Thursday, January 5, 2012

How To Go See Art: Gallery Visit 101

Art needs viewers. Art, of any sort, is dead until someone experiences it. This is true for music and literature, but it is very certainly true of the visual arts. For someone who has an eye for art, and who wants to see new works regularly, going to galleries is the best way for you to go. The art world is constantly swimming with new exhibitions and gallery shows, all of which hold opening receptions of some sort. It is these events that I want to talk about.
When an artist or a group of artists shows their work somewhere, and holds a reception/opening/event to bring people there, their hope is for an audience to show up, look at their work, and hopefully appreciate it enough to want to purchase it. For many this process is very intimidating. It should not be. I am here to help.

What should you expect from an art opening?

Let's take, for example, a group show held at a local gallery. Most art openings are free-form events, intended to allow the public to come and go as they please. There is no pressure to be there “on time,” unless it is so specified in the announcement/invitation. There is no cover charge. There may be a cash bar or there may be complimentary refreshments served. The artist(s) and/or a gallery employee are usually there, ready to introduce themselves, as well as discuss any questions you may have about their work. This type of interaction is a welcome thing for most artists, as we rarely have the opportunity to interact with the consumers of art. It is completely cool to go up to the artist and introduce yourself, and comment on their art, or ask any questions.

Think of an art show as a communication format. The artists want to communicate with you through their art and through their words. The viewing public is also given the chance to communicate what the work is or is not to them, and if they love it, to purchase said work. Aside from that, there is a communication that happens between the patrons themselves. Art is intended to move the heart and/or mind. You are there to see if this art does this. At the very least, you will be entertained. Not bad for FREE.

What is expected of you at an art opening?

First of all, your very presence. As stated before, art does not live in a vacuum. It is your eyes and minds (and in many cases, all your senses) that are asked to participate. Of course, your preparation can aid in this, but it is not mandatory. You do not need to know the latest art movements, or any art movements at all, to enjoy an artwork or an art show. That does not mean that preparation will not come in handy, but that is up to you. What you really need is an open mind, uncluttered by the bullshit of the day. This is ideal, but we all know life does not often allow for the ideal. The beauty of art is that it will communicate what it can, to whom it can.
This is the beauty of living with art. You can look at it regularly in different light, in different states of mind, in different emotional situations, and get fresh insight. At a gallery show, this must obviously be limited, but that is part of the process. You cannot just hop into an art gallery, look at everything in a quick overview, and then leave right away. Not if you expect to actually create a mental dialogue with the art being shown. It takes a bit of time. First impressions are only enough for superficial matters. Art is deeper than that, otherwise it is just decoration.
Therefore, go to the gallery, walk in, take a casual stroll through and look at each work of art. Note what impression it makes on you and move on to the next. Keep your ears open for anything you may find interesting, such as who the artist is, and if she happens to be discussing her work. Sometimes the artist will give a small speech/statement discussing their latest work, or the direction they are heading in. Listen to them. See how this applies to the art you have looked at.

Go around again. Take a second look at everything. See how your impressions have changed or remained the same. No one will bother you for staying too long. No one will bother you for only staying 15 minutes. However, you must give the art a chance to speak to you, and this cannot be accomplished with a cursory glance at everything and a quick exit. There is usually some form of literature provided, either by the gallery or by the artist themselves. This is a good place to learn more about the artist and their work. There is likely to be some sort of sign-in sheet where you can provide your email and receive updates from either the artist or the gallery.

How do you find time for art shows?

The joy of an art show is that you can access it at your own pace. You can use a visit to an art gallery opening as a precursor to a night out, as a great conversation starter among friends. You can swing by an opening after dinner on a Friday or Saturday night, and enjoy a drink while walking off some of dinner and feeding your mind a bit. Some people frequent art shows regularly, and use them as their socializing routine. Like-minded people enjoying art can be a very fun pastime. You can also hit several openings/shows in sequence and explore the full gamut of what is being offered on any given day. Hell, if you need a small break waiting for the traffic to die down after work, go to the art show! Kill an hour looking at art and then head home with a full mind. Even if the art turns out to be horrible, at the least you have something new to grouse about!

So many people are curious about art, and the art world itself. Yet, the very nature of it makes the art world appear to be an elitist situation, where only the informed and worldly and educated snobs of the world are welcome. This is really not the way it is, just the way it is portrayed in mass media. Most art openings are such casual affairs, and your presence means a lot to those showing work. Remember, if you like something, and can afford it, go ahead and buy something. Sometimes prints are available, or smaller works at a reduced price. The goal is for the art to communicate to someone enough that they wish to own it, and live with it. That someone could very well be you. If you have no money, feel free to enjoy the art anyways. Exposure is the goal of every professional artist, and while one person may not purchase something, their favorable comments about the art or artist can provoke others to buy work, or to come to the next art show. Share what you find. Talk about what you like or do not like. That makes you a part of the art world, and just as important a part as the artists and gallery owners. Go forth, and do so with confidence. The art world is waiting for your input and participation.


(originally published at )

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