It was the perfect first date: a “gallery hop” through different art galleries in New York City. The events allowed for small talk with just the right amount of distraction. All was going smoothly until my date made an offhanded comment about one of the paintings. “This reminds me of that painting by Picasso—the famous one. Which was it?” I stood there like a deer in headlights as he waited for me to fill in the blank. I didn’t know the name, and I felt foolish for not knowing.
I devised a solution: When someone mentioned an artist or author whose work I wasn’t familiar with, I would go home and Google them. I learned a lot that way—and was often inspired by the works I discovered. When I moved to New York City, I started taking advantage of the easy access to art, music and culture that I hadn’t had growing up in a semi-rural town. But, you don’t have to live in a metropolitan area to expand your horizons. Here are ways to update your knowledge on everything from modern performance art to Frida Kahlo in no time!
1. Visit art museums and galleries
If you live near a major city, there likely are a plethora of museums at your fingertips. But even smaller towns have art galleries worth checking out. And many have free events. Grab some friends and go visit for a fun afternoon or evening. If cost is an issue, most major museums have times with free or reduced admission. Search online for the deals in your area and check out this list of free offerings from some of the country’s top museums. If you have a student ID, inquire if there are any discounts. Can’t get to a museum in person? No problem. The Louvre and The Vatican Museums have virtual tours.
2. Take a free class online
There are thousands of massive open online courses (MOOCs) available from reputable universities and private organizations around the world that can help you up your culture game. I recently completed a six-week art history class through Coursera and the Museum of Modern Art. Did you know that Van Gogh painted “Starry Night” in 1889 while in a mental hospital in Saint-Remy and that the swirling of the stars likely represented an astronomical phenomena happening at the time? Knowing that such beauty could be created during a very difficult time in Van Gogh’s life moved my spirit and gave me insights into how my own struggles can yield moments of profound meaning and creativity.
3. Meet an author or poet
While chain bookstores are going the way of the dinosaurs, there are still independent booksellers out there. Attending an author’s reading and/or book signing is a great way to discover a new read or connect with an author whose work you love. To find an independent bookstore in your area, visit: Indie Store Finder. If you have a favorite scribe, follow them on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for their newsletters to stay in the know when they do book tours.
4. Catch a concert
Many music venues allow you to catch concerts for free as long as you purchase food or a beverage. Arts and community organizations often host free outdoor festivals and concerts, so keep your eyes peeled for what’s coming up where you live. There’s nothing like experiencing a band bring songs to life that I’ve only heard through my headphones.
5. See a theater production
Both big cities and small towns have local theater productions, including seasonal festivals. I’ve attended the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival at DeSales College in Allentown, Pa., several times and have had my breath taken away by the quality of the performances. On often sparse stages, the actors bring the Bard’s words to life. If you’re worried about getting lost in Shakespeare’s dramatic poetry, read a synopsis ahead of time to get up to speed. Unlike high school or college, there won’t be a test! Just go and enjoy.
When I set off to become more knowledgeable about arts and culture, it was in part because I wanted to be able to keep up with the conversation on dates and at parties—no one likes to feel left out. But, my quest for knowledge yielded an unexpected benefit—I discovered art of all kinds that resonated with me, that challenged me, that invited me to think about myself and the world differently. And with that came the wisdom that it was never truly about just being able to fit into the world—it was about discovering what would enrich my own journey along the way.