Scared Artless

“People at Art openings are pretentious and weird.” I hear variations of this comment all the time.

Either of these scenarios sound familiar? Standing next to a person by the bathroom for 10 minutes and not even saying a polite hello—much less making an introduction? Or even more awkward; standing next to someone whom you know is your Facebook friend, but neither of you are acknowledging this fact or each other? I rarely have this interaction with the same person when we meet in a restaurant, nightclub or even at Trader Joe’s—so what gives? Uncomfortable moments like these have got me thinking. Is it the other person? Is it me? Or could it possibly be something to do with the art venue?

The weird thing is, I go to museums often and I really do love art. I have become somewhat obsessed with artists such as, Brancusi, Dali, Hokusai, Freud, and Murakami to name a few. Yes, these are Masters, I know, I know, and yes, their works are mainstream and accessible, so it is not a surprise really that I like them.

Yet nothing has been more nerve wracking at times for me, than going to an art show. You know, one of those great gatherings, with great up and coming artists, like the ones that you get invited to on Facebook?  Something like those. So I’ll get an invite to one of these shows; and having the predisposition of a hermit crab–but knowing that I could use a little of that stuff called “culture”—I’ll throw my Repettos on and venture out from under my rock.

Here’s a dirty little secret…

Sometimes, I don’t even know who the artist is, or even the art medium that I am about to show up for. Quelle Horreur!! I know, I know, but off I’ll go. Then, it will happen that I get there and I have the awkward experience of either showing up way too early; or, being stood up by certain friends of mine (who will remain nameless ahem, but know who they are.)

As soon as those neon, dark-under-eye-circle-magnifying lights hit me—so do the butterflies. This calls for activities such as; typing a faux text on my blackberry; pretending to have to use the bathroom–and then often—just walking out. It’s kind of involuntary. Halfway down the street, after pulling out of my ‘karma good’ parking spot, I will have a little “what is my problem?” moment. If I do end up staying, I am tense, awkward and hyper-aware of every movement of my body. I’m not really enjoying the art because my brain is slowly melting as I try to adjust to being in the space correctly.

New people. Art. Florescent lights. People. Noises. Music. Nowhere to sit. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to sit. How am I standing? Ahh.

Then, after settling into the place, I will often find myself taking on another behavior, even more bizarre. I will float around, avoiding eye contact, ignoring certain individuals and having light, safe conversations, mostly avoiding the topic of the event that I showed up for in the first place; the Art.

“I saw you but didn’t get a chance to talk to you.”

Huh? We are in a space about the size of a matchbox and are having a hard time connecting?

What a peculiar condition.

Well, having the propensity towards a hypochondriacal nature, I do sometimes self-diagnose. After much self-examination, I have come up with a little theory. What clinically might be known as a form of social anxiety might possibly have a more accurate diagnosis. I have taken the liberty of naming this condition:

Art Show Syndrome—or—with all due respect, A.S.S. I see A.S.S as a benign condition that affects a person’s attitude, posture, and vernacular in various degrees while participating in the Art Scene. A couple of weeks ago, I started an unqualified behavioral study of myself and other art goers surrounding me. Though I have not done enough research to argue what the causes or cures are for everyone, I think I have found a few simple facts that are at the root of my own A.S.S behavior. I will share.

Maybe some of you can relate…

Being an actor, I know how much courage it takes to commit to an artistic career. I can’t draw or paint worth a lick, so those who create fine art have always mystified me. These people capture a part of their soul and create something physical, inviting us to join in communion with them by enjoying what they have made. The very essence of this act is one of purity, connection and love for humanity.

I mean, that is just so darn cool!

A true artist surely does not intend to host an environment where people intentionally disconnect and intellectually compete. But I’ve realized that somehow A.S.S creeps in from knowing I’m a bit of a dummy on the subject. And like any topic that I’m a dummy in—no matter how enthused I am in the moment about it—I prefer to stay quiet (hence my aloofness.)

So how can I keep my A.S.S at bay? I have been making an effort to be more active in my art experience, in little ways like keeping an art glossary handy (I am not ashamed to say.) I bookmarked Tate Modern’s glossary on my Blackberry and Mac. And of course also, pushing myself to ask more questions, even when an opening appears to be more of a fashion show then an art show. I just have to keep reminding myself why I am there in the first place.

I was talking about my Art Show Syndrome theory with an actor friend of mine Chris Payne Gilbert. He mentioned having a comparable reaction when in a new city or country and not wanting to seem like a tourist.  There seems to be this perception that “the natives” will be annoyed with the “foreigner” who comes in bumbling about, with childlike inquires, invading their comfort zone. But in the case of traveling to a foreign place you are often forced to connect when you find yourself lost or in some predicament. The necessity of connection is how I’ve learned more about a place when meeting some passionate local who wants to share their part of the world with me.

Art too can be seen as a journey. After all, the art itself is what makes me want to know more about the artist and his or her medium. Curiosity is piqued by one piece, leading to another, then to another artist and so on. This is true for pieces I have seen in Art Galleries to Flea Markets. I think about the art later. I want to buy pieces. I do when I can.

