Ettiquette in tiny art galleries / open studios
July 15, 2015 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Artists with open studios or small gallery owners: how do you want me to behave? I'm completely ignorant about visual art and often unmoved by it, but interested in visiting the various tiny galleries and open studio events around my city. From experience, I'll often be the only person -- or one of very few people -- there at the time, aside from the artist. Should I duck wordlessly in and out, ask you to talk about the work, something else?

It's pretty rare for visual art to provoke much of a response in me. I try to see a good variety and give it my curiosity and attention, but it's very rare that I'll see a piece that I find interesting or provocative.

It feels rude to amble in, say hello to the artist, wander around briefly with no visible reaction to their work, and amble back out with just a nod. But I lack the background to say anything deeper than "what a nice shade of blue" or "I'm bemused by your decision to take a piano apart and line up all the pieces along the floor; what's up with that?". Even for the very rare pieces that I genuinely like, I really don't want to be That Guy Who Thinks He's Being Insightful About Art and force the artist to humour me.

What's the social norm here? What behaviour are you expecting from your punters, and what can a completely ignorant person do to better appreciate your art without irritating you? Do I just need to get over it and treat looking at your work that's for sale like casually browsing in any other shop?
posted by metaBugs to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
It feels rude to amble in, say hello to the artist, wander around briefly with no visible reaction to their work, and amble back out with just a nod.

I've done exactly this; maybe I'm un-artsy rube, but I don't think there's any expectation of behavior -- if only because the purpose of art, especially the kinds in little back-alley galleries, is meant to provoke whatever reaction you feel like experiencing, and if your reaction is nonexistent or entirely internal, that's not your fault and you shouldn't feel like you're behaving improperly.

My guess is the artist's presence is mostly for: a) discuss the art with you if you did want to talk about it even though you're not obligated to; and b) be ready to sell the artwork if the occasion arises, or arrange a commissioned piece with an interested buyer.

Edit: I'd say expressively rude -- "Oh my god, can you believe what they expect to be paid for this crap?" or "my kid could do better" -- is, of course, over the line.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:22 PM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I’ve never opened my studio space up to the public, but I have done my fair share of sitting around and keeping small galleries open while I’ve had work up on display.

Your reaction is pretty much what I expect from someone who doesn’t have anything really catch their interest. I don’t think it is rude at all to have someone walk in, say ‘Hi’ and have no further reaction. Not all art is going to jive with everyone. I might even go so far as to think any artist would have to be kind of delusional to think that everyone who comes in should have a big reaction.

If you do like something and feel the need to say something, just say it as honestly as you can without feeling the need to sound art smart. I’ much prefer the honest quick lines from people with no history studying art over the five minute long insufferable art-speak loaded dissection of the pieces I get any day.

Just don't be that guy who is all like "This is art? Anyone could make this. People actually would pay money for this?"
posted by kpraslowicz at 12:27 PM on July 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


It feels rude to amble in, say hello to the artist, wander around briefly with no visible reaction to their work, and amble back out with just a nod.

That's not rude--it's perfectly fine behavior.

Should I duck wordlessly in and out, ask you to talk about the work, something else?

If you encounter a rare gem that strikes you and would like to know more, feel free to ask the artist. But there's no expectation for you to say anything beyond common courtesy.
posted by JackBurden at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I leave I smile and say thanks or have a nice day to the artist/whomever is there, same as I do when I'm the only one browsing in a small boutique and don't end up buying anything.

Because even if nothing was to my liking, I still enjoyably passed some time in their space, and I feel that's worth some polite acknowledgement.
posted by phunniemee at 12:30 PM on July 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


I see this as not so much about art, but about you being alone in a small space with one other person. People react to this differently, and some are very uncomfortable if there is silence in this situation. I'm not - I like the silence, and in a place where I'm supposed to look at and experience objects, I prefer it.

When I want to maintain the silence and let another person know I'm happy with it, and that they don't have any small-talk obligation with me, I will give a big smile and a wave, and say nothing. If the smile is geniune (and it is, if I'm visiting an artist's studio like this, because the company and work of creative people is genuinely pleasant to me), I get a wave back and then the room feels comfortable.

Of course if they say hi, I will say hi back, but then it still feels like I initiated the interaction and get to pick how much conversation we have.

The smile/wave is the opposite of avoiding eye contact (which makes the room really uncomfortable.)
posted by fritley at 12:43 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a professional artist and I've had open studios/been involved in studio tours/shows/etc. Firstly, I really appreciate viewers, period, and therefore am quite happy to have you see my work. It is not rude to amble in, say hello to the artist, wander around briefly with no visible reaction to their work, and amble back out with just a nod, particularly if the artwork isn't your cup of tea.

Even for the very rare pieces that I genuinely like, I really don't want to be That Guy Who Thinks He's Being Insightful About Art and force the artist to humour me.

If someone likes my work, I love to hear about it. You would not be That Guy if you told me what was making you respond. I also want people who like my work to take a business card and hopefully later check out my website and perhaps share my work with others they think might like it. If they're interested in owning something, they should absolutely ask me since I sell greeting cards for $5 and prints for various amounts and so on so even if original paintings are too much I may be able to do something for them. Sometimes people email me or facebook me later to ask, and that's also totally fine.

If someone doesn't understand my work and would like to, I also don't mind at all being asked, "What inspired this work?" or "Can you tell me about this piece?" or "How did you achieve this texture?" or "What is this sculpture made out of?" Such questions can be asked even of work you don't like, but the questions themselves should range from interested to positive; keep any negative implications to yourself. After hearing an answer, the proper response is something like, "That's very interesting, thank you." If you feel you can't exit gracefully after having started a conversation, taking a business card while leaving is a great way to soften the exit.
posted by vegartanipla at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm a welder who makes decorative garden structures, so more of an artisan than an artist, but I have been in a few shows. I'm also kind of shy and awkward in such situations, so I'm happy when folks amble in, say hello to me, wander around briefly with no visible reaction to my work, and amble back out with just a nod.

I don't know if other artists feel the same way, but if you're looking for conversation topics, I love to talk about the technical aspects of my work, what equipment I use to make it, what it's for.

Oh, yeah, and take a card!
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:09 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Say hi, say thanks, take a card. That's really all you need to do. (artist here)
posted by WesterbergHigh at 1:50 PM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I work in a small gallery, and I love having people there to see the work. Doesn't matter if you want to talk to me about it or you just look at the pictures and leave without saying a word. As an answer to a question you didn't ask, if you're feeling uncomfortable being the only one there, ask to be put on the list for invitations to openings (or like their facebook page or follow them on twitter and keep an eye out). Most galleries have one for almost every show, and they're usually a little more social and a good way to feel like part of the art scene in your town.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 9:10 PM on July 15, 2015


It feels rude to amble in, say hello to the artist, wander around briefly with no visible reaction to their work, and amble back out with just a nod.

You can say "Thank You!" when you leave.
posted by yohko at 12:23 AM on July 16, 2015


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