Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Calling All Artists
One of life's really interesting experiences always clobbers me. I witness someone behaving really badly and as I run for cover I'm forced to ask myself: "Oh my god, I don't do that, do I? Please god, say I don't." And as I flip through memory flashes and hold them up like slides to the light, I scramble for clues as to whether I have indeed crossed the line.
A long time ago, when I ran a gallery on Newbury Street in Boston, I wanted to publish two little handbooks. One for those visiting art galleries, giving them ideas for what to look for, how and how not to look at art, and offering them things they might say, useful catch-phrases, like "I love the way the artist moves the light through the painting," or "This video installation really puts me inside the artist's head," along with things one should never say, like, "The color is so garish," or "This artist doesn't know how to draw." Sounds fascist, but it was really intended as an times humorous guidebook for people who are lost in the world of art, and lost for what to say.
The other little guide book I wanted to publish was one for artists on how to behave when outside the studio. I did do "One Hundred Ways to Survive as an Artist without Cutting Off Your Ear," but that was a little different. Some of the same thoughts pass through all three.
For the artist's guidebook I would have rules of art world etiquette. Like Emily Post. Just a few, and just for those one or two artists who seem to have been brought up by bears.
Rule number one: NEVER bring your slides to someone else's opening! I put that one first because although it would seem impossible and unnecessary, it actually happens. I know examples of both, the artist who had other artists, friends, bring slides; and I've known a few artists who brought slides. But just in case what's so wrong about this doesn't occurr to you, just remember: it's not your moment. Learn how to celebrate someone else's moment, as painful as that might be. I'm glad to get that one out of the way, thank you.
Rule number two: Keep your opinions to yourself when viewing art in a gallery. AND don't make faces. That's important. My ex-wife did that, and it was probably over as a result. This is another variation on the golden rule, but it still needs to be said. Wait until you are at least two blocks, maybe three, from the gallery before you start passing judgment, and always keep your voice down, wherever you are. Never risk saying something negative within earshot of the artist, or their family, or friends, or the dealer. This one is hard when wine is being served.
Rule number three: When you enter any gallery and start sizing up the walls imagining how great your work would look, at least pretend to look at the work already hanging where your masterpieces will demand to be reckoned with, and if you can actually give the work hanging in your future space the time of day, so much the better! But at the very least pretend to be interested in something besides yourself.
Rule number four: Never give someone, a gallery, your slides and then ask that they get back to you as soon as possible with an answer as to when you're going to have your big show, as though you're about to fly to Venice to represent the WORLD at the Biennale and only have a few moments to spare before you have to get on your private jet. And like you're actually going to get a show! Also, don't keep going back to the gallery because, godammit, they haven't gotten back to YOU!
Rule number five: Don't eat all the food at the opening. Save some grapes for someone else, and never hover over the cheese and crackers and FEED like a horse at the trough!
Rule number six: Don't argue with the work; inotherwords, don't argue with other people's art. First off, everybody knows what's really going on. By arguing you keep yourself in charge, the focus on you, you at the center, you in control. All about you!
You ever notice how some people never cease to do this. They might be on a committee; they might be at your breakfast table. To argue is to create crisis, which shuts down movement, and impedes change or progress. It divides. It also inflates the ego: you argue therefore you are, therefore you exist, therefore you are important. It is also a way of dismissing what is clearly at that moment is not about you, even more important than you. When something threatens us we argue, thereby making the thing we're arguing about less important, and as a result elevating ourselves instead.
It is exhausting. People who argue of course never listen, make the possiblility of listening the last thing that will or could ever happen. By design. Keeping the message on them. So. Don't argue. Listen. Be open to the work! It won't be the end of the world. It won't kill you.
Rule number seven. See rules one through six and hold them up to the light like slides. Oh yeh, and find something nice to say, even genuine; be generous in the artist's presence, even if it kills you!
Next up: Rules of etiquette for dealers, curators, and museum people. Ha!
And finally, I'd like to thanks my parents, Mr and Mrs Bear.