I used to wear black at my exhibitions. Back when I lived in Montreal and was regularly touring the gallery circuit at the beginning of my career, I noticed that many artists wore black at their art openings like it was some sort of unwritten rule.
I also saw that there were artists who wore black all the time. They were generally young, hip and always seemed to be engaged in rather serious intellectual conversations, cigarettes dangling from their mouths as they discussed the latest art trends, or critiqued a fellow artist’s latest work. I always expected to hear Edith Piaf playing in the background.
Why do artists wear black? Is it mentioned somewhere in the Handbook for Serious Artists? Is it to be trendy, or merely pretentious? Is it a sign of depression, rebellion or intellectualism….or is it something else?
My own reason for wearing this color was quite simple: As an emerging artist on a tight budget at the time, I only had one good outfit….and it happened to be black.
I started asking fellow artists and the answers were as varied as the artists themselves:
“I wear black because I want the people who attend my exhibitions to notice my paintings instead of what I’m wearing. I try to avoid clothes that will conflict with the artwork.” – Lea
“I teach art. I always wear black because stains don’t show on it.” – Beth
“I’m really pale and I just like the contrast between my skin and the black fabrics and dyed hair. I did get a bit tired of people asking if I was into goth…” – Penny
“The reason artists wear black (or white) is so they do not cast a color onto the canvas they are working on. It became a fashion statement and is now silly and basically for pretense.” – Steve
“I wear black all the time, and the claim it’s pretentious is just another tired old stereotype. It has nothing to do with me being an artist or trying to make a fashion statement, or being depressed. I like black, it AND it makes my life easier. I don’t have to faff around every morning trying to match clothes and colours. I can mix and match and not worry about it and get on with my day.” – F.
Edith Piaf and dangling cigarettes aside, everyone is free to wear what they want. It’s the art that matters.
As for me……I wear whatever makes me feel fabulous. And it doesn’t have to be black.
Note: The painting in the image above is by Montreal artist Claude Montoya…….And she doesn’t wear black at her openings either.
Serena Kovalosky is the owner-producer at Artful Vagabond Productions LLC, specializing in cultural projects, exhibitions and films on visual arts. Kovalosky is also a professional sculptural artist and curator.