Do you ever wonder what to do and how to act when you visit an art gallery or museum? This may seem like a strange topic for a post, but it continues to surprise me how many people who visit New York feel nervous or a little uncomfortable about taking advantage of the wonderful art museums and galleries that make the city such a vibrant center of the art world.

I don’t think it’s a feature of New York particularly, but rather an astonishingly common source of concern to both art enthusiasts and casual gallery visitors. If you’re someone who might let uncertainty prevent you from checking out the art wherever you may be, it’s time to stop worrying. NYC is a great example of why it’s worth getting over any lingering doubts – there’s so much to see and admire, so many wonderful sources of inspiration and beauty, that it would be a shame to let needless anxiety detract from the experience.

Like other internationally famous museums, places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art put considerable effort into making their exhibits visitor-friendly. If you don’t know much about an exhibition or about the art in a particular wing but would like to learn more to enhance your viewing experience, there are audio guides available to give you information and explanations. You can also ask the museum’s guides for further details about things you’d like to know more about.

It can be harder to get over viewing shyness in smaller galleries, because there are fewer obvious clues to how you can find your way about. On the other hand, the more intimate spaces are also generally less overwhelming. Remember that gallery owners and assistants will often be delighted to see people who are interested in and appreciative of the artwork they themselves enjoy and admire.

In places like Chelsea, where there are many galleries and visitors often spend several days in the neighborhood simply in order to explore the exhibitions on offer, gallery owners, directors and assistants are all well accustomed to a wide ranging audience. They won’t expect you to have in-depth knowledge of the artist, movement, style or the state of the art market, so feel free to ask questions. If you want to find out more afterwards, you can always ask for book recommendations and develop your understanding later on.

It can be difficult to choose where to spend your time. The best plan is usually to focus on what you like, if you have a preference. For example, if you know you are drawn to photography, find out which galleries are holding photography exhibitions while you’re there. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to try something new. If you hear about something that appeals, go and see – you never know, it might become a new passion!

People sometimes say they aren’t sure how to approach the time they spend going round a gallery. It’s an understandable concern, but there’s really no need for it. There is no reason why you should choose to go around a show in one particular direction or spend time looking at one painting rather than another, beyond your own preference (and, where relevant, a sensitive respect for anyone else in the gallery, just as in any other public place). If you want to spend ten minutes in front of one specific piece of artwork but don’t feel compelled to do more than glance at the rest of what is on display, then do that. Take your time, enjoy yourself, and relax. Visiting an art gallery can be a fantastic and memorable experience – so leave yourself open to appreciating what’s in front of you, and leave all your worries outside.

Do you have a treasured memory of visiting a gallery? Share it in the comments!