If you really want to know what someone is like as a person, mention the term, "art gallery" to them and see how they respond. I'm serious. People tend to have strong feelings about art galleries. Many people who've never even visited a gallery tend to think that they're "fancy," "hoity toity" and exclusive places where they're not welcome. Contemporary art dealers and gallerists are busy people who are juggling many things most of the time. Given the lack of arts education in schools, informing the public can be exhausting and it's not always on the top of the lists of galleries that are trying to stay afloat. Imagine smiling and repeating the same things over and over and over again to every Tom, Jennifer and Bruce who visits your gallery and none of those people buys anything. But hey, that comes with the gig. Anyway, I love art galleries and here are ten reasons why I think you should visit them...
1. FREE ADMISSION: You know, they say the best things in life are free. This is a fantastic reason to visit art galleries. All you have to do leave your fear at the door, walk in, smile, say hello to your greeter (if there is one), quietly walk around and enjoy your visual feast. It's free of charge. What could be better?
2. THE BEST OF CONTEMPORARY ART: Depending on which galleries you visit, you're likely to see the best of the best in contemporary art. Of course, "the best" remains subjective. Still, many of the galleries in New York's Chelsea district fit the bill. However, great art galleries are all over the world. Pick and choose. Better yet, visit them all if you can. That's my goal.
3. SEE FAMOUS ART NOW: By checking out contemporary art galleries now, you can get acquainted with artists and their work before they become famous or even while they're growing in popularity and price. By gallery hopping, you can call yourself a trendspotter or even a trendsetter.
4. MEDITATION: For me, art is a form of meditation. Nothing carries you away and clears your mind like visiting art galleries. I think it's best to visit galleries either by yourself or with an artist friend. When I'm alone and looking at art in galleries, I get essay ideas or even come up with solutions for issues in my life. For the most part, it's really a time to be in communion with creativity. I've visited galleries with artist friends like Deborah Bigeleisen, Wolfgang Stiller, James Kennedy, Matthew Beall, David Greg Harth, Scott Andrew Spencer and others. There's nothing like it. It's like getting a quiet education. Artists see things that art historians and other art professionals simply won't see. You get inside the process of art making when you visit galleries with artists. It meditative and fun. Art galleries often restore this great sense of calm and wholeness. Work-pressured art dealers probably won't feel this way, but you will.
5. CREATIVITY: Nothing boosts your own personal creativity more than visiting art galleries. If you want to unleash your own creative juices, visit them often. I'm not sure how it works, but it feels like osmosis. Being around art and in the company of creative people makes YOU more creative. Don't get caught up on HOW, just enjoy your new found process. Trust me on this one.
6. SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESS: You know, far too many of us tend to have a "what's in it for me?" outlook. However, when you visit art galleries, you're really supporting small businesses. You may not buy anything, but when you visit a gallery or any retailer for that matter, you're setting into motion a chain of possibilities for them. Possibilities don't pay the bills, but they're better than no visitors at all. Word of mouth and the power of attraction should be taken seriously.
7. ART EDUCATION: Contemporary art museums aren't the only places to learn about art. You can learn plenty in art galleries. A really good art gallery will have "people-friendly" staffers on hand who can tell you all about the art that you're seeing in addition to some things about the artist. Just get over your fear (or take your fear with you) and WALK IN. This is not a pop quiz. No one is judging or snubbing you. They're too busy with their own work and agenda. If you do get snubbed, just leave and don't return to that particular gallery. Simple as that. By the way, smart galleries know that it's best to be kind to all visitors. You never know where that next sale may originate.
8. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This is literally the heart of the matter. If you open yourself up to art, you'll allow this entire world of creativity to literally transform you as a human being. I'm not kidding. Since I've been collecting, visiting galleries, chatting with artists and seeing so much art, I've become - if I do say so myself - smarter, sharper, warmer, freer, more tolerant and considerate and more at peace not to mention more creative. Try it. Visit a gallery or even a museum once a month if you can. You'll see. I really believe that there's a direct connection between the lack of arts education in schools these days and the fact that society has become so snarky, cynical, angry, scattered and far too often, wretched. We've lost our way. However, we can reconnect to ourselves and greater values. Art and art galleries aren't the end all, but they do represent one pathway back to wholeness. Yes, this seems like an overstatement, but again, try it and see.
9. COMMUNITY: If nothing else, art teaches us that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. You can see this quite clearly during gallery exhibition openings. There's nothing like being amid a crowd of people who love art. You may or may not find experts in the crowd, regardless, it'll feel great to be among a group of art lovers. It's super cool. Keep in mind, the social element of art openings and large crowds often eclipses the art itself. As much as I love art and galleries, I still believe that people come first. Make friends. Art friends are the best. Visit the gallery again during a quieter time when you can really focus on the art and establish a personal relationship with it. I remember one year when I was touring Art Miami with artist Deborah Bigeleisen. Of course, she knows I write about art and she said to me, "I don't see you taking notes or anything." But in that moment, I felt that it was more important to be with a friend rather than being wrapped up in my own thoughts and constantly jotting down notes. Again, people are more important than art.
10. JUST PLAIN FUN: Yes, art is just plain fun. All contemporary art requires is that you spend a little time with it. Get to know it. See yourself in it, good or bad. The process is fun. Art teaches and reveals who we are to ourselves. If you're into self-examination, you'll have a blast. If not, well, visit a couple of galleries anyway. Give it a shot. If you don't like the show in a particular gallery, keep it moving. Visit another gallery. Life is really an "All you can eat" buffet. So are art galleries. You have the power to pick and choose the art that you like and want to spend time with. Enjoy.
There you have it. You know, art galleries come and go and a lot of folks think that while the internet is liberating artists, it's also putting some galleries out of business. This doesn't have to be the case. Let's hope that smart, user-friendly galleries hang around for a long time. Art dealers need them, artists need them and so do we.