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The backlog of art posts is growing, again. I’ve made vague vows of writing some of it today and these vows, like most vows, will be broken because this evening I plan to be at a friend’s house, away from the computer and wholly employed in the act of devouring a four-legged beast that has been cooked to perfection. Ages back, someone said on Twitter, possibly inspired by William Watson Purkey, “You’ve got to blog like there’s no one reading.” I thought that was the most rubbish and irresponsible bit of advice I’ve ever come across but I do remember that line every time I write or think about an art post. Because if there’s anything I write as though there’s no one reading, then it’s an art post since I know almost no one is interested in it. But I persist. If I make it to an art show, I will eventually write it up. Eventually.

Someone asked me the other day why I go to see art shows. I blinked and said that I didn’t understand the question. This person asked me if I went to galleries to see shows because I knew I’d see something I like. I replied that it’s rarely that I love what I see in a gallery.  “Then why?” my problematic conversation partner asked. “It’s not like it’s your job or anything. So what do you get out of it?”

It sounds like Neanderthal-speak translated to English, but it’s actually a bloody good question. Galleries are unfriendly spaces that mostly seek to intimidate. The work in them is rarely easily accessible and sometimes, what you see is decidedly bollocks or worse, completely unmemorable. So why go?

While wasting time at work, I came across this piece by Mark Mann. It’s not new but it seemed rather pertinent to my recent conversation. Voila, some selected excerpts.

I often find myself wanting to respond to art using my tongue, or the soft skin of my wrists, or a Sharpie or a hammer. But none of that is acceptable. Even napping is unacceptable at an art gallery. Eventually, you just walk away.  …

The fact is, nobody knows what art is or why people make it. This is blatantly disturbing. Some say the function of art is to generate conversation—an unpleasant thought. I’m not sure we want to put art in the same category as skin disease and Carl Winslow: things to talk about on the internet. …

This is why so many of us have a bad time at galleries: we try to make art Interesting when we should just let it be weird. Art should never be Interesting. Wikipedia is Interesting. Nightmares are Interesting. But to feign Interest in other people’s art is just smug. Don’t be so fond and fatherly about it. …

The real reason to go to an art gallery is to witness a small number of people elaborate publicly on their own confused striving, beyond explanation or accountability or compromise. …

As you look at a piece of art, try to think of the artist as a friend, one who mails you covert recordings of her other friends, or who watches a movie you like in her private time just because you mentioned it once. Now you’ve come to a party and she keeps passing you disconcertingly lurid notes. Maybe it wouldn’t happen like that in real life, but reality isn’t our concern here. Reality has trees and underpasses; a gallery is full of people chasing trails. …

While I don’t entirely agree with Mann, I do love the part where he writes about art “in the same category as skin disease”.

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2 thoughts on “Gallery-wallah

    • I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of assuming what an artist wanted to communicate with a work, which is effectively what Mann is suggesting we do when he says we should imagine the artist is whispering secrets to us etc. This could be way more fun than what the artist intended or imagined, but it’s worth keeping in mind that such assumptions often tell you more about the viewer than the art or the artist.

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