Saturday, 6 January 2018

Gallery habitués

Having visited several London art galleries during the week, I recognise certain types of visitor who can be found at galleries anywhere in the world.

There's the rake-thin, ultra-cool woman or man who studies the art quietly, thoughtfully, unobtrusively, absorbing every little detail, a shrewd connoisseur of artistic techniques.

There's the loud-mouthed man (usually a man) who holds forth to his companion (usually a woman) about whatever they're looking at, explaining what the artist was trying to achieve (according to him) and how hampered they were by brutal depressions, imminent penury and chronic ill-health. They're confident they're the world's authority on Rothko, Hockney or Lowry, but are generally oblivious to women artists, who are clearly only exhibited in the name of gender equality.

There are the artistically challenged tourists who're only in the gallery to satisfy their daily sight-seeing quota, and aren't sure what they're looking at. They scurry through the gallery in great haste, glancing briefly at the odd work of art to show willing.

There's the pretentious poser who's only in the gallery so he can tell his dinner-party guests he's been to this week's most talked-about exhibition. He secretly thinks the artist is an over-hyped second-rater but pretends to be a big fan.

At the entrance to the exhibition, there are always the slightly anxious types who're not sure about trusting their precious bags to the cloakroom staff, convinced their valuables will vanish in seconds the moment their back is turned.

Which type am I, you might ask? Well, obviously the ultra-cool guy who's a shrewd connoisseur of artistic techniques. Jenny laughs at the way I scrutinise the art so thoroughly, peering intensely at every last daub of paint and unusual brush-stroke.

I'm no expert on art and I'd never be foolish enough to pontificate on an artist's credentials. As long as they make me feel something, or think something, or gasp with amazement, that's good enough for me. I don't need to know that Rothko topped himself or Warhol was afraid of hospitals and doctors. So what?

25 comments:

John Gray said...

Nick I do so hate going to galleries where the majority of people PHOTOGRAPH the paintings with their phones!
It drives me bananas!

nick said...

John: Yes, why on earth do they do that? They'll only end up with thousands of art photos they'll probably never look at again. Why not just appreciate the art?

CheerfulMonk said...

It's been a long time since I've gone to an art gallery, and I've never thought about cell phones. Yes, of course that would be a problem now. :(

helen devries said...


When at school we were carted round the major public galleries and instructed on technique...etc. None of which prevented me from preferring the portrait of Cardinal Richelieu which then stood at the top of the stairs in the National Gallery to any amount of blasted water lilies.
Leo opened my eyes to the historical context of art..and to its emotional draw...but the surprise of my life was visitng modern art galleries in Brussels in the company of a young cousin who realy made the paintings sing for us.
Tell me, why do you think that the rake thin brigade actually appreciate art in itself rather than as an extension of their own image?
Speaking as a fatty, of course...

Bijoux said...

I tend to just browse quickly through the rooms that don't interest me much, as I have no interest in pretending. When I get to the galleries that I enjoy (modern art, Impressionists, ancient Egypt) I take my time reading the labels/placards and then studying the piece.

nick said...

Jean: I wasn't bothered by any phones during my gallery visits. If people were looking at phones, they were doing so silently and without disturbing other people.

Helen: Yes, I've seen enough water lilies to last me a lifetime. As for why the rake-thin brigade appreciate art in itself, I really wouldn't know. You'd have to ask them! I was excited about modern art from a very early age, but I couldn't explain why.

nick said...

Bijoux: Me too. Most pre-modern art doesn't interest me in the slightest, but modern art I could binge on for hours. It's all so extraordinary and original and thought-provoking - even if some of it is patently a gigantic joke.

Wisewebwoman said...

Wow Nick judgy much? When I'm at a gallery I'm usually engrossed in the art, sometimes chatting with those who are there for various reasons and usually just delighted to be there appreciating artists' impressions and the varioys responses of the spectators.

I'd never presume to know the level of their interest, if any, based on superficial criteria.

XO
WWW

Polly said...

Oh yes, I’ve seen them all. I’m not sure which category I fall in, like Bijoux I move swiftly past the exhibits I don’t like, and admire the ones I do. Sometimes I think I’m a bit of a pleb, I generally don’t like modern, I just like something that is pleasing to the eye.

nick said...

www: Am I being judgmental or just describing certain types? You can see it both ways, I guess. But I do think people who visit art galleries should be there because of their genuine appreciation of art and not for some sort of point-scoring.

Polly: You're not a pleb simply because you dislike modern art and prefer earlier art. Pre-modern art is equally skilled, but most of it just doesn't interest me.

joared said...

