Appreciating Art: Best Done Sober or Stoned?

Phoenix art museumDaughter and I went to the art museum last week.

You know. To appreciate the finer things in life.

As did many other Fine People in Phoenix, including at least one couple who did it while stoned.

I’ll tell you about my stoner friends later. First, let’s talk about the museum…

Now, I’m aware Phoenix is not considered a hub of cultural activity. I’m sure visitors from New York, Chicago or, well, maybe even Omaha, would turn up their collective noses at our offering. But I rather like the Phoenix Art Museum.

And I must say, there’s no better place to appreciate the quirky, surreal art of Philip C. Curtis. I mean, you’d be hard pressed to find even a meager … gasp! You never heard of Philip C. Curtis?!

Philip C. Curtis

Well, just sit right back and prepare to be dazzled folks!

Not only does ol’ Phil have a style most in keeping with this blog’s folly-filled ambiance, he’s pretty much the reason Phoenix even has an art museum. But then, you read about that in the link I gave above.

Oh, that’s right. You didn’t click on it. Okay, here it is again.

He’s considered an American surrealist, and as the museum brochure explained, all his paintings tell a story, but never the full story. The viewer is left to fill in the details.

This one was Daughter’s favorite, simply called, “The Lift.” Note the masks they’re wearing.

The lift

This next one is titled “Escape” and for some reason, I feel a strange sort of affinity with the girl…

The Escape

Run, girl, run! The birds are coming!

I’ll show you just one more from Curtis. This is titled “Gift Bearers.” I love the absurdity of the single small chair.

Gift Bearers

You can see more from Philip C. Curtis HERE.

Moving on, there’s a sculpture in front of the gallery of modern art — actually it’s a dead avocado tree covered in black velvet. On several branches are small glass birds.

The piece is titled, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” (Boy George was nowhere to be found.)
Try and guess what the blue liquid is inside the glass birds!

It’s Windex! As in, the window cleaning product. Can’t say I ever thought of Windex as an art medium, but the effect was quite lovely.
I overheard someone say they thought the piece was a statement on chemicals and their effect on the environment.
Maybe. I still think the birds are lovely.

This next piece… Hmm, let’s see… I’ll let you see it at a distance first. I was standing about 20 feet away when I took this. I thought they looked like pixelated faces:

Sugar faces

Once you get up close, you see what they’re made of: sugar cubes stained with coffee!

Sugar cubes

Imagine the patience required to do such work. Not to mention all the sugar cubes.

Before we get to our stoner friends, I have to tell you about one of the most popular exhibits in the Phoenix Art Museum.

At least it’s popular in my family. We call it the Firefly Room. Its formal title is:


The installation is a large mirrored room, filled with hanging strands of colored LED lights. When you enter it’s easy to feel disoriented, but after a while — if you let go of any anxiety or need for control — the experience turns into something wonderful and rather enchanting. (Come to think of it, the same can be said of life.)

I couldn’t get a decent picture of the room with my phone, but here’s one from the museum’s site.

There’s a lesson here my friends. An artist can find inspiration in the unlikeliest places — household cleaner, dead branches, sugar cubes, strands of colored lights. So look around and see what you have. You might have the next masterpiece right under your kitchen sink. Don’t sell yourself short.

PaintingOkay, so about my stoner friends.

You see, as I was studying a painting – the artist and title escape me, but it looked rife with symbolism –  when I became aware of an odor. The kind of odor that is very recognizable, especially for someone who works in a public high school.

I looked behind me and saw a young couple walking into the next gallery. I followed them.

They made slow progress around the room. Every time they stopped in front of picture, they’d giggle, then move on to the next.

High CoupleThey were in a room filled with 17th Century art. I assure you, there is nothing funny about 17th Century art.

Honestly, who gets stoned and then decides to pop on over to the art museum?

I asked Daughter that exact question.

After thinking it over, she decided it seemed like a perfectly logical decision. I told her about their giggling at 17th Century art.

