The art of the studio visit is an endlessly fickle and complex form, clouded in mystery because of its intimate, private nature. There are two or more people, sometimes strangers, immersed in the artist’s cultivated environment. They act as witnesses to that artist’s deepest beliefs, secrets and desires. These witnesses either aim to become the artist’s compatriot, to steal from the artist, or to shop as if they were in a thrift store. It is a dance, a chess game, an OkCupid date, a conquest and, at least in part, up to fate.
The gestures of ‘sizing things up’, ‘checking things out’ or ‘looking up and down’ run rampant. First people look the building up and down, then the stairway and then, of course, the studio space. This, for the more frugal of us, provides some small talk, “Wow, how many square feet is this place? How did you find it? Do you mind me asking how much it is?” etc. Then we start checking each other out, which soon becomes intermingled with checking the artwork out. And so it goes, back and forth, trying to find the link between the objects and the person and a point at which to immerse oneself or penetrate even.
One might expect certain questions and receive them all with relieved and open arms. On the other hand, one might be slapped across the face by something unexpected and either crumble under the pressure or find courage despite your smarting cheek. Best of all, you could be asked exactly the questions you have been searching for your whole life, those that have been burning deep inside your subconscious for years. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this last situation, the earth might shift beneath your feet as everything you thought you knew becomes informed by your visitor’s generous insight.
Here are twenty tips that I have witnessed or performed myself (although, obviously, everything will change a bit depending on the reality of your situation). You are welcome to take or discard them for your next studio visit, whether you are the visitor or the visitee. You are also welcome to just have a laugh. These are little secrets of our trade that might help you better direct (or redirect) the energy of your next visit.
1. Beware of jutting saws and planks.
2. Bring a 6 pack of beer per two-three persons, no more no less (just enough to make you smile).
3. And one or two non-alcoholic options, like a bottle of sparkling strawberry lemonade.
4. Locate the best seat in the studio as quickly as possible and resume the throne.
5. Have three to five spots on your walls prepped for hanging various things and trade your objects out as the visit progresses. Keep it fresh and spacious.
6. Hang sketches, doodles or source imagery off to the side. If they are noticed, that person is looking closely and displaying interest in the artist’s practice, not just their distinct pieces.
7. SPEAK IN ALL CAPS.
8. Keep your hands behind your back while nodding frequently, it’s respectful.
9. If your eyes wander, find and stare at a specific spot on the floor or wall where you can hallucinate the spoken ideas or descriptions.
10. During an awkward pause that lasts forever, just pretend you’re playing the Silent Game, and you’re winning.
11. Crouch as if you were a jaguar about to pounce on your prey (or in this case the artwork being discussed).
12. Try to caress the art object with your eyeball, literally brushing over the object’s surface with your eyelashes. It shows you really, really care.
13. Smell the art object, why not? If it smells good, go in for the finger lick.
14. Offer your visitor a reclining chair for a quick nap. And maybe some home-baked cookies.
15. Display your strength as a Herculean artist by lifting panels and MDF boards as if they were made of Nerf foam (this will encourage god-like treatment).
16. Wedding walk towards a painting (imagine that you will be spending the rest of your life with it) and then take three large fugitive leaps backwards. And again.
17. Respond to a forlorn and lost expression by pulling out a book from your studio library. This offers some context for your work as well as something outside of the moment to talk about.
18. If the person you are talking to speaks insanely fast, respond by speaking veeerrrry slowly and visa versa.
19. Share personal stories carefully: use them to break the ice or as a gesture of friendship or as a secret that that person is privileged to hear.
20. Touch everything.