Monday, January 18, 2010

The art poliice, part I

Many people – most people, really - stand in front of art and just don’t know what they’re looking at. And they feel stupid or scared to ask. I can relate: I feel dumb (especially) about music, and am shy to ask questions about music listening. It’s not a good feeling. And, although I’ve got a good handle on visual art, I often find myself under pressure to instantly know what I’m seeing, what stance I take, what I think, what I feel.

The phenomenon is really the effect of art political correctness, a form of policing that goes like this: don’t ever say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question, for you might offend, or worse, make a fool of yourself. The safest thing to do is just pull out the generic, approved comment.

There are two immediate antidotes: One, ask clumsy questions. Do it. Two, if you’re a person in the know – and we’ll talk about people who think they’re in the know but aren’t another time- share the love. If someone goes blank, tell them what you like about the goddamn thing. Sure, there’s great artwork that just instantly communicates with no need for further explanation. But most of the time, a bit of an in goes a long, long way. So give it (and yes, they’ll probably remain blank after).

That said, I’m anti-audioguide. That’s just too much of an in. Shut up already and let me look.


goodeda1122 said...


Lady Xoc said...

I used an acoustiguide once and the small oomph it gave to my appreciation was so vastly outweighed by irritating, gossipy tidbits and inane curatorial conclusions, that I have foresworn them since. I guess I'd rather not know what I'm missing.

And as far as music goes, my only advice is just to listen, and then try making some yourself (for yourself). You have a voice and arms & legs & hands. Make your own music and you will be prepared to hear more.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely completely with goodeda1122, who makes some fascinating observations... All kidding aside, I feel like a complete and total moron when I go to a museum or gallery, which is one reason I get so damn sleepy in that envronment, the other being that museums and galleries take me back to a time and place where I was always being made to feel like an idiot. But from now on I'll ask more questions...

Molly Stevens said...

Dear anonymous,
My brother calls it museum back.
Hi Lady Xoc,
Those audio guides make looking impossible. And looking is mostly a solo experience, I think.