Dear Miss April,
I have been distressed by some unavoidable eaves dropping that is more like a trumpet blast from a soap box Lothario, but everyone is entitled to an opinion.
This has been happening more and more and most often in the arena of the art show preview and opening, on which I base my dilemma and specific grievance.
I was at one of late where bearded juveniles where providing slight but negative analysis of the works. Their low level of visual literacy and the proliferation of punchlines from fashionable art tropes aside, I was offended that this space was rendered airless and did not allow me the oxygen to form my own opinion of the work.
In another recent incident, similarly verbose opening addicts were protesting about the failure of this or that against some malformed half read idea from a journal they were attempting to regurgitate, to impress [ or legitimize] similarly Chardonnay infused colleagues. In this case they were so unaware of their context and that the person beside them, the artist, was the subject of their scornful rant. I was shaken, befuddled and appalled by this hopefully accidental assault. I had read i a recent American journal on art and etiquette that it was acceptable to discuss the work aloud outside of a 6 block radius of the gallery. Melbourne has a different geographical pace and street block dimension to Manhattan. What would the appropriate radius be to allow one to maintain a discretionary and distant private critique?
I hope you can provide some space as I am sure you are prudent , on many lists , an avid fan of contemporary culture and able to hold your lip in mixed company.
Ah Ha! Oh, I am pleased. I have been faithfully confident that Chardonnay would make a comeback and over the years it has been slowly clawing its way back up from its position of shun and shame. But now it is well and truly back on top seeing that it’s flowing about hip gallery openings. Hoorah Chardonnay! I am rather keen on trying Lithostylis’ 2011 Ironstone Chardonnay from Leongatha, but I believe it needs a little bit of time yet. Je t’adore Gippsland Chardonnays so I do hope to….Oh, I beg your pardon.
Dear Distance Admirer
Art etiquette is quite a fashionable topic today so I congratulate you on your cultural relevance. I also lament with you at the strangulation of your opinions. I find this to be a most egregious scenario, and a terrible assault on your rights for critical thinking and expression.
Good manners and etiquette create a safer world. Adhering to social expectations in relation to behaviour increases our chances of not getting murdered, or even verbally attacked, one would hope. Sadly, the bearded dilettantes have not the presence of mind, nor education to fully understand how appalling their behaviour is. Perhaps their desire to look like our most famous bushranger has also influenced their rebellious streak in terms of flouting the rules.
The Rules. Once they have broken the rules, you are within your right to ‘pull them up’ so to speak. I once found myself in the presence of a rather vocal young woman who went beyond the voice of critiquing the art and was derisively insulting the artist, their work, their very being. To my great discomfort the artist was well within hearing range and obviously listening. I simply turned to my neighbour and politely removed myself from the situation by stating “I do not want to speak with you anymore. Please go away.” Similarly, in your situation you might have turned to the offender to state: “Good evening, my name is ____. Forgive my intrusion, but are you aware the artist can hear you. I’m sure you don’t mean to be rude, and I just wanted to save you from further embarrassment. Do enjoy your evening.”
Astonishingly I have heard professional assessment of fairs, shows and bieannales that sound suspiciously like recent Facebook status updates by infamous arts writers. Verbatim. Oh dear, it is a sorry state of affairs when we have too many officious opinionists and lament the absence of opinion at the same time. We are all so insecure.
There is a difference between critiquing and insulting. Those boundaries get lost in the blur of egos and copious amounts of free wine. Guides to art etiquette would come in handy here. Although, I find it hard to imagine attendees being able to hold their tongue for a duration of 6 blocks! Perhaps a rule of thumb in Australia could be 10 metres? Speak at a low, soft, discreet register, and NEVER try negative analysis after 3 wines until you are at the dumpling restaurant.
Of course, how to educate others in valuing the rules of good form? Hmmm, many people in these environments envision themselves as unique, above the law, naughty. How does one get them to toe the line? Well, you can start by the above suggestion and point out rudeness wherever you see it. Perhaps get a card printed to hand out to offenders in order to avoid too much confrontation simply stating:
Miss April Advises:
Avoid further embarrassment
[Search: Guidelines for Openings]
However, you really just have to stick to one rule “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As an exercise in discipline while you’re at an opening do this – look for merit. You might be surprised at how few people actually do this. Repeat this, over and over with a smile and chardonnay. Unless, someone keeps pressing you of course, when people pressure you for your true opinion beyond all decorum then by all means satisfy them.
“If they insist on a real opinion, they’ve got whatever you have to say coming”. – Andrew Berardini, Guidelines for Openings.
Be well and true,