How Art Can Make You Happy Bridget Watson Payne

112 pages of joy

While I’m trying to decide if I’m going to make the trek out to The Frieze Art Fair, I read Bridget Watson Payne’s new gem of a book, How Art Can Make You Happy (Chronicle Books, May 2017).

This golden book begins: “Once upon a time you loved art.” Now, you miss it. You miss experiencing it, because you’re too busy or too out of the loop or too whatever.

On these luminous pages, Bridget lights the way for lapsed or aspiring art-lovers, guiding the way to enjoying art, instead of being intimidated by the scene or guilt-ridden over your art history knowledge. She offers tips on where and when to see art, what to wear, and how to (not) talk to art snobs. She provides frameworks and names names to help you cultivate your own taste, which is “actually a pretty subversive notion,” she writes, “namely that it matters what you actually, personally, like.”

Art Canon

“The canon super-simplified so you can finally stop feeling bad about your lack of knowledge about that.” – Bridget Watson Payne

I adore art—believe in it; collect it, rave about it. I’m a fan of what Bridget calls “art’s potent brew of visual pleasure, intellectual rigor, myriad meanings, and unexpected worldview.”

But I ask myself: Am I really going to skip the Frieze Art Fair?

We get to the heart of this question on page 53: OFFICIAL PERMISSION REGARDING BLOCKBUSTER SHOWS.

“You think, ‘I should go to that,’” she writes.

Yep, I think. But getting there involves the subway, a ferry, and a bus; all running on Sunday schedules. And it’s supposed to rain. I went to the New Museum yesterday, but I should…

I’m doing the guilty thing she dedicates most of her book trying to talk us out of doing.

How Art Can Make You Happy celebrates the many alternatives to should-ing on ourselves:

  • Look at an art book. Slowly.
  • Hang up some art on your wall, already. Really. Frame it. Pound in a nail. Put it up. And enjoy it, daily.
  • Seek out local public art with the Public Art Archive.
  • Gaze at the art “hiding in plain sight.”
  • Watch kids make art.
  • And I’ll add: Keep reading the work of art that is her book.

But mostly, Bridget shares:

SECRET #1: You have time to go to the big blockbuster art shows, if you want to.

SECRET #2: You don’t have to go to the big blockbuster art shows, if you don’t want to.

The simple truth is that we do make time for what is important to us.

Experiencing art is deeply important to me. For many reasons, including why Bridget believes in the magic of art, writing: “Art awakens you to three profoundly important realities.”

They are:

One, the reality of the world.

Two, the reality of other people.

Three, the reality of yourself.

Sometimes this means going. Sometimes this means bowing out of the way and enjoying others, enjoying art. Sometimes, I realize, this means continuing to be perfectly happy doing what I’m doing.

Am I going to find my way to Randall’s Island or simply continue hearting posts on Instagram by @friezeartfair, @artsy, @artforum, and @publicartfund? I haven’t decided, yet.

Nicholson Baker

New words spoken by a new interest, who was introduced by a new favorite author

But next time I’m near The Strand, I’m definitely stopping in to look for a book by Nicholson Baker. Bridget introduced me to this author extraordinaire by including his quote on words. Fingers crossed. I’m hoping to find his essay collection, The Size of Thoughts.

Treasure hunting for art in its many forms–books, paintings, neon signs–brings me delight. So my many thanks to Bridget Watson Payne for this ray-of-sunshine reminder, illuminating the art of appreciating art for the sake of happiness.