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Creative Life News Blog

Why People Hate Art Galleries

I love seeing art of all sorts and I've visited lots of art galleries. I also know that some people avoid them (even those who might like the art inside) and won't even enter the door. I've noted this behaviour so prevalently that I've labeled it the Art Avoidance Syndrome.

Looking back on the many galleries I've visited and the people spoken with in and outside the art gallery stream, I've listed some frank impressions for why this might so. I'll write the list in the first-person, so it's not attributed to you. But, like me, you may recognize some reality in the list.

The Bad Gallery List

I feel intimidated.

I feel like I have to know something about art to enter.

I feel foolish because I can't talk about art.

Galleries feel pompous or pretentious.

They're for snobs or artsy-fartsy folk, not me.

Art is a class-thing, and I'm no social-climber.

I don't "get" it when I look at some art.

I'm not going to buy anything, so I'm afraid to go in and get snagged.

I wonder what you would add to this list. And I wish it weren't true. But I think all the reasons listed reflect reality. The world of prime-time art galleries has been controlled by privileged groups. The staggering prices in them are often fueled by investor-hoarders, not necessarily art-lovers. The arcane art-speak language used in galleries can be worse than internet jargon for those not in the bubble.

What's an artist to do? This matters to me as both a working artist and manager of a seasonal art gallery on Saturna Island. Artists want you to see their work. They need you to see their work. Art serves our collective imagination. If it doesn't get seen, no connection happens. You may or may not "get" it or even like it. But art invites you to an eye-opening experience, a sharing of imagination, a curiously different way of seeing things, a refreshing look at the familiar, a memory, an experience, a feeling that is yours. If you don't "get" it, talk about it. Many artists want to hear your reactions and share theirs. And you don't have to buy it!

What Is a Good Art Gallery?

Art galleries are in business to sell artworks, yes. But a good gallery can offer much more than a sales lot. In my view, the best a gallery can offer its visitors is a clearly welcome invitation to explore. Though galleries are a bit like museums in curating the art we see (arranging and explaining its significance so you do "get" it), they are smaller and more intimate. Trouble is, once inside an art gallery, we may feel we're on stage but also being ignored. Once inside, I like to feel comfortable: not ignored by someone behind a desk or too busy to greet and talk with me, if I'd like. I like my questions encouraged, even those along the lines of: "This looks a mess to me. Why is it showing here?" Or "How did they get that effect?"

The good gallerist should be able to answer our questions non defensively and somewhat knowledgeably. A good answer should share something genuine said in plain language that helps us to see the artwork better. If so, it opens our eyes, perhaps facilitating our experience of something new or surprising that we may like. That sense of exploration and discovery, along with all the possible pleasures, insights, or meanings offered by a series of different artworks is what a good gallery can and should facilitate.


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