By Jerald Melberg
Why does stepping into an art gallery make us feel uncomfortable? Many of us are afraid of things we don’t know well. None of us ever think twice about opening the door to a grocery store, bakery or coffee shop. So what is it about going to an art gallery that becomes too much? Perhaps we feel out of place, or are afraid of saying the wrong thing and asking the wrong questions. As an art dealer who has been in business for more than 35 years, many times I have seen people peek through the gallery door without coming in, or hesitantly walk in and ask about admission.
Despite my background in art, even I have felt ill at ease and self-conscious in another gallery. The intimidation factor can come from without, as well as from within. Some gallerists work to create an air of importance at the expense of common courtesy. But let me assure you that the art galleries in this town are small businesses run by hard-working people, and we will welcome you.
Consider the effort it takes to try a new cuisine you’ve never had, or visit a country where you don’t speak the language. This is the energy new collectors should expend toward learning about art. If the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it, then the same is true for art: Immerse yourself! Go to galleries, subscribe to their email lists, and look around online. Recognizing quality in art is a learned, not an innate ability. It might sound simple, but the more you look, the more you hone your eye. Understanding art, and the confidence that comes with it, will surely follow.
Art is meant to be shared with and experienced by the viewer. British artist David Hockney said it well: “What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing. You wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought.”
The art business is based on relationships, and every budding art enthusiast has to start somewhere. Not ready to begin collecting yet? That’s OK. Discernment takes time.
Until then, just open the door and say hello. Look, learn and enjoy — no experience required.
Jerald Melberg has been a pillar of the Queen City’s arts community for decades, introducing Charlotteans to art-world heavyweights such as Romare Bearden, Wolf Khan and Robert Motherwell. Before opening his eponymous gallery, now located on S. Sharon Amity Rd., the Minnesota native was curator of The Mint Museum during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Over the last 28 years, he has raised more than $200,000 to help build and support schools in Arequipa, Peru, Charlotte’s first sister city. Art collecting is an acquired skill, he says, but looking and learning are the first steps.