I may never become a connoisseur of art by any defining standards, or even be able to grasp the commerce of it all. What I can grasp though, is that art really moves me.  When I love it—I feel vulnerable. When I hate it—I feel uneasy. When I feel nothing—I feel cheated. This simple organic experience is how art fits into my life right now. Maybe being more relaxed about it, will lead me somewhere else. Who knows?

What has the art experience been for you? I would love to hear about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. 26 September 11, 10:24am

    I used to love going to First Fridays in Philly, a night when all the art galleries open to the public– it’s like a giant, moving party, going from one gallery to the next. Just being around new creations would inspire me, but I also liked poking fun at some of the bad art, art that was taking itself too seriously. Going to these shows was always an enjoyable experience.

  2. 26 September 11, 10:54am

    Mei is a beautiful actress and a wonderful person. She needs to go to more real art openings though. Not the fake douchey hollywood type “art” shows.

    http://www.dempasswords.com is a good place to start.

  3. 26 September 11, 11:54am

    I guess it’s like any other social activity where it just seems awkward if you go by yourself. A.S.S seems to also manifest itself in other social settings like a party where you don’t know anyone, or when your the new kid at school. I think since the art is what brought you there, and the art itself does not judge you, you should just engage the art and tune out everything else. Or just go see the art on a non-opening day. I get intimidated by openings as well, so I definitely can relate to your article.

  4. Craig
    26 September 11, 2:01pm

    Loved Miss Melacon’s tone here! She has warmth, humor, irony, and the kind of incite I would enjoy reading in any high-caliber publication: Time, Newsweek..etc. I look forward, with some appetite, to any future articles by her!

  5. monstrito
    26 September 11, 2:16pm

    I became aware of my A.S.S. years ago, and have learned not to be ashamed of it. I’m actually quite comfortable with my A.S.S. now and no longer feel the obessive-compulsion to compare mine to others. Hopefully those who continue to live in fear and/or pain from their A.S.S. can finally come out of the A.S.S. closet.

  6. Tim
    26 September 11, 4:02pm

    Great Article Mei! And you raise some interesting points. The whole experience of taking in Art at a Gallery, for instance, is somewhat intensified and alienating because others are VIEWING the REACTION of Others (and there is this obligation to come off as cultured or knowing what you are talking about) versus, say viewing a Film – or as an even more extreme example, reading a book (since you perform that act in a complete vacuum with no one beside yourself). Taking in Art Galleries seems to be sort of a communal activity that at the very least would seem to require credentials from its participants (even though this is not really explicitly stated, it is sort of somewhat implied/assumed).

  7. 26 September 11, 4:05pm

    i found mei’s article to be very interesting indeed. i would like to hear much more from her and see what exactly she needs all that hot sauce for.bravo.

  8. Jason Wong
    27 September 11, 9:48am

    DAT MELANCON!

  9. 01 October 11, 1:51pm

    Mei, you may not be able to draw or paint, but you sure can write. You have a distinctive voice and a style, which are wonderful things for a writer to have.

    You wrote, “These people capture a part of their soul and create something physical, inviting us to join in communion with them by enjoying what they have made. The very essence of this act is one of purity, connection and love for humanity.”

    That’s pretty darn good. Keep writing!

  10. Rochelle
    02 October 11, 10:19pm

    She makes me laugh! I love her comedic satire….so true Mei!

  11. Jwong
    11 October 11, 1:17am

    I don’t like going to art shows usually because there is just far too much bullshitting, backpatting and ass kissing going on for my tastes. Even if the artist is really cool and nice (it happens sometimes) the people who show up often seem so hungry for attention that it sours the experience for those of us who just came to see the work.

    If you are going to an art show primarily to show people how hip and groovy you are just do everyone a favor and stay home.

  12. ProjectPaperClip
    30 November 11, 10:55pm

    What was once subversive and done with little resources, art-openings have now become sanitized and censured, and thrown at gala-scale for all to attend.

    Inextricably, artists and the exhibition of their works are usually tied to a wider set of corporate interests which inexorably levies the livelihoods of many. Commercial-leanings toward these partnerships muddle the intellectualism associated with art and art apreciation, and as a result, the types who fill art-openings by proxy are people who normally would not attend them under any other circumstances, but through an invite received through social networking (hand it to Facebook and Apple for bringing computing to the dumbed-down masses while finding more insipid ways in selling us things), and other methods of tertiary advertising, like chain-marketing, or in-store-promotions, so that the masses are notified about “that artist who did that ad campaign you saw on TV” to where all the clue-less giddy targetted consumers diligently fill the art-space holding steaming cups of Starbuck’s coffee with in-store trinkets under the other arm waiting at the cash register to the delight of the owner, all while acting aloof about the weird art hanging on the walls.

  13. robot jones
    25 December 11, 6:13pm

    really? you? hahaha!

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