Mark Mann: Stupid for Art

Mann ponders the pleasures of ignorance at the art gallery @ Maisonneuve.

There are a lot of stupid reasons to go to an art gallery, all of which are fun and satisfying for the first five minutes. These reasons mainly involve pretending that you are smart, that you are elevated, passionate, sensitive—in short, lying about yourself. There is nothing wrong with a little self-glory, and I wouldn’t deny anyone a pleasure I personally find so rewarding. But pretending to be smart is less fun if it means paying twenty dollars to stand around for two hours, wishing for a chair. Sometimes, pretending to be smart is actually pretty stupid.

Walking into a room full of art puts you in a vulnerable situation. We all know the blurry, church-like feeling of wandering listlessly through an exhibition, slowly remembering how much you don’t care. It’s hard not to treat it like a performance. But what are you supposed to do instead? I often find myself wanting to respond to art using my tongue, or the soft skin of my wrists, or a Sharpie or a hammer. But none of that is acceptable. Even napping is unacceptable at an art gallery. Eventually, you just walk away.

For most activities with ambiguous returns—such as travelling the world or going to a bar—you can use your camera as a pacifier. If nothing else, you get a picture. But picture-taking at a gallery is considered crass. So, instead of photo ops, the curators offer explanatory labels next to the art, conveniently bagging the experience so you can take it home and stuff it under the sink. You’d think the real reason people make art is to answer that punishing grade-school query: “What is it?”
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