“Did you ever get that much enjoyment looking at 17th Century art?”

She has a point.

So the question is now before us: is the experience of viewing art diminished or enhanced by the partaking of Cannabis?

I’m not looking for mere opinions here (though I’d love to hear them). I want to know. Which means we must conduct some sort of scientific experiment.

Here’s what I propose: If any of you guys live in an area where it is legal (I’m not encouraging crime here), but let’s say you live in Portland or Amsterdam, we’ll need you to visit your local art museum twice. Once while sober, once while stoned. Then write about your experiences.

Oh, and for the sake of our data collection, we’ll need several of you doing this. Consider forming an art appreciation group and getting stoned together. All in the name of science, of course.

We’ll be waiting your results with great interest.

One personal favor: With your data, please include a recording of you giggling at 17th Century art.

Thanks so much!

26 thoughts on “Appreciating Art: Best Done Sober or Stoned?

  1. I know a surrealist joke:
    Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?
    A: First you need giraffe …

    So, I just look at 17th century art and giggle thinking of that joke…

  2. The Phoenix Art Museum looks wonderful!

    When I was in university, I took an Intro to Art History course. I can distinctly remember the professor telling us about her undergrad days in Art History. She and a group of friends started a contest to find the “Ugliest Baby Jesus”. I can no longer look at religious art without giggling, as I focus on the ugly baby.

  3. Phoenix Art Museum is wonderful. I saw a bunch of Diego Rivera there and Manet (not the other guy) and a ton of Japanese prints including the original famous tsunami (that was on every undergraduate wall for a generation.) And although I have no personal knowledge (nudge/nudge – wink/wink) fat Renaissance babies are a hoot while under the influence of certain herbs.

    1. *snicker/snicker*
      This time the museum had an exhibit by a group of artists from Vietnam. Nearly all of them dealt with violence or crime in some way. For one, they took a Honda Dream (most popular motorbike in Vietnam), secured it to a concrete block, and set up a hidden camera that filmed thieves stripping it down over a series of days. The shell of the bike was displayed next to the sped-up video. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but the bike made a cool metal sculpture.

  4. First, and I must get this out of the way or I can’t live with myself, even though there is absolutely no relevance in the grander scheme of things: When you added the second link with the admonition that you knew nobody had clicked on the first link, I died. Priceless. Second, I am once again in awe of your outlook on life, as you approach museums with the best attitude. You are there to explore and contemplate and (most importantly) not judge. I am not a fan of the folks who wander through exhibits and proclaim that they “don’t get it” and snootily dismiss everything. I may not get it either, but I’m sure going to try. (P.S. I am now a fan of Philip C. Curtis. The images are fascinating, but I may never have known about him if it weren’t for a lovely open-minded patron in Phoenix.)

    1. Well, shucks, thank you!
      You know, I gave judgemental-tightass-ism a try in my early 20s, but in the end found it wasn’t much fun and hindered learning.
      Curtis is great, isn’t he? I read that he rejected being labeled a surrealist – I have a hunch he didn’t align himself with the snooty crowd. That makes me like him even more. 😉

  5. Thanks for the heads up on a new place to explore in Phoenix. I’m always looking for new diversions when we have guests!

  6. The sugar cube exhibit reminded me of one that my son and I saw at the Grand Rapids Artprize that takes place every year in September. It was two giant canvases depicting the artist’s children–in jelly bean medium. I had to drag my child away before he defaced the art with his tongue!

  7. Hello! Lovely article. I especially loved “The Gift Bearers”.

    Coming to your question. Whether good or bad, an experience is an experience eh? So, as long as it doesn’t trouble people nearby, why not try both ways – sane and otherwise – and find out which state you are able to connect better with the artist?
    Just a thought 🙂

    1. True enough! And with some art, it’s reasonable to think the artist might have been under the influence when he/she created it, right? So all the better to be in a similar condition when one views it. 😉

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