Ever since Huffington Post said that they were going to go on a road trip to try to find “middle America,” as if the coastal cities were outside a cage and “flyover country” was full of dangerous wild animals, I’ve laughed at the commentary of these cosmopolitan journalists who go to events among middle America and act like it is a different world. Nope, we’re normal, just like you guys. But it got me thinking, I’m sure that the culture of pig pickin’, gun shows, and state fairs is foreign and even bizarre to a DC, New York, San Francisco, or (rich) Los Angeles cosmopolitan. Of course, plenty of journalists from the coastal metropolises have shared their experiences in flyover country, and yet no rural or suburban writer has written about their experiences at a stereotypical cosmopolitan event. So, I decided to be the one to bridge the gap and describe my experience at a recent contemporary art party.
Why did I even go to an art party in the first place? Well, when I was growing up, my parents liked to take me to art museums. Not because they were snobby cosmopolitans or artists themselves, but because they wanted me to be well-rounded. Therefore, my free time trifecta included sports leagues, bookstores, and museums. I accepted an invitation to this party for the artists, not for the social aspect. I have a nurtured appreciation for good art and wanted to buy some for my place, and the purpose of the art party was to raise funds for the contemporary arts center and allow artists to solicit and show their work to drunk, rich, woke patrons.
I have always known that the contemporary art world is inhabited by many in the fringes of society. That’s the artsy stereotype. A little weird. A little off. Brooding but nerdy and socially awkward. The patrons are often politically progressive and higher income, while the term “starving artist” rings quite true. Oh, the irony. The patrons especially have a sort of odd air about them. They’re well-educated, well-read, and well-versed in art, but many are also the type who think they’re sophisticated and superior because they’ve read Nietzsche or visited a Warhol exhibition. Not like we simple flyover rednecks, of course, who are too busy with our guns and our religion to be cultured.
To give you an idea of how I contrast to these people, I grew up in an upwardly mobile, fiscally conservative, middle class family in suburban Atlanta before the recent rush and rebirth of the city. Over half my extended family earns its income from small businesses they run. My closest friends and I love Southern rock, country music, drinking beer on the porch without counting calories, shooting guns, and enjoying the rural scenery while cruising in our trucks. I know how to track down fresh deer meat and the best barbecue I’ve ever had was at a pig pickin’ at an SEC college football tailgate. Maybe that’s a bit of a caricature, but it’s not far off. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can live without skinny lattes and avocado toast. And unlike David Brooks, I don’t think I’m better than anyone else because I know what capicola is. It’s mostly because I’m descended from Italian immigrants who pursued the American Dream with nothing but their blood, sweat, and tears. Hard work is the heart of America, not whether or not you are able to decipher a fancy restaurant menu. Also, it’s something so many of us from different walks of life have in common.
So, back to the art party. I arrived at the party fashionably late and immediately grabbed a drink to survive the evening. Red wine, obviously. At the party, local trendy restaurants served hors d’oeuvres, so I pounded a few shrimp and melon ceviche plates and grabbed another glass of wine. I was ready. Well, it wasn’t more than ten minutes into the party that a woman mockingly cross-dressed as Donald Trump, complete with the hair swoop and lipstick marks on the face and collar, walked by to pose for photos with everyone. Still wearing earrings. It was quite odd. There were donation fairies floating about wearing extremely bright, colorful, suggestive clothing to collect additional donations for the art center. I saw everything you wouldn’t see in everyday life. People in pirate costumes. Bull nose rings, fedoras, and non-natural hair color everywhere. There were men in skirts and women with tattoos almost wherever there was skin. And the “sophisticated” patrons didn’t seem surprised or amused by the show at all. It was just another day in the contemporary art community. It wasn’t awful, it was quite entertaining and fun, but it just wasn’t my kind of party.
Thankfully, I was able to find some very talented artists, because if it wasn’t for them this was not the kind of party I would typically attend. There were few people I could relate to there. I told you about the people watcher fodder, and other than that there were couples of every possible variation, including the ones where the college girl drags her boyfriend away from the Xbox for a date night. To be honest, I’m more of a live band and beer bottle type of guy.
So anyways, if you have a decent eye for art, you can tell the good pieces from the bad. Even the splattering pieces can be quite good if the artist has an eye for it. I found some excellent pieces, such as some from an artist who blended the style of old-fashioned Southern folk art with a more modern look. I don’t know any styles or technical terms, I just know what is pleasing to the eye when I see it. However, there was also some very bad art. Most of it, to be honest, was disappointing. You don’t need to paint Starry Night or the Mona Lisa to be good, but I saw some pieces my cousin’s toddler could have done. But the patrons were eating it up.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to buy any of the very good artwork I saw, as everyone wanted a piece of that particular artist. He was that good. So, I helped my parents bring their nifty geometric prints to their car and took an Uber home to drink beer on the porch.
I don’t need to be smelling my own farts and looking down on the “less sophisticated” to enjoy life. Enjoying life is just a new experience away, socioeconomic bubbles be damned. You don’t have to change what you enjoy and who you associate with. Enjoy the moment and respect cultures radically different from your own. Sadly, that’s the mindset so many people are missing these days..
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