Some of my friends hate art museums. They would never admit it, but I can see it in their body language when I ask if they want to join me on a weekend excursion to the contemporary art museum or to a late-night viewing party at the larger art museum downtown.
They crinkle their foreheads in surprise and scoff: “The art museum? What’s going on there?”
“You mean, aside from the art?” I like to answer, adding my own subtle dig.
I’ve always enjoyed art museums. But I never universally loved, valued and appreciated these important institutions until the first time I ingested cannabis at an art museum, in (of all places) Wyoming, some years back.
More on that spectacular afternoon in a sec.
In my own B.C. (before cannabis) era, I went to art museums partially because I wanted to, but mostly because I felt it was my cultural responsibility. At home in Colorado, I’d support the sprawling Denver Art Museum and the hyper-curated Museum of Contemporary Art, and I’d always do my best to make time in my travels for the behemoths.
I first fell in love with Sandro Botticelli’s delicate brushstrokes at London’s National Gallery, where admission is free and so is the people-watching outside in Trafalgar Square. I fell in love with the artist a second time at Florence’s Uffizi.
Some art museums are, of course, better than others. But the truth is, all art museums deserve our time, money and engagement. Just think about it: These institutions’ primary purpose is to preserve, display and celebrate paintings, sculptures, films, installations and more.
As the late Commonwealth Association of Museums president Emmanuel N. Arinze put it in 1999: “[Museums] hold the cultural wealth of the nation in trust for all generations and by its function and unique position, [they have] become the cultural conscience of the nations.”
Museums are our cultural conscious, yes, and I’m arguing that we should take in these experiences via an expanded consciousness.
Of course there is a creative spark inside cannabis and its mind-altering and opening properties — so much that many world-famous artists use weed as a part of their creative process.
In my humble experience as an art aficionado, marijuana opens me up to the right headspace for a rewarding stroll in the art museum. I forget about the world outside and take time with the works that especially grab me. I jot notes down and take photos (where allowed) to help me remember specific names or pieces. I engage the docents and security guards, asking them about their favorite pieces and the strange things they witness while standing silently in the gallery corner for hours upon hours.
And I partake in some of the hands-on activities these cultural institutions scatter about to engage their audiences. One time, I created my family’s coat of arms with magazine clippings and another time I made my own pop art-styled postcard and posted it to a friend right there from a mid-gallery letter drop — they even had a coin machine in the middle of the museum to help us buy stamps from the stamp machine that was an awesomely out-of-place anachronism among otherwise timeless works of art.
It was actually during one of these activities that I first recognized the benefits of museum-going while stoned, back on that fateful and sunny afternoon in Jackson, Wyoming.
Some friends and I were spending a long summer weekend among the Tetons, and we decided to spend the afternoon at the National Museum of Wildlife Art based on a friend’s recommendation. None of us were thrilled about the outing, but again, we felt a certain cultural responsibility to at least check it out.
I remember our faces lighting up when we thought to dig into our edibles stash (oops, forgot we weren’t supposed to have those north of the border) before leaving the car in the parking lot.
We all went our own way pretty much immediately, and I was quickly taken with the quality and diversity of the museum’s expansive collection. From paintings of minks, to drawings of coyotes, to sculptures of a panther eating a deer, I found myself compelled by these moving works, many of which predated the advent of photography and told vital stories of the American West.
About 45 minutes into our visit, I heard a familiar, if muted, giggle. My wife had found me sitting at a mid-museum table using a quiver of colored pencils in a feeble attempt at drawing a bison. The learning station was for kids and adults, and I was enjoying the challenge — as well as the museum’s nuanced, step-by-step instructions on drawing the majestic beasts native to these lands.
“This is sooooo fun,” she said, slightly glassy-eyed. I agreed with a child-like, open-mouth nod. I was in heaven, and I never wanted to leave.
When the four of us friends eventually reconnected in the mostly empty museum, we found ourselves standing in front of a sizable painting of a bison. The piece, unlike my drawing from earlier, was stunningly lifelike — its elevated position on the focus-wall told us the museum’s curators agreed.
The framed photorealism in front of us was as meaningful as the many real-life bison we’d already seen on our happy-go-lucky road trip. Somehow the artist had conveyed an actual life in his portrait, and we couldn’t get enough of the hulking figure so masterfully portrayed — and yes, we were also all a bit sideways on edibles.
But the beauty of a lifted art museum experience goes beyond just getting loaded. Just ask the Redditor who in 2015 wrote of his elevated trip through Manhattan’s mighty MoMA: “I swear to God this was as close as heaven was going to get in my lifetime.”
Pretty high praise.
If it’s been too long since you’ve supported your local art museum, remedy that situation — and I’d also recommend a pleasant, but not overwhelming, portion of cannabis to fuel your adventure.
TELL US, do you get high before you go to museums?