When you want culture with a capital C, you go to an art museum. Right?
And once you step beyond those lofty art museum doors to join the company of priceless Rembrandts, Picassos and van Goghs, there are a variety of ways to enjoy the visit."Not everyone wants an in-depth experience," said Diane Brigham, head of education for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu. "Some are really there for the rejuvenating atmosphere that art can provide."
There is no right or wrong way to visit a museum, said David Finn, author of "How to Visit a Museum" (Harry N. Abrams, 1985).
"People should not feel any obligation they're supposed to do anything in particular," Finn said.
"You could be there for 10 minutes or three hours, it doesn't matter. But if you encounter one or two or three works of art (that move you), it's been worthwhile."
Most museums offer brochures and gallery guides to describe exhibits and highlight special events. Some people prefer tours, while others like to gallery hop unescorted and at their own pace.
After his first trip to the National Gallery of Art in London, Finn said he walked through in the opposite direction, gaining a new appreciation for certain galleries.
"We are all worried that people feel we are intimidating," said David Rodes, director of the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts in Westwood Village.
Museums are responding by offering family programs, workshops, classes and art talks by curators, scholars and artists.
Some have written guides for children. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the Miracle Mile area provides family guides and an activity book, "Artists Make Puzzles," in English and Spanish. It contains photographs and activities related to works of art for children ages 7 to 10.
At the Getty, game boxes are popular with both adults and kids. One box, Puzzling Pots, contains reproductions of pottery shards that visitors try to match with an object on exhibit.
"Adults are more likely to be museumgoers when they came with their family," said Jane Burrell, LACMA's director of education.
Rodes at the Grunwald Center recommends visiting museums with friends so you can talk about the artwork.
Kim Kanatani, director of education for the Museum of Contemporary Art, suggested that some visitors need to slow down.
"Research has shown people may spend three seconds in front of a piece of art, including reading the labels," she said. "The viewing experience does take time. . . . That is one of the best things about a museum. It does slow you down and allows you to contemplate something other than the humdrum, everyday, functional aspects of life."
Trying to see everything may be exhausting, she said.
"With contemporary art, there is not always a right or wrong answer. In many cases, the artist wants the viewer to complete the work. That's why many times paintings are open-ended in their interpretation," Kanatani said.
Finn offered other suggestions: When confronted with a well-known work that has been reproduced in a zillion ways - such as the "Mona Lisa" - concentrate on some of the details instead.
Many museums rent audiotapes for a self-guided tour accompanied by the voice of the exhibit curator and other scholars.
"Just having that resource is one of the more basic and valuable ways of educating the public, just making it accessible," said MOCA's Kanatani. "A lot of times, they don't know what to ask. We want to lower that threat level."