Things I’ve Never Done Before

Here’s one to add to the proverbial list: Walked out on a lecture.

A new friend had suggested going to see the Jasper Johns exhibit at the National Gallery of Art; the curator of the exhibit had a lecture that afternoon on the exhibit itself and it would certainly be fun to see the art and then hear him talk about it, right? Right?

Well, I met Del at the museum and we saw the art itself, which I enjoyed a great deal. I think I liked the exhibit in part because you saw the evolution of the different forms on display, and even how one bled into the next that then became its own new distinct entity, which begat a third type. That sort of thing. Afterwards we made it up to the Matisse “Cut-Outs” display in the Tower Gallery (considering how small a room it is, why it’s only open select hours of the day is beyond me—and I think poor Del was pretty disappointed after all the build up of several times trying to see it only to have the area closed, and then actually getting there and it was over in seconds), and then headed down to the lecture.

In the first five minutes, I learned three things. First, that the curator had deliberately left out some works by Johns from the time period of the exhibit in order to focus on those four specific art styles. (New to me.) Second, that one idea had begat the next. (Which I’d already figured out, but it was nice to get confirmation.) And third, the curator was a horrible public speaker who was reading word-for-word off of what appeared to be an essay he’d written for something else.

There’s a real difference in writing an essay that’s meant to be read on paper versus writing a speech. You use different terminology, different sentence structure, and a different voice all around. There’s a real art to being a great public speaker, although most people can settle for hitting the mark of good. This guy? Not even close. Run-on sentences and pretentious vocabulary words were the items of the day, it seemed, and my eyes began to glaze over even as I tried to pay attention. It was frustrating because I wanted to hear him talk about the individual works, give us some sort of insight. Instead my big insights were that the woman to my right had fallen asleep two times so far, and the woman next to her had been saying, “Ooh!” and “Wow!” a lot early on but had shut up, perhaps because even she was bored.

Finally I couldn’t take it any more and I looked at my watch. Only 30 minutes? Oh boy. Who knew how much longer this would go. However, Del had seen me look at my watch. “We can go if you want,” he whispered.

“Oh no, if you’re enjoying this we’ll stay,” I whispered back.

I want to go now,” he replied.

Done. We left and it was such a relief to do so; it turned out Del had the same problems with the curator’s lack of lecturing ability that I had, but was trying to hang in there because he thought I might still be interested. Oh well. I actually had a really good time; it was fun to hang out with Del and shared misery somehow makes it all ok. So definitely a plus. But I’ve never walked out of a lecture in the middle before.

And you know something? I’ll bet some of the people around us wish they had done the same thing.

One thought on “Things I’ve Never Done Before

  1. Jamie S. Rich says:

    Good for you guys for saying something to each other. I don’t know how many times I’ve left some painful event where I discover that the person I was with wanted to leave as bad as I did, and neither of us said anything for fear of spoiling it for the other. Harvey Pekar, for example.

    Not the same, but I’m actually continually amazed by authors who can’t read their own work. Especially when you know they’ve been on tour and they read like they’ve never encountered the material before. Considering that by the time they hit my city they have practiced in others, I often boggle at how they must sound unpracticed.

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