Bluffing Your Way Through an Art Gallery Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Bluffing Your Way Through an Art Gallery

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What is art? This is a question that plagues the art world. A simple answer such as 'It is Art once it is declared such' will get you by nicely. However be warned - a comment such as 'Is that really art?' or 'How do they get away with calling a piece of blue-tac art?' may land you in a big tank of formaldehyde, so right from the start never doubt that all things can be called 'Art'.

Walking Around the Gallery

Don't walk through the gallery too fast. This is a dead give away that it is not the art but the canteen at the other end that is interesting you. There is, in some ways, an art to appreciating art:

  • Approach a painting or picture with an 'intrigued frown'.

  • Stand at the side of the picture so as not to obscure the view of other art-world citizens.

  • Count slowly to five seconds scanning the picture up and down as if searching for a small gravy stain (or indeed some other detail that you read about in the brochure that you bought at the door.

  • After the five-second scan, make a small sound or gesture. Perhaps a 'Hmm' or 'humph' or, if you are really confident, try 'As I thought'.

  • After this obvious display of understanding of the artwork take a few steps back, contemplate the work from a distance and move on.

Conversations with Artists, Critics and the Others

This is the hardest part and must be avoided if possible. However, if you do find yourself drawn in, follow these strict guidelines. So what do you think of this piece?. No, they aren't saying they have a gun, they are talking about the picture. There are a few answers to this question depending on what you are looking at:

  • If you are looking at a white piece of paper, a room with lights going on and off, a jar full of flies or a dead cow, say something along the lines of:

    I think what the artist has done here is captured the essence of life and its juxtaposition with the inevitably of death in a truly simplistic form.
  • If what you see in front of you is a painting (a piece of paper or canvass with colours on it), a photograph or something else showing a detailed image, say:

    I do have a soft spot for realist works. I have a particularly nice image just like this in my gallery at home.
  • The third answer might well be called the 'Oh My God I Haven't A Clue' answer. This answer works perfectly in any situation no matter what the question and will make you seem just like one of the many arrogant gits that make up the art world.

    I believe to discuss art is to enter into mindless carousels that merely exist to bloat the egos of the participants and not to increase the appreciation of the work. Only the work can hold its true meaning.

    After using this comment pause for a second and then march on to the next image. That fellow art-world citizen is sure not to be bothering you again!

Art Words

Here is a quick list of definitions:

  • Art - Everything.

  • Juxtaposition - Comparing.

  • Tone - light and dark.

  • Picture, Image, piece, work, composition, study - One of the things hanging on the wall.

  • Composition - The way things are arranged.

  • Figurative - Often used as code for 'A load of ****' unless used on work actually containing figures.

  • '[pause] ...interesting' - Crap.

  • 'Can you see what the artist is doing here?' - the person speaking hasn't a clue what this is a picture of but they're not going to admit that to you.

  • 'It's very experimental work' - It's crap at the moment but it will get better in a few years.

  • 'The work is very emotive' - If you aren't feeling emotional at this point just fake it.

  • 'His exhibition in Paris was better' - A true art lover or someone riddled with pretension. Make a b-line for the canteen; avoid conversation at all costs (except perhaps a comment on the 'Spiritual alignment' of the canteen) unless you wish to get way out of your depth.

  • Spiritually exploratory - Meaningful (The person that said this is probably a hippy).

  • Iconoclastic - revolutionary.

  • Central - important.

  • Perspective - That thing you learnt when you were eight years old and are very proud of mastering. Distorted perspective refers to art that does not take a naturalistic view of things.

  • Complimentary - works well with other things (could mean anything really).

  • 'Uses space well' - The picture has lots of blank bits in it.

  • Inwardly-suggestive - The image is trying to say something about you. Just agree using the 'intrigued frown'.

  • 'What are you doing in my bedroom?!' - This is obviously not a Tracy Emin exhibit, get out as quickly as possible before they call the police.

  • 'Bride or Groom?' - Once again you are in the wrong place.

  • 'Are you interested in buying?' - They think you have cash. Play along with it, you may get free food that way.

  • Private View - A bit like a film premiere. You can only go if invited.

  • NFS - Not For Sale.

  • $450-$1,100 / £300-£700 - Local, Good artist.

  • $11,000-$21,000 / £7,000-£13,000 - Regional, very good artist.

  • $1,600,000- Priceless / £1,000,000- Priceless - Dead dude.

Food and Drink

Food and drink is usually available at canteens in most large art galleries. However, to get the good food you will need to gatecrash the 'Private view'. For the best way to do this please refer to the next section. Once you have conned your way in you may well be asked if you would 'Care for a canapé?'(This is not to be confused with 'Care For A Canary' a fabulous charity set up for the caring of maltreated and physiologically disadvantaged canaries.). Instead this is your opportunity to cram as much food down your gullet as possible. A canapé is a little nibble that eaten on mass has a somewhat nauseous effect. As far as alcohol goes there should be plenty of glasses of champagne doing the rounds. However, the best way to get alcohol is usually to find the source.

First you must find someone carrying an empty tray. You may fine it more entertaining however to find someone with a half empty tray and then drink the rest. You then casually need to follow the waiter to the kitchen or, more likely at a private view, the tables where the champagne is being served. Once at the source you must tread carefully. The following technique is particularly effective:

  • Act confident, as if you own half of the people in the room.

  • Lean over and pick up a bottle of champagne.

  • Look around so as to catch the eye of the 'Sever-in-chief-with-relation-to-champagne'.

  • Then simply say 'On request of the artist'. Smile. Swivel on your heels and walk, reminding yourself that you own the place.

Getting into a Private View

You can only attend a private view if you have an invitation. Here are a couple of suggestions of ways around this problem:

  • Dress up as a waiter. Come in with a bag containing some empty bottles of champagne and a change of clothes (Guys may be able to get away with just a change of shirt and tie) but make sure that no one can see inside your bag. Walk up to the people at the door and say 'Sorry, I'm form the catering staff I just had to nip out and get some more supplies!' this is sure to get you in. Once you are in head straight to the toilets and get changed. At the same time find a place to stash your bag so you can get it when you leave.

  • Dress up as an important person. If you are female, a large hat is a necessity. If you are a guy you need a good-looking DJ (Tuxedo) and trousers. Approach the door with an air of nobility. 'Good evening, I'm the Mayor's personal assistant and [Insert artist's first name] bumped into me just yesterday and told me to come along. Do you know where I can find him/her?' This is sure to work, though it helps if you know what the artist looks like… so you know who to avoid.

The Larger Galleries

Once you feel you have conquered the smaller galleries you are free to be let loose upon the larger and somewhat more daunting galleries that this world has to offer. First you could do with knowing a few famous ones:

  • The Louvre, Paris: This one is the most famous art gallery in the world and is situated in Paris, France. It is home to, among other works, the Mona Lisa, a largely over-rated picture of a woman with no eyebrows and a strange smile.

  • Tate Britain, London: An English version of the Louvre.

  • Tate Modern, London: This is a relatively easy art gallery to work your way around, as everyone in here is as clueless as you.

  • Guggenheim, New York & Los Angeles: Well-known because the buildings themselves are rather strange-looking. Wheel chair access shouldn't be a problem.

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