I’m no authority on art and don’t pretend to be. I think people enjoy art in different ways, so I don’t presume to know what others are experiencing based on my brief superficial observations of them. In fact, I pay little or no attention to others in a gallery, I’m there to see the art. I like what I like and may not be able to describe to others what attracts me, though it is a question I often ask myself. I don’t get caught up in trying to analyze or figure out fthe techniques used in the creation. I am interested in the artist’s world and personal life at the time as influencing his or her work, or motivating the creation. But this is what fascinates me about all people, musicians, writers, scientists and their theories.

tammy j said...

a great people watching topic nick!
I am also not
"a shrewd connoisseur of artistic techniques..."
but I once stood mesmerized by the technique of one of the old masters... the woman's skin and the pearls and the drapery folds of velvet in her gown. all three such different textures and yet captured exquisitely by the artist.
especially when I'd read that he had to create his own pigments of the paint itself before he could even begin the actual painting! amazing!

Dave Martin said...

When it comes to art I know what I like when I see it, but I certainly have no time for pretentious twats who spend their time trying to attach deep meaning to pieces.
Do you like it? Yes? Fine. No? Move on.

nick said...

Joared: I'm always very aware of the people around me and how they present themselves to the world. It would be quite handy if I could screen them out more! Yes, I'm also interested in how the artist's thoughts and emotions and life circumstances may have influenced their art.

nick said...

Tammy: Agreed, the way the old masters (and mistresses) managed to depict a real-life scene so faithfully and so accurately is amazing. For some reason, your comment makes me think of all those old paintings of "a woman reading". It seems to have been a popular theme.

nick said...

Dave: I just laugh at those art gallery "explanations" of an artist's work or some artistic circle or other. Most of it is meaningless nonsense and conjecture. I expect an art work to have some tangible effect on me without the need for someone else to "explain" it to me. Like you, if it says nothing to me I move on.

Ursula said...

Wonder what you'd make of a young woman, due to depart for the airport Paris Orly, tearing at speed through the Louvre in search of the Mona Lisa with few minutes to spare. She found her, met her eye, blew her a kiss and kept running, this time in search of the exit.

Or the same woman, some years later, visiting another magnificent museum - Kunsthistorisches in Vienna, with her little son asleep in his pushchair. The grandeur of the staircase, the grandeur full stop, not least the massively heavy doors to be opened by her (no mean feat whilst manoeuvering a buggy).

Or the woman who took her son to see Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings (courtesy of the Queen's private collection) in some annexe of Buckingham Palace. Or the woman who took her son, the years flying by, to galleries as far flung as Basel (Switzerland) and beyond. Or the woman whose husband (not particularly interested in art) took her to the Van Gough museum in Amsterdam and let her wander and wonder in peace whilst he himself played catch on the lower floor with their toddler son (the floor was being renovated, at the time empty). I could go on and on and on. So, yes, what do you make of that woman? What do you actually know what and how she sees (or doesn't as the case may be) in a painting, a drawing, a sculpture? Nothing.

I wish I could also report, to throw you off your scent, that I am tall (which I am not) but fat (which I am not). Then I'd really have you flummoxed as to which hole to put me in.

U

nick said...

Ursula: I would assume they're all you and that you're a serious art lover who full appreciates what you're looking at. Of course I have no idea what was going through your head, that's your business, but your passion for art comes across loud and clear. The only gallery on your list I've been to is the Van Gogh Museum. I like the way your husband amused himself while you wallowed in the art!

Liz Hinds said...

I'm one of the artistically challenged I'm afraid!

nick said...

Liz: Fair enough. I'm sure there are plenty of things you appreciate that are a complete mystery to me!

Secret Agent Woman said...

I don't know that I'm any of those. I like art museums but I just spend a little time in front of things that appeal to me and cruise on by the things that don't.

nick said...

Agent: More or less what I do in art galleries. I don't usually bother with the gallery's dubious "explanation" of what I'm looking at. Either something appeals to me in some way or it doesn't.

kylie said...

I have never been an art person, mainly, I think through lack of exposure. I went to a Van Gogh exhibition once and while I like the look of the paintings I was kind of bored to tears. I also went to an exhibition of Islamic art which I looked forward to immensely but when I got there I just didn't connect with it. I can find something visually pleasing but don't seem able to connect more emotionally. Maybe I haven't seen the right things or maybe visual arts are just not my thing.....

I don't know what you would have made of me in the gallery but I was always looking forward to the cafe which was also overpriced and disappointing

nick said...

Kylie: Well, some people are crazy about art and others can't see what all the fuss is about, like yourself. Fair enough. Gallery and museum cafés always seem to be overpriced (though not necessarily disappointing). They know they've got a captive market of people who can't be bothered to look for an outside café.

Rummuser said...

Strange that my first comments have disappeared, First time that it is happening in your site.

I was married to an artist of some repute and was thus introduced to some of the most famous artists of those days , the sixties till the late eighties when she stopped painting. This meant that I not only had to visit galleries that she exhibited in but also to those hosting other artists.

I occasionally still get invitations from some of her surviving fellow artists but have not been to one in decades. I don't think that I will ever be able to go without feeling miserable.