In New York there’s an illusion of privacy, an agreement to ignore (or appear to ignore) the personal conversations that take place in public places. In the last few days I’ve seen people cry, express anger and exasperation, and, in general, say things that are not meant for my ears. But this is a crowded city. People pass you on the street and you hear snippets of conversations. In restaurants, with tables close together, most people “pretend” not to overhear, but… When I told the waiter I didn’t want the baguette with my salad…
“I really like the mini seededl roll instead. Sometimes I just buy one to take home and eat it with butter for dessert, because if I’m going to eat bread, it’s going to be bread worth eating…”
The woman at the next table chimed in, “You’re right! I feel the same way…”
(I got my roll. They charged me extra for it, but that’s another story.)
Sometimes the conversations I overhear feel like a big, confusing research laboratory with a constant flow of data. Some useful, some not… the conversations ebb and flow, in English and other languages, with an occasional gem in the mix.
Museums and art galleries offer particular kinds of conversations. Once in a while, some one will say something to me. At a Jackson Pollock show, a gentleman turned to me and said, “Do you see figures in Pollock’s work?” “Always,” I replied. “And stories, too.”
But most of the time, I overhear one person explaining a work of art to another. This often comes across as more of a lecture than a conversation and, more often than not, there’s an element of “man-splaining” as it’s a man telling a woman what she should be seeing in a work of art.
It’s one thing to give a little historical context, i.e. this was painted in the last year of Caravaggio’s life when he was on the run after having killed another man in a fight OR to share a useful tidbit i.e. Saint Jerome is easy to spot because of the story about removing the a thorn from the lion’s paw. But I’ve overheard all too many men trying to impress a woman while lecturing her about art. Sometimes I want to remind these men to ask the woman’s opinion instead of telling her what she should be thinking.
That’s why my attention was drawn to a woman pointing out to a man the paw prints in paint on a Rauschenberg and saying, with confidence, “That’s where his cat walked across the painting.”
I had to chuckle because the paw prints were kind of odd for cat and the museum’s note on the wall stated that the paw prints were from the artist’s pet Kinkajou (a creature from the rainforest related to raccoons and coatis). LOL… I’d finally overheard a case of ‘woman-splaining.’