How to Survive an Art Exhibition

Note: I’m moving stuff around from old blogs and…a lot of it is cringe and I’m totally ok just leaving it in the drafts out there but some I figured can be salvaged. Anyway, this was something I wrote long back during a phase of life which required me to attend quite a few stupidlypretentious art exhibitions.

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Art is a complex thing. A very complex thing…or so they say. It takes a true eye and an experienced mind to understand the intricacies of artwork which lays bare an artist’s soul to the world….or so they say.

Now, I am a conflicted person when it comes to art. Coflicted because I’m not sure I really get it. I mean fine, when it’s something like a piece from the Renaissance or a well-done sculpture, sure I can see the exquisite beauty of it, the finesse and amazing precision of each brush or chisel stroke and appreciate how much effort and skill must have gone behind the creation of such a fine piece. But dangle something like this:

in front of me and I’m lost like an Inuit in Turkey holding driving instructions in Japanese.

To make a long story short, most modern art makes no sense to me and hence art exhibitions by default don’t either. Unfortunately, in today’s world of “contemporary” chic, you’re not cool or even eligible for commenting on artwork unless you can come up with at-least five different perspectives on the sublimity and depth of something that looks like the aftermath of a chimpanzee’s meal. I am sure it’s all wonderful and I just don’t have enough depth to comprehend it but yeah I just don’t get it. So I came up with a lot of random and completely useless advice to survive an art exhibition if you happen to be like me i.e. required to attend but don’t know the first thing about what to do there:


Step 1: Dress to Shock


Sounds complex? It’s really not. No, this does not mean you can leave modesty at the door. This simply means that if you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb-don’t show up in jeans and a T-shirt. Unless of course you do it ironically or the T-shirt makes a statement. Anything to do with the world’s thousand on-going crises is fine or anything which no one in the room will be able to understand. Japanese is in, by the way. Of course, if you are classy you can always do something demure or suave but then all of this is anyway not for you so get lost please.

If you’re not the casual type or the event demands a bit more effort, the second best option is something I like to call Dressing like an Artwork. Remember that neon top you bought at that sale and woke up the next morning asking yourself why? Or that jewellery your friends claim can solve the weapons crises of several small nations? Or the hat your mom wanted to borrow to use as a lampshade? Well, this is where they all come in. Mix and match, baby. You’ll fit right in, at-least with the radicals who claim no one gets them. They won’t get you, so you’re automatically cool.


Step 2: Attitude


Now, this depends on the clothes. If you’re doing the jeans and T-shirt thing, regardless of gender, act like you don’t give a damn in the world. That’s why you’re dressed like that at a formal do. Because you don’t care what the superficial mortals around think of you. You’re concerned with much larger issues like how you’re going to sneak your scooter out before anyone in the group of snobs you’re hanging out with sees it. Unless of course you can pull the apathetic thing to that extent, in which case they might mistake you for the artist.

The demure thing is the demure thing and suave I leave upto your best judgement. However, if you’ve followed my advice and dressed like an artwork, it gets tricky. You can do the treat-everyone-like-crap, I-hate-the-world, no-one-gets-me, but then you run the risk of going home alone, ending up friendless, or in case you’re married, getting a divorce notice the next morning. So, here’s the deal. Be nice. Smile a lot and DON’T TALK. Act preoccupied and when you see an artwork, like you’re seeing things in it no one else can see. Try a small knowing smile to go with the whole. When someone asks you for your opinion or what you think the artist had in mind, give them that little smile, glance back at the painting with a small sigh, give your head a little shake and walk away. Do not, I repeat DO NOT open your mouth. They might think you nuts but at these things better crazy than “ignorant and uncultured.” Oh, and try to avoid staying at one place for too long to prevent encounters of the afore-mentioned kind as much as possible.

Step 3: Know Thy Artist

So you’ve got the clothes and you have the attitude. Now, artist. At the very least, find out their name. If you are going with someone you need to impress like your boss or a group of friends from office, google the name and read at-least three different pages, no more, no less. Find out basic style, family background, key low-points of their life, failures and you’re set. Boss: “Hey, what do you think of that little bit over there?” You: “Well, you see, the artist’s dog got the flu when he was ten. I think this reflects the pain he must have felt seeing the poor thing sniffle its way around.” Boss: “Very sublime indeed. And that little bit there?” You: “That’s from when his cat ran away.” Boss: “Amazing! You’re promoted!”…yeah no, don’t say shit like that.

Of course if you don’t have any pressing needs to be cool and impressive and are just accompanying a friend or wandered in because there was still an hour’s time to kill before your movie in the theater next door starts, read the name on the board and remember it. If someone asks you about the artist, here’s your reply: “I am a naturalist. I think knowing about a person creates perceptions which can damage the flow of the natural essence of the work itself. I don’t like interference with that flow, to contaminate it would be criminal. Artists are just the means, they don’t matter. It’s the work, which is right in front of you, then why bother about the vessel?” Say it like you mean it.

Step 4: Know thy Lingo


Essence, metamorphosis etc. etc. Learn them and use them. That’s what the net’s for. And then use your brain. Make up stuff, make it sound exotic. Also, talk to intelligent-looking people and try and get their take on it. Then, as soon as their back is turned, memorize it. Mix this with a bit of imaginative use of words and a little will take you a long way. Art is done by humans for humans and it’s very likely that the people with you are equally, if not more lost than you are.

And finally, if you follow all this and don’t get chased out with sticks or have your posters hung on gallery walls to warn against allowing you in, you have learned the art well. Cheers!