A 2000 story for Stuff. a British men’s magazine.

How to…

You suggest a date, and she suggests the art museum. Your palms begin to sweat as you envision the choice between a degrading display of boorish ignorance or a week holed up with PBS videos sharing Sister Wendy’s bucktoothed raptures. Surely there must be a way to impress your date without excessive exposure to educational materials.

Do Reconnaissance.
Scout out the specific museum cuts down on any unnecessary learning. Take a guided tour the week before or just swing through on your own. If you’re too lazy for that, check the newspapers or web for background information about whatever’s currently up. Don’t struggle for encyclopedic knowledge; a few factual nuggets will go a long way. And even if you can’t drag your sorry ass over in advance, convince your date to enter the museum gift shop with you before visiting the galleries. While she’s oohing over avant-garde jewelry, you can glean a few tidbits from catalogs of current exhibitions. For those with a really short-term memory, excusing yourself to the restroom midway through your tour and scouting out art down the line is a another still more pathetic way to get the inside scoop.

Find Smart Words for Stupid Thoughts.
If you feel unsure about going out on a limb with these half-digested factoids — don’t do it. Concentrate instead on polishing your ignorance so it shines, presenting your virginal confusion as a profound and ongoing struggle for knowledge. (“Every time, I stand in front of this painting, it seems to become something different.”) Remember, feel no resentment toward the pompous twit who created this confounding mess on the wall. Instead enthusiastically and eloquently embrace it as “enigmatic” or “rich with contradiction.” But don’t go overboard. Quiet contemplation wins points too. What feels like an uncomprehending bovine stare to you, may come across as soulful communion to her. If you’re lucky.

Associate Freely.
Of all the pictures hanging around the museum, no doubt it’s the abstract stuff that makes you the most nervous. It may feel like looking at Rorschach’s inkblots, but that doesn’t mean you have to blurt out the first thing that wriggles into your head. Your impulse to say “It looks like that explosion in Die Hard II,” for instance, could percolate down into something like “it’s got a cataclysmic energy.” Introspective blather like this may feel a tad unnatural, but at least it keeps the ball on your own turf, and away from questions about who painted this when, where, why, and in reaction to what art-historical tradition?

Let Warhol Bail You Out.
If at any point you become really, really lost trying to explain what you think you’re looking at, just pull the pin, and toss out this one by Warhol: “I’m afraid that if I look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” It’ll be your best line of the day, so you’ll want to get the hell out of there quick before it all blows up in your face.