How to discuss art, make small talk, and meet the love of your life at an exhibition
Any conversation, these days, feels like an exercise in tight-rope walking. That might sound like an exaggeration, but take a second to think about how many times Trump has popped up in one of your conversations within the last year.
To that extend, an art exhibition might be one of the last few safe spaces where we can all genuinely relax our shoulders, take a breather from the white noise, and maybe even bump into a cutie staring dreamily into Anish Kapoor's Void (1989). But here's the reality; mix up your Murakamis (Haruki is a best-selling author while Takashi is a contemporary artist), or say the word "immersive" a few too many times, and you'll run the risk of standing in that white-cube gallery all by yourself.
To make things a little easier, we've created a short guide to help you start and sustain conversations, so you can make friends, and hopefully, meet for the love of your life — cause conversation is foreplay, and let's be real, Tinder isn't working out.
DO: Go to art exhibitions on your own.
This should be a no-brainer. Bring along your clingy BFF, or worst yet, your three-year-old nephew to the gallery and you'll appear unavailable, or on babysitting duties.
That changes if you're a guy though, as sexist as that may seem. Your guy pal could be your wingman if he's up for it, and the sight of your niece holding your hand would disarm anyone without a single word uttered.
DO: Pay attention to the art, but observe others.
More than anything else, you're hopefully at an art gallery or museum to enjoy the art on display, and not to pick up strangers in the black-out darkness of the film screening room. Be aware of what's going on in the exhibition, so you can use it later in conversation.
Once someone has caught your attention, check out their body language and demeanour to see if they're in a position to make small talk with you. That assessment should include the pace at which they're moving through the exhibition (fast = uninspired, slow = relaxed), whether they've headphones on (read: leave me alone), looking around the gallery at others (people-watching), or wearing any sort of uniform or lanyard around their neck (students as well as on-duty invigilators and museum staff are strictly off limits).
DO: Start the conversation by stating the obvious about the art or exhibition.
Open the convo by talking about what's in front of both of you: the artwork. There's no room for the beaten-to-death "you look familiar" line here. No one's expecting you to be an art expert either, so be honest and modest about what you know by starting with a question about the most obvious feature of the artwork. You could riff on its placement, colour, or material.
You could even make it a little fun: "Take a random guess: how many sunflower seeds are there in this Ai Wei Wei installation?"
Or just play dumb: "Do you have any idea what's going on in this Cy Tombly scribble?"
If all else fails, "Do you like it" might just be the best option because we're all narcissistic creatures longing to be validated.
DO NOT: Use any art-speak jargon.
You might have read Art History at the prestigious Courtauld, interned at mega-gallery Gagosian in London, and even taken a cute selfie with Olafur Eliasson that one time in Paris, but no one likes a smart alec. Only your mother has the patience for all the name-dropping and technical terminology. Here's a not-so-exhaustive list of words that you should actively avoid:
1) Immersive — I'm guessing the artwork in question is huge, but unless you're standing in teamLab Planets Tokyo or Argentinian artist Leandro Elrich's illusionary swimming pool, no one wants to hear about how you're drowning in the glory of an installation.
2) Interactive —Yes, you might have been allowed to touch the art, but no, it didn't matter unless it changed the artwork in some shape or form.
3) Problematic — This one's a favourite among art academics. No, the artwork isn't problematic; you're just angry at life because you can't get laid and you're probably not getting paid enough.
4) Freudian — Add 'ian' to the back of any artist/literary name and you have just drawn a pretty useless comparison, because chances are the guy/girl you're speaking to has no clue what you mean exactly.
5) Deconstucts — By deconstructed, they mean pulled apart and displayed in the shambles of its original form.
DO: Exchange IG handles, numbers or name cards to keep in touch.
So you've made a smooth approach, and spoke about art for a solid 10 minutes. What next? Instead of suggesting drinks or dinner straight after and rushing it, exchange contacts and say you'll drop them a message soon. This way, both parties can take some time to figure out if they actually want to meet and spend some time with each other again, or simply end it with that brief and pleasant encounter. It doesn't have to be a romantic connection either; sometimes, the best kind of networking happens in recreational contexts such as bars, house parties, and occasionally, the pin-drop silence of a gallery.