Art and Other Distractions

The many appeals of First Thursday.

Tonight, like every first Thursday of the month, hundreds of bohemian hipsters will descend on Pioneer Square to amble through art galleries, changing the usual pedestrian makeup of Occidental Park from toothless lushes to a faux- sophisticated milieu of Pilates instructors, post-mod beatniks, wanna-be artists, and a few actual people who purchase art. More urbane than the crowd at Belltown Billiards or BluWater, these strolling aristocrats come in search of a beautiful landscape—not on canvas, but amongst themselves. The palette of stylish attire and witty repartee attracts them like preschoolers to Play-Doh, not to mention the free jug wine.

I personally don’t know a color wheel from a hole in the ground. My formal art training consists of throwing food against the canvas of our kitchen wallpaper as a toddler; even my stick figures suck. Though I love nudes, abstracts, masks, and oils (hopefully applied at the same time), I find most art baffling. Gazing at a painting by MeeRan in Gallery 110, I can’t make heads or tails of the thing. Is that a cloud or a sheep? Maybe the figure is counting sheep, or perhaps the artist has some sick fascination with the furry creatures. Maybe it’s a commentary on those of us who blindly follow. Hell, I don’t know, but I’m sure not going to shell out my hard-earned cash for further study. And that’s exactly what I told the stunning Asian princess who sidled up to me at last month’s art walk. How was I supposed to know she was the artist?

Many of us just don’t know how to “be” around art. Bulls in a china shop, we’re scared of the “you break it, you take it” principle (especially should a Chihuly hit the deck) and are more comfortable rock climbing than art walking. Galleries feel part mausoleum, part New Age rave; we’re unsure what’s allowed and who’s on display. The best defense being a good offense, I typically bull ahead with wild abandon, immersing myself in artsy enrapture.

Besides, critiquing an artist’s work is half the fun of walking the walk. Popping off to friends and total strangers with stoned diatribes on subject matter that has no right or wrong explanation is liberating for conversation-shy dweebs, educated blowhards, and scamming swingers alike. To wit, at last month’s gallery walk I overheard the following conversation between two Mariners fans who apparently got lost on the way to Safeco Field: “Do you think he meant to leave that part of the canvas bare?” “Well, it’s hard to say. Maybe we should ask the guy.” “Yeah, you think he’s here?” “I don’t know. Want to go to the brewery?” “No, let’s look at the next one.”

By giving amateur enthusiasts a taste of fine art (and Costco appetizers), First Thursday helps open our eyes to art everywhere (and perhaps to the idea of replacing that faded Monet print you bought in college with something more contemporary). Most of the art in Pioneer Square I simply can’t afford; for the time being, I’ll have to stack Brillo boxes and my glass recycling in the living room without the help of a curator. But the good news is that, like sleeping with a book under your bed, being around art can apparently rub off on one’s taste. I recently bought a brilliant blue/green abstract by a guy named Kloom or Bloom at a garage sale for 10 bucks. Walking into the Foster/White Gallery a few days later, I could have sworn the piece was the long-lost cousin of a painting by Guy Anderson (Grandmother’s House, Edmonds, c. 1935), on sale there for a cool $40,000.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and probably beyond me for the moment. Still, I like hanging around First Thursday, keeping my eye out for that great piece that won’t escape me—the picture-perfect stunner with fine lines, great curves, impeccable movement, and gorgeous color; the one that turns my head and changes my outlook, inspires me to see a future. I’m talking about art, by the way. Go see some.