David Katz discusses How To Buy Art in a November 2004 article in Esquire Magazine. At the end of this hilarious article he provides advice on what not to say when shopping for art:
1. “How long do I have to look at this thing before the secret message emerges?”
2. “Interesting, interesting. It’s a skosh Pollocky, with a Jasper Johnsy aftertaste.”
3. “How much for just the frame?”
4. “My nephew does similar work. He’s two.”
5. “Does that mean I can pay in conceptual dollars?”
6. “I shot Andy Warhol. No, seriously.”
7. “Do you have this in a medium?”
I do enjoy Katz’s humor. And here are 7 things to always say & do in an art gallery, museum, exhibition or show. Courtesy of MadSilence.
1. Most importantly, say something! I’ve been to many art galleries in Chelsea where the visitors walk through in studied silence. Gallery staff is often delighted to speak with someone who asks intelligent questions.
2. Be quiet and listen. Yes, I know, I previously criticized silence. But silence can also be good. Give the art the quiet attentiveness it deserves. And when you ask questions, be sure to listen attentively, quietly and respectfully, for the answers. Don’t try to stick in your two-cent’s worth, demonstrating the depth & breadth of your art world knowledge & familiarity with the terminology. Listen well.
3. Be candid. You’ll be surprised how refreshing it can be. Be open about your emotional response to the work. Just remember in your frankness to…
4. Be kind. Be pleasant and generous in your praise.
5. Be respectful. You may not appreciate their art but they’ve often worked hard & long at it.
6. Be interested. Why does the artist work in tempera instead of watercolor? Why is there canvas that size? What are they trying to portray with that form, color and image?
7. Be there. Make sure to visit art galleries, museums, exhibitions & shows. Often. The only way to learn about art & develop an experienced palette is to experience art in the flesh.
Rochelle Feinstein’s Love Vibe #2 (1999–2000) works the gap between what is said about a work and what is understood. Image via ARTnews.
New York City-based artist Gail Gregg provides advice on How To Talk to an Artist in a article published in ARTnews. Gregg informs her article by asking members of the art world for their comments. She starts with a few examples of what not to say and then addresses the question, So what do you say?
First, realize that even the experts—dealers, curators, other artists—make their own faux pas. Painter Michelle Stuart was visited a number of years ago by a dealer who “buzzed around my studio and told me, ‘I have two sensitives already.’ Then he left!” A Chelsea dealer asked Shari Mendelson during a recent visit to her sculpture studio, “So can you tell me the social, historical, and political implications of your work?” And Rick Briggs vividly recalls another artist commenting that his own work was “about ideas”—in contrast, supposedly, to Briggs’s abstract paintings.
Often, being quiet in front of a work is the best response; it indicates that you’re looking carefully and are thinking about what you’re seeing. When you consider that it can take weeks, months—even years—to make an art object, looking hard is a respectful thing to do. “I appreciate people who have obviously been moved by my work and just want to get a sense for who I am,” says painter Art Zoller-Wagner. “Sometimes they don’t ask a question; they’re just relating.”
Open-ended questions are also welcomed: Who influences you? Why do you work at this scale? Why did you start painting patterns? are questions painter Vicki Behm likes to hear. Joanne Mattera prefers such queries as, How do you know when a series is finished? She says, “the question lets me talk about, in general, why I work in series, and, in particular, how a series developed from painting to painting and what catalyzed its completion.” And Rachel Willis adds that a simple “‘How did you make that?’ would be fine too.”
Feinstein’s favorite comment came from a viewer contemplating her in-your-face “love your work” installation. “I love your work,” offered the viewer—who then caught herself and exclaimed, “Oh, no. Now I can’t say that, can I?” She completely understood the intent of the pictures, Feinstein realized: “That I really appreciated.”
Gallery partner Jenny Liu, of New York’s The Project, notes that artists tend to fall into two camps: “creative originators who are inspired to make original and authentic sculpture/painting/drawing” and those who consider themselves “art producers along more intellectual lines.” To artists of the first category, a thoughtful visitor might say, “Your work is so passionate/emotional/sad. Where does that come from?” To the second: “Your work is so rigorous/difficult/challenging. What are you hoping to accomplish?”
Technology-based artist Patrick Lichty appreciates audiences that challenge his ideas. “Where do you get off?” is a question he likes. “I believe that learning often happens through disagreement,” he says. Conceptual artist Rachel Perry Welty agrees: “The best question would be one that helps me think more deeply about the work and makes me see connections I hadn’t, or puts it into a broader context. I wish someone would dare ask me, ‘Why do you do what you do?’” And for some, such as installation artist Ann Hamilton, the same question can qualify as both worst and best. “What does the horsehair mean?” is one that she has long remembered.
In an informal survey of artists, certain questions were big winners:
Can I see more?
Would we be able to acquire this piece for the Museum of Modern Art?
I love your work. Can I help sponsor and organize a big show for you?
Is this for sale? (Or its variant: Can I pay in cash?)
Can I be your patron (for life)?
Don’t take these questions literally. What artists are saying is that they want to be viewed seriously, to have their efforts and ideas recognized, to have their work supported. It doesn’t take much to indicate that: a close look at the work, an open-ended question or two. Artists are communicators first and foremost, and when communication with a viewer happens, that is its own reward.
Not that paying cash wouldn’t be welcome.
How to Talk to an Artist by Gigi Conot via ArtistResource
All You Ever Needed to Know About How to Talk to an Artist via About.com