Be a proper patron of the arts by knowing when it's okay to take photographs, accept phone calls, and more.

By Jillian Kramer
January 23, 2020

If you have ever visited a museum only to feel frustrated by those around you—people who may have blocked your view in the featured exhibit or talked obnoxiously loud on their cell phone in an otherwise silent room—then you know there is such a thing as museum manners. "Etiquette is important when visiting a museum because everyone is there to enjoy the exhibitions," and bad manners can ruin the experience, says Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette.

Here, according to Tsai, are five etiquette rules everyone should follow when visiting a museum.

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Check your bags when you arrive.

If you're carrying more than a small purse, considering checking your large bag when you arrive. Not only can a bulky bag block others' views, but it can cause accidents—think: a priceless vase knocked off a stand as you turn around. Plus, "checking your backpack or large bag can help you enjoy your experience more because you don't have to worry carrying it around," Tsai explains.

Don't crowd the artwork.

Tsai says we've all seen photos of massive crowds pushing their way toward the Mona Lisa, but crowding masterpieces isn't a smart move. Many pieces of art have boundaries set up to protect the pieces, and these barriers should be respected. But even if boundaries haven't been set, stepping back from artwork can help ensure its safety, says Tsai. And, not that you'd ever do this, but "you should never shove others just so you can get to the front of the crowd," Tsai reminds.

Don't block the artwork.

While you can stand in front of a piece of art to admire it, you should "be mindful of others who are also trying to view it," Tsai says. Others should be able to see it simultaneously. "You should also never walk in front of someone just to get a better look at something for yourself," she adds.

Don't take phone calls.

It's best to put your phone on silent in a museum and ignore any calls that come in, so that you don't disturb others in the exhibits. If you must take a call, "find an area like the lobby or café that won't be too much of a nuisance to other visitors," Tsai advises. And, if at all possible, "texting would be the better way to communicate when you're inside the museum," she says.

Don't use flash photography.

"Before you snap a photo in a museum, be sure to check two things," instructs Tsai. The first should be whether the museum even allows photos, because some do not. And the second, if you can take photos, is that your flash is off, she says. "When you use flash on a piece of artwork or artifact, you can actually do harm to the artifact or even destroy the piece of art," Tsai explains.

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