10 steps to becoming true art experts

27. June 2019

In the film Midnight in Paris, there is a wonderful scene in which an art layman steals the show from a (supposed) art expert: through circumstances that are not explained in detail, the protagonist (Gil) has the opportunity to travel into the past every night and ends up in the illustrious Paris of the 1920s. Together with one of his new old friends, he ends up with Gertrude Stein, who is currently hotly discussing with the young Picasso a new painting [“Bather” from 1928, today in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes]. On the day, again in the present day, Gil, his fiancée Inez and a couple friend (Paul and Carol) meet just that painting during a visit to an exhibition. Paul, a terrible know-it-all, begins immediately with a lecture on the genesis and genius of the work. But Gil knows it first hand and therefore better. He contradicts Paul, criticizes Gertrude Stein in the words, and explains the true circumstances under which the painting was created. The scene is not only funny because the unsympathetic Paul is exposed as a chatterer. It’s especially good because Gil, who everyone, including himself, thinks is a loser, presents his knowledge with a serenity and a self-understanding that are unobjectionable.

It is true that we cannot, like Gil, travel back in time to the time a work of art was created. But for your next visit to the museum, I want to give you a few tips on how you know-it-all distinguish yourself from true art connoisseurs – and of course become the latter yourself:


The know-it-all is like the class nerd who snips in front of the picture and wants to get rid of the fact that he knows something. Let him talk first and then recite your hammer expert sentence calmly.
Example: “You’ve already summed that up very nicely, XY. If I could add that…”

Quality instead of quantity

Here too, less is more. Do not shoot all arrows at once. Better to say something really impressive once (s. 1) and to hold back otherwise rather. As true experts you don’t need to show off your knowledge.

General education

Sells also your background knowledge discreetly, as if it were part of a good general education. Because no one likes to admit they don’t know anything well known, no one will contradict you, especially the know-it-all. Example: “You know that Rembrandt…” or “As is generally known…”.


The know-it-all has an answer for everything. But the really knowledgeable has no problem with not knowing something. That makes you sympathetic with your fellow men. Nevertheless only use very sparingly! Example: “That was, I mean, in the 1820s…”, “Wasn’t that so, that…?”.

Technical terms

While the know-it-all with technical terms throws around itself like the Jeck at carnival with camel, gives also here for you: dosed and calmly bedding in. But here you should know what you’re talking about! If nothing comes on demand, this could expose you as an impostor.

Pronounce artist names correctly

Everybody knows you don’t pronounce van Gogh van Gock. Here are some more names in the original and the pronounced version:
Constantin Brancusi (Sculptor, 1876-1957): Brankuusch (with a rolling “r”)
Lázló Moholy-Nagy (painter, photographer, Bauhaus teacher, 1895-1946): Moholi-Natsch
Alexander Archipenko (sculptor, 1887-1964): Archípenkó (emphasis on the 2nd and 4th syllables)
Veit Stoß (sculptor and carver, c. 1447-1533): Vjett Schtosch


As a connoisseur, you know that the first thing about works of art is the overall impression. So don’t run like the wannabe to the object and flatten your nose. Keep your distance, look for a while. Then you can go closer again to see the details, to appreciate the brushstroke, etc.

Leave time

Before the work of your choice stands a cluster of museum visitors? Stay calm and wait until there is more space. Take your time to look at the works that appeal to you. As experts you can also leave one or the other object out of the question.


When you take part in a guided tour, the guide does not grovel into the lecture through non-verbal (frowning) or verbal actions (only a know-it-all does). People usually know very well what they are talking about and have spent a lot of time preparing in advance. If you still don’t like the tour, go. Otherwise, guides are grateful for interested, benevolent listeners.


Watching art is exhausting! Wenn´s is too much for you, take a break. Only the know-it-all makes visits to exhibitions a competition discipline. Meanwhile every museum offers seats. Use the break to observe other museum visitors – that’s very interesting! Surely you now have an eye for who is an Expert