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Visit a gallery

How taking a trip to an art gallery could deliver your next big idea.

"How funny things are! You go to those museums and galleries and think what a damned bore they are and then, when you least expect it, you find something you've seen comes in useful. It shows art and all that isn't really a waste of time." - Somerset Maughan, Theatre, 1937

We can go back to art galleries now. Yaaaas! And as we finally regain this freedom in the UK - to stare at walls other than the ones in our home* - it got me thinking.

*admittedly, with nice things hanging on them

I know this might seem obvious, but for those of us who like meandering through the exhibition rooms of a gallery, how many are looking for specific things we've come to see, and how many are waiting to be drawn to something we've never seen before?

You see for me, the latter is the place where creative ideas can really hit you. That's what I think old Somerset was getting at back in 1937. I've said many times that it's the unfamiliar that brings so much value to creativity - elbowing its way into your unconscious and joining forces with other experiences to create new ideas.

Admittedly, during Covid lockdown getting to a gallery was off the cards. And yet it wasn't impossible. Galleries around the world wised up pretty quickly and many put their exhibitions online, allowing you to wander their rooms via your mobile or desktop.

Here are links to a few of the best ones still available to view:

One of my favourite ever pieces of art is Botticelli's Venus and Mars at the National Gallery in London. I've gazed at it more times than you've had hot dinners - so it's very much in the realm of the familiar. But it's not just the image of a painting that can inspire your creative heart, it's also the place where it's hung. The context is as much a part of it for me. Many virtual galleries have done a great job of recreating their ambience and sense of wonder online, just like this one.

Now things in the UK are opening up again - literally this week - we can all contemplate wandering around the real thing once more. As we're finally able to appreciate 2D artworks in 3D surroundings, I'd like to make the creative case for visiting some of the smaller galleries.

In my experience, it's the little spaces where you find the big discoveries. And let's face it, they need our support more than ever. I'm not dissing the big exhibitions, far from it - their endeavours keep the industry going around the world, and without them, many people wouldn't bother with art at all and miss out on its power to nourish the soul.

But where I find more value, from a creative thinking point of view, is to seek out (or even better, stumble upon) smaller galleries - in not just cities, but in towns and villages up and down the country. It's in these more intimate spaces where you can really appreciate and connect with the work of lesser-known artists.

Having said that, a smaller gallery doesn't necessarily contain less valuable or sought after works. There's a beautiful village in the Cotswolds called Broadway, whose arts and antique stores hold the largest collection of 19th and 20th-century paintings outside of London! There's an eclectic range of work on display too.

Don't worry though - if large galleries are your only option, or you get claustrophobic in the smaller ones, then just visit the big ones at a quieter time. Or when you're faced with a permanently busy exhibition, you could try my mum's favourite hack: since the first few rooms are always the busiest, Mum always goes right to the end and does the exhibition backwards. Most visitors are bored by the end of a visit and whizz through the final rooms, making them nice and quiet.

It's a mystery to me why galleries tend to start popular exhibitions in the smallest room possible. People always crowd in and want to read EVERY caption card next to the artwork (before they get bored of course) so a logjam occurs, and no one gets a decent view of the actual art.

There's probably some curatorial logic in this. Or maybe it's because they've put the good stuff at the end, where Mum and Maughan can appreciate it.


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