By Meredith Bless
I’d just moved to Portland, Oregon via Juneau, Alaska and back into a world where people used their smartphones to find art, news, networking, and of course, love. As I more deeply explored apps such as Artsy, Instagram, WeChat, and Twitter for work, my new friends gave me the abridged how-to on using other apps such as Tinder and Bumble for the single gal in 2016. I figured all of the above couldn’t hurt my online presence so I dove in and wore a digital sign that said, ‘pick me.’
Simultaneously, I bought a new white bicycle with a basket on the back and rode 5 miles each way to downtown Portland and began to integrate myself into the Portland fine art scene. With even more motivation and passion than my new online dating profile, I made my availability known to art galleries. First as an observer, than an inquisitive patron, and finally as a friend.
I need to take a moment here to reveal to you that I’m somewhat of a socially shy introvert who passionately guards my emotions and rarely shares my opinion on anything. It’s not that I’m secretive or have nothing to say, but like most, I’m rarely asked my opinion directly and at times, lack the confidence to say how I feel about a topic for fear of being judged. A personality trait I’ve never been proud of, until the greater powers that be forced me to slow down and face some fears.
It was a Wednesday night, I was high off an inspiring conversation with a long distance artist, and running late to another first date. I threw on a dress, my trademark blue flannel, sassy flats, and was off on my bike. After about an hour of another one-sided conversation with a man in his late 30’s on his semi-successful career, I decided I could take no more of these online first dates and bid him adieu. As I rode home I decided life would be easier if I just focused on my career.
As I picked up speed, turned right, then left, through the deserted streets of NE Portland, my thoughts navigated back to my earlier conversation with the artist. Thoughts of success pushed the pedals faster as I rounded the corner a block from my house. Then, like a bad ending to a good movie, a scrappy black shadow darted out from the side of the road and before I could brake, mentally process, or even get the word “NO!” out of my mouth, I made direct contact. In a split second it yelped, I yelped, my bike, my body, and my helmeted head went down on the pavement igniting a crack that echoed in my brain, down my spine, through my ribs, back, hips, feet, hands, and back to my head.
My first thought in shock was naturally, “It’s a wild animal, it wants to bite me, and it has rabies. GET UP NOW.” I sat up and even though the voice in my head was yelling at me over the echo, I could tell the world around me had not crashed, it was still peaceful, and I was the only one in the middle of the road, alone.
I looked for the animal and it suddenly appeared again to my left next to a parked car, watching me, completely still. My head quickly silenced for a split second as I watched the animal, and wondered, ‘Why me?’ In a moment the shadow, a coyote, unknowingly took my career, availability, motivation, energy, and social life and dashed into the darkness. Again I was alone, my bones shaken to their core, my head dizzy, and as I stood and looked for abrasions and blood, I began to cry.
It would take two months before having confirmation that I experienced a concussion which explained a lot. At first, although my head felt cloudy I still tried to pursue artists, answer emails, have grand ideas. But the majority of each week was spent laying in bed as my muscles healed, the small headaches would come and go, and I questioned what I was doing with my life, career, and emotions. I blankly turned 35 the same day I organically met a cute boy but found it challenging to formulate my opinions, which made me feel embarrassed, awkward, and insecure. Stress and anxiety came quickly as my living situation fell apart, my networking and career aspirations ceased, and all my new friends continued to lead their busy lives, as I thought, “This is it, I’m failing at everything simultaneously.”
At this point in the story you might assume I had some sort of major revelation that would turn it all around. I’d get the guy, my career would continue to move forward, my mind and body would heal, and I’d be able to start 2017 a new woman. Maybe that will happen, shoot I still have a few days left in 2016.
The reality here is I’ve had to work harder in the last 2 months to even formulate basic opinions on everything. I’ve had to allow life to slow down, I temporarily let go of multi-tasking, and I’ve discovered the value in breaking down my thought process by asking myself pointed questions on a topic. As the world continues to run a million miles an hour around me, I’ve slowly discovered I have a valuable voice, it had just been too quiet to be heard over my multi-tasking brain and the strong opinions of others.
Now, as the concussion side effects have subsided, I’ve found it easier to have conversations where my opinions are requested. Sometimes it takes slowing life down a little to realize we have something of value to share. So here is my voice on how I appreciate art. Let’s break it down…
3 things: Intent, provokes emotion, and proof of knowledge and technical skill of the artist’s chosen medium.
Intent: I believe that valuable art is created with intention and is not completely random. As an artist I understand sometimes things come together that I’m happily surprised at, but I always start out with a clear intention for the piece and I let that idea unfold as the piece unfolds.
Emotion: When looking at a piece of art, I need to feel some sort of emotion. Period.
Proof of skill within their medium: In short, I find any piece of art to hold more value if I can see the artist has a clear understanding of the medium they work in and how to manipulate it to acquire the look they want to a science. I have even more appreciation for a work of art if I know the artist has the technical ability to draw or create realistically and have the ability to follow the rules of composition and design, yet they make a conscious choice to either break the rules or create in an abstract manner. This is a personal preference, and is most likely highly debatable in the art world, but to me, this 3rd point places that much more value on a work of art.
There is also the gut feeling I get that I know I can look at a piece of art and love it for the rest of my life. That’s when I know it’s truly art to me.
In my opinion, as long as you enter a gallery with an open mind then you’re on the right path. What I do is walk into the gallery, attempt to make eye contact with the person behind the front desk to see if they have any knowledge of good customer service, and say “Hello” regardless if they acknowledge me or not.
If asked how they can help, I typically respond with something like, “I’d like to look around. If I see a piece I like and want to take a photo with my phone, is that ok?” Usually, they say yes.
Next I take a quick scan of the room and see if there is a piece that immediately draws me in, and that is where I start. Usually I’m drawn to specific colors, odd textures, artistic processes where the artist has used a lot of visible layers, anything that remotely resembles a map, and the list goes on. When I look at art, I don’t worry about value, what gallery it’s hanging in, or who painted it. That all comes later.
When looking at a piece, first I ask myself questions like, “I wonder what the artist was thinking about when they made this piece?” “How long did it take them?” “What are their studio conditions like?” “What mediums are they using?” “I wonder what their day job is?” These are also questions you can ask the gallery if you so desire to know the answer.
Then I go on to ask myself, “What was the first thing that I noticed about this piece? Was it a line, a color, a shape, a word?” “What emotions to I feel when I look at this piece? Sadness, joy, confusion, calm, desire?” “Could I look at this painting every day for the rest of my life?” “Does this piece remind me of anything?” For example, how I feel about a specific relationship, politics, a specific location or memory, home. These are great questions to ask your friend or even the gallery if they are giving you some attention.
Some pieces provoke no interest or emotion for me, and those I’ll observe objectively and revert back to my initial questions and typically move on to the next piece. I accept that I probably only truly understand about 30% but can typically appreciate about 70% of the art I see.
Most galleries offer a binder or packet at the front desk that has each piece listed with the artist’s name, bio, description and price of each piece in the gallery.
Know that most galleries are largely in debt and assume that only about 5% of the people who wander through their doors will actually buy a piece, which is where the jaded snobbery comes in. Because I know this, I respect every gallerist who takes the time to give me even 5 minutes of their undivided attention. If I see a piece I love, I inquire about their layaway or payment plan in the off chance I come into copious amounts of money in the next month. I don’t need to make a decision right then and there, but I’ll take the business card of the person I’m talking to just in case.
Here are some examples of galleries and works of art I appreciate.