LivingArts: Art Champions!


Here’s a snippet of conversation I had the pleasure to be part of last Thursday. I’m on the top floor of 270 Sherman, the converted textile mill that is the site for an exhibition I’ve helped coordinate called TH&B United—lots of big works of contemporary art inside a sprawling factory setting (what’s not to love).  This particular evening the exhibition is open specifically for an event called Architecture Crawl, which buses people around a half-dozen historically significant buildings where they can drink, schmooze, and listen to live music.  It’s a buoyant event. 

For what it’s worth, the fellow conversing with me was wearing an expensive shirt with cowboy boots.

“Hey Buddy, so you one of the artists with this show?”

“Yes.  I helped organize the event and collaborated on one of the pieces”

“No shit.  Cos’ this is like crazy, crazy shit this art.  It’s like from a film or something.  You gotta walk me through it and explain it all to me”

“Okay.  I can start by showing you this work by two friends of mine who…”

“You guys put all this art up here just for tonight?”

“No. It’s up for a month, we had an opening recep…”

“You and your buddies must smoke a fucking huge fatty before you come up with shit like this.  You can’t think up shit like this straight; I know that.”

“Um, yeah, I don’t know that it works exactly like that”

“You don’t have to tell me how it works, man.  You artists, all of you artists are off the hook”

It’s the sort of conversational exchange that I dream of.  And  as is the way with me, I spent several chunks of the past weekend meditating on this exchange.  Here’s where I am currently with my findings:

Art Champions don’t always sound like Art Champions. The Architecture Crawl was put on by the Hamilton Burlington Society of Architects, one of the financial sponsors of our art exhibition. The crowd this event attracted—an eclectic mix of mostly professional workers in this city’s public sphere—had for the most part a deeply nuanced understanding of visual art the role it plays in the public sphere. The above conversation therefore is significant because it stood out radically from the other more polished exchanges I had that evening. All that being said however, the above conversation is still that of someone super excited by the art he was seeing, someone who spent a longer time engaging with the work.

Art Champions don’t always want to know the truth about Artists. When the guy asked me if I smoked an inordinate amount of pot in order make art, he wasn’t asking for the truth.  I think the last thing this guy would want to know is how art-making for me is often scheduled and executed with the same sober matter of factness as my kid’s swim lesson. I think when he asks me about the big fatty, he is inviting me to ‘complete the myth’—he has a stereotype of what an artist is, the stereotype is essential to his enjoyment of the art, so don’t muss with his stereotype.

It is sometimes impossible to distinguish between contempt and adoration. I swear both things were being transmitted to me in equal measure during our exchange. It was like he was saying ‘you are an impoverished, outlandish buffoon who will dance a jig for table scraps, and yet I wish I had the guts to be in your shoes right now’.

I need to read a book about art’s relationship to film. It happens frequently enough that people express their approval of an art event by saying ‘it’s like something out of a movie”.  And the more it happens, the more obsessed I get in trying to unpack it.   Is it that art sometimes heightens the reality of things to the point that people can only process it in the context of cinema?  When they say ‘it was like a movie’, do they mean that they don’t quite believe it was true?