Featured image for “Mission: Go to an Art Show Opening”

Mission: Go to an Art Show Opening

May 28, 2014

2014 High School Artist Project and Youth Art Fair receptionFirst off, I know there is a high possibility that I am preaching to the converted in this particular blog. If you are reading this, you are likely an artist or an art lover – the types of people who go to art shows (particularly your own of you’re an artist) â€“ but sometimes it’s easy to forget that we not only need to see new art in person, but that we also need to support artists in their efforts.

I often compare and contrast art with sports, because most people (artists and non-artists alike) understand sports analogies. Sporting events are driven by the fierce competition that arises between the rivalries not only of opposing teams, but the fans of those teams as well. Riots and burning couches linger in the streets after particularly contentious rivals square off â€“ fans misbehaving in equal measure whether their team wins or loses. The majority of this unwavering support seems to stem from geography. Fans show up to support their local team, whether it’s the University of Kentucky Wildcats, their Alma Mater, or the local high school athletics department.

The arts are somewhat different in that all art fanatics are all rooting for the same thing – humanity’s freedom and desire to create and share ideas. One would think that this noble cause wouldstir up at least a little bit of interest, yet I still scratch my head in wonder when I see the long lines and increasing ticket price$ surrounding most athletic events, while free (FREE!) art shows (with snacks!) are mostly small affairs, with only a loyal few in attendance.

Too many times, I’ve been to opening receptions for art shows and wondered, “Where is everybody?” This is especially poignant when it relates directly to MY art show, but as an exhibit programming director, I get equally co-frustrated when I see that look painted across the face of the artist the gallery is hosting.

Where is everybody? That’s a good question. Glued to the television, at the park, the mall, sporting event, movies, grocery shopping – you name a place, and they are there – oblivious to the fact that art is happening in their own neighborhood.

But â€“ not to be entirely frustrated, I honestly believe a lot of the audience size of an art exhibit comes down to the size of a population. Huge cities like New York City have the population size to support an arts industry, while smaller cities or even rural areas have a much greater challenge. Of all of the people within a given population, there is a small percentage that is truly “into” fine art. If you are reading this – congratulations, you are likely one of them. Of that percentage, there is a smaller percentage that keeps up with what art shows are happening when, and of that group, an even smaller number has opening night free of tee ball games, supper at Grandma’s, riveting season finales of their favorite reality show, or white water rafting expeditions. You get the picture.

People have a lot going on. Some of it is quite important, but a lot of it is idly spent in front of a screen as a substitute for that dwindling slice of life that we once called “leisure time.”

An artist once told me during a somewhat lightly attended opening, “Not to worry. Not everyone will show up, but the right people always do,” which I considered to be sage advice from an experienced veteran of the arts. It becomes an issue of quality versus quantity. The right people always have a tendency to show up. Those “right people” are most often family and close friends that were personally invited by the artist. While an artist can usually rely on these people to show up, it can be a bit of a challenge if the artist is from out of town, or doesn’t have a wide network of local family/friends/associates. To an artist, it is a great compliment to have strangers visit your art show. Their friends and family are most likely there because they were specifically invited by the artist, but to have someone stop by out of curiosity alone is a rare gift.

People that may not be accustomed to attending art events may feel intimidated at first. Based on pop culture references alone, it might be easy to be misled into believing that art shows are high society bow-tie and champagne events, but this preconceived notion is entirely false. Artists and art lovers are everyday people. Art show rookies may be afraid that they don’t know what to say and the truth is that you really don’t necessarily “need” to say anything. It’s all up to you. If you feel the need, you can take time to speak with the artist. Offer words of encouragement. If you don’t have any great knowledge of art, you can always ask questions. Artists are among the most curious people in the world. They’ve asked plenty of questions and certainly don’t mind answering even the most mundane questions about their work. Ask about their processes and techniques (most artists love to talk shop). But, as I said before â€“ if you are still a bit timid about “what to say” at an art show, you don’t have to say anything. If the show is going well, the artist won’t likely have a chance to speak to everyone and they won’t mind if you slip out the door. Your presence alone will be greatly appreciated.

In conclusion, I am saying that you can be a prime mover in making art shows (particularly opening receptions) the vibrant, bustling social atmosphere that you always imagined they should be. These artists have put a lot of work into the show. The least we can do is show up and offer some encouragement. Much like the way folks in your home town still show up to cheer on the high school football team, we can show our local pride by supporting the artists in our community. Even though we may not live in a major art capital like New York City, London, or Los Angeles with millions of people to support the art industry, we can do our part (just by showing up) to make sure that we make every show the best it can be.

Brandon Long
Brandon Long

Programming Director
brandonlong@communityartscenter.net

P.S. Our next exhibit reception is June 5! It’s a triple threat of 1) artists reception for Bluegrass Patchwork and Channeling Tesla, 2) the Arts Commission of Danville/Boyle County’s gallery hop night, plus 3) the first night of the Great American Brass Band Festival, so we’ll have the poster artist, John Dixon, here autographing posters. Again it’s free, it’s 5:30 to 8 p.m., and we’ll have snacks. I hope to see you there.