I can’t enjoy art shows and it’s a problem.
Art shows make me behave badly. I do not like this about myself.
“Please come to this art gallery. My work is in an art show!”
Oh, great. You have enough self-esteem to throw some paint around and say it’s important. Don’t rub this in my face.
I google the address. These art shows are always in horrific areas; the part of town that looks like it just lost a war. But everyone has agreed that this neighborhood is super cool and great. If you disagree, you are stupid.
I ask my wife if we can skip it. Sadly, we skipped the friend’s art openings twelve times already. We have to go if we want to stay friends. I agree and suggest ending the friendship. I’m outvoted.
I have to dress for this event. No matter what I wear, it will be wrong. There is a 100% probability that I will wear the wrong shoes. Whatever I choose, the cool artist people will wear the opposite. If I wear sneakers, they’ll wear fishing waders. If I wear brogues, they’ll wear carpet samples held together with floss. I cannot win at shoes.
We get on the train. The bargaining begins. How long do we have to stay at the art gallery? Let’s be reasonable: how about six minutes? I am already angry. I am taking this art as a personal attack. This art has ruined my Friday night. For some reason, I cannot just be happy that someone made some art and wants to share it. Somehow, this moment is all about me, how unhappy I am, and how uncool I believe myself to be compared to these actual artists who probably could wear a beret and pull it off.
We get to the gallery in Little Aleppo or wherever.
The building next door is on fire, but in a hip way.
The inner monologue begins. Here are all the cool kids with their self-worth, and good taste, and their sincere belief that the things they make actually MATTER and are worth dragging all their friends to see.
The inner dialogue begins. You’re a dick. You sound like a giant dick right now. Why can’t you just chill? Feeling anxious is the opposite of feeling cool. And not feeling cool just makes you more anxious, which makes you less cool, and this cycle just feeds on itself and grinds away at you until you don’t even know who you are and sink lower and lower into despair and OH THANK FUCK THERE IS WINE.
I always forget there is wine at these things. Of course there is wine. If there were no wine at art openings, no one would go. All art would cease. The only thing standing between civilization and the complete death of visual culture is a $9 box of Merlot.
OK. If I have wine, I can do this. Let’s see if I can get to the wine table before I make eye contact with the artist who invited us.
“Hi Chris! This is so cool! I’ve been looking forward to this all day!”
Why am I saying this? It’s just going to make life harder after the show.
My mind is racing. What kind of fake compliment can I give, that isn’t strictly a lie, but doesn’t make me feel terrible for praising utter dog shit art? I decide to say things like: “Your work really poses questions,” or “wow, I’ll never look at blood the same way again.” This fake compliment trick works in many situations. For example you can always say that your friend’s terrible band “really has a sound,” because it is both literally true and meaningless.
You’ve put this off long enough. Time to actually look at the art.
OK: a painting. Alright, I can handle a painting. Some paint. A surface. Some squiggles. They seem like pretty cool squiggles, but what the fuck do I know? You could tell me it was good, you could tell me it was bad. But I’m never going to understand. You can’t explain abstract art to me. It would be like explaining the Internet to a guinea pig: “this internet seems great and all, but how does it help MY priorities? Like eating, compulsive sex, and getting nowhere on this wheel?”
I just can’t get over this nagging feeling: is half of being an artist just having the balls to call yourself one? Does thinking that make me a philistine? Probably. But I am just not moved by this kind of art. Is anyone? It triggers no feeling in me, other than the overwhelming emotion of “more wine”.
That’s it. I’m done. I refuse to stare vacantly at something I barely understand, desperate to find meaning while finding none, getting angrier and angrier as anxiety courses through my veins.
That’s what my phone is for.