Illustration by Petra Larsen

Illustration by Petra Larsen

Ask Babs

Etiquette for Artful Living


Dear Babs, Recently I was invited to a private art preview and cocktail party, co-hosted by a prestigious Los Angeles gallery and art museum. The event was in the desert, so most likely attendees would be traveling at least two hours from Los Angeles. I was not entirely sure what to wear, but since it was in the desert, I opted for something a little casual and fairly sensible foot attire. When we arrived, the “cocktail” being served was a mediocre room-temp white wine, with a withering fruit plate which looked like it was purchased from a local grocery store chain. I was appalled at the unwelcoming reception, especially considering the guests who took the time to make the trip. What is your take on this example of art-world etiquette? Is it a cocktail party when there are actually no cocktails?
—Anonymous, Los Angeles

Dear Anonymous, Shocking! Are you telling me the art world might be uncouth? After coming to when nearby friends administered smelling salts, I managed to get myself to my Websters dictionary: “Cocktail: an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice, lemonade, or cream.”

But really, we all know that, don’t we? If I received the same invitation, especially from institutions as highbrow as an art museum or high-end art gallery, I would assume they were aware of what a cocktail was, and what a cocktail event might imply. As far as the meager treats served for the weary and parched, it would appear that the hosts either have no decorum, are simply cheap, or really just don’t care—sounds like all of the above.
I’ll take this opportunity to make a public announcement to the art world: a cocktail is neither wine nor beer; it is a mixed drink. And a cocktail party implies fancier food, maybe even passed hors d’oeuvres. I’ve noticed the art world likes to make up words, but let’s not start changing the meaning of them.

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