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.