. Meaning, school had been in session for at least a couple of months. Can you at least tell me where you're currently in school? Wonderful. I literally can't with young adults these days. Are social skills just no longer relevant? Because they sure as hell were practically beaten into me. Thankfully.
Have some respect. Mind your manners like a civilized person while perusing works of art worth far more than your life. When you worship in your personal God's House on Sundays; during Mass or Shabbat would you ever be disrespectful? A museum or gallery is a church to so many people; housing a substantial number of otherworldly "Gods", none of which deserve to be abused. The acts of violence I've witnessed to so many works of art is astounding. From using a Rodin as a resting place to text to spitting sunflower seeds beneath Monet to fondling Pierre Auguste Cot's ancient oils and excessively capturing Modigliani with a blinding flash. All of which is just scraping the surface of happenings. The crimes I've seen such ungrateful assholes commit to irreplaceable works of art is disturbing. Have some respect for art, or simply don't engage.
Open your mind. A museum makes for a great Instagram pic, no doubt. It says to your followers that you're getting your culture on and what's not cool about that? But if you're actually taking the time to enter and walk the halls of these wondrous galleries put the phone down and open the mind. Pick at least one artist to discover, admire, and backlog into the memory. Your personality, creativity, and mood just won the lottery of healthy influence. Cheers to that.
Turn your phone off entirely. Because as much as you love them there's just no comparison to your bestie's selfies vs Renoir's.
Be kind. Large museums are filled with volunteers and part-time employees barely making enough money to survive mostly because they too, are artists, or defiantly passionate about the industry. These workers deal with the most diverse crowd on a daily basis. People from all over the world with differing habits, beliefs, languages, manners, and needs. Most of us were force-smiling through the tears at all times. Need something? Don't want to pay the recommended access fee or wait in line? Kindness, as with any event, will get you farthest.
Go with a granny. While at The New School I shared many classes with a young, very wealthy and proper Brit. He'd been formally trained in worldly cultures and the arts during his upbringing in London, as his parents were collectors. At first I didn't care for him as he seemed a bit arrogant and silly. But we soon became great friends and I learned a lot from his formalities. Benjamin's favorite museum outing was with a "granny"; his own grandmother or that of a friend. The older the better, he'd recommend, as their opinions, views and intellect greatly influenced his own in ways no peer or parent even, ever had. I miss that kid.
Make it a habit. Because as I mentioned previously, the world remains a wondrous, gorgeous place to dwell with art around us. In modern times today, children are growing further away from becoming culturally and creatively influenced with the steady rise of technology and social media. Supporting the arts is an easy act of just showing up; seeking it out while its gifts are so readily available to us. The Opera and Ballet industries have suffered a significant decline over the years, with primary audience members majorly or even exclusively being the elderly; those beloved grannies. To lose interest in fine art all-together would be one of the greatest--if not the greatest--travesty to humankind. Can you imagine a world without Starry Night? I can't and I certainly don't want to. There's a reason graffiti and street art rose to exquisite lengths to bring us Basquiat and Banksy. Artists will continue to breed and for those that want a greater, wider audience, loathe "establishments" or simply seek exposure turn to the streets and public spaces to tag and/or showcase their works. Thankfully, demand has only grown for more. But don't be so quick to ignore the museums, galleries and theaters that demand a profit. The greater the variety of art available to us the greater new artists will only become.
I hate what I learned at The Met, but I deeply love what The Met taught me.