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May 15, 2010

Around the Arts: Don't be intimidated by the arts "“ there is no right way to react

Daily Star

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The arts can be intimidating. Walking into an established art gallery may feel daunting. Even thinking about attending a Shakespeare play might be overwhelming. The symphony or the opera? Forget it.

We think others want us to react a certain way to the arts. Opera is supposed to move us to tears (Julia Roberts cries at "La Traviata" in the movie "Pretty Woman." Come to think of it, Cher cries at the opera in "Moonstruck," too.)

Ballet performances elicit standing ovations … and probably more tears. A painting in an art museum should have us pondering the meaning of life for hours on end. All of this can be true. Yes, art can be that touching.

But sometimes, it doesn't speak to you, and it's OK to simply say "I didn't like it." Or maybe, "I did like it." No explanation needed; no dissertation required.

We are often exposed to different art forms during elementary and high school. We take field trips to the theater, a museum, maybe we hear a symphony perform. Once we leave school, though, we are no longer shuffled along through the art museum by chaperones and teachers. If we want to experience the arts, we have to take the initiative, and that can be a very scary prospect.

While I have a background in theater, I had never attended a symphony performance until recently. I didn't think I would enjoy it. I thought I wouldn't know enough about the music to appreciate a performance.

I was invited to the Catskill Symphony Orchestra's recent cabaret performance. It was an incredible experience. I did not know the name or composer of any piece, but I recognized many of them. And, in the end, it didn't matter. You could sense the audience reacting to the music, and at one point people were dancing in the aisles. The experience belied every expectation I had for the evening, and I would love to go back.

My friend, who has had exposure to the symphony, was ultimately the one who convinced me to accompany her. I probably would not have attended without her. And now that I think about it, I've been that friend before too.

"Come to the opera; I swear you'll like it," I say. That invite is usually followed by, "But do I have to dress up?" No, you don't have to dress up (too much); you don't have to bring anything; and for that matter, you don't have to know anything about the arts before you go.

Actually, most arts institutions provide you with materials to enhance your experience. At the opera or theater, you are provided with a program, where you'll find artist biographies, plot outlines, English translations and more.

Some art museums now loan guests audio devices that guide you through the museum and provide background information on the exhibition. All of this is to make the experience less overwhelming and more enjoyable. But you can always decide to appreciate what you see and hear without guidance, which is also really enjoyable.

If you are even slightly interested in an upcoming performance or exhibition but feel intimidated, think about your circle of friends. One or more of them probably has had some experience with the arts and would love to attend with you. Or, if you attend the arts frequently, think about bringing a friend who has never been. They'll thank you for it later.

Brittany Lesavoy is secretary of ArtsOtsego, the alliance of Otsego County arts organizations, and director of public relations for Glimmerglass Opera. Column ideas may be sent to 'Around The Arts' columns can be found at