How Can an Artist Learn to Slay at Karaoke? –

With a world in crisis and an art market spinning out of control, ace art-world consultants Chen & Lampert deliver hard truths in response to questions sent by Art in America readers from far and wide.

I’m not a shy person, but I’ve been finding myself in awkward situations as an artist who is regularly getting invited to art gatherings that involve karaoke. Don’t get me wrong, I love singing, but being drunkish or belting out favorite songs in front of curators, gallerists, and other judgy artists isn’t the best. How do I get over my hang-up and enjoy karaoke for what it is? And can you recommend a sure-fire pleaser in case I do have to sing?

Japanese businessman Daisuke Inoue invented karaoke for the sole purpose of allowing people to be jackasses together. He scientifically deduced that the hearts and minds of drunken revelers would be emotionally wrecked by atonal covers of cheesy songs. Like you, we’ve found ourselves nose-deep in an enormous binder of songs, hunting for that perfect tune while dazed from the dopey videos, too bombed to stand but not too blitzed to belt out a party-killing rendition of “Wonderwall” in a dark room filled with art negs. You need to suppress your pride and saunter in with a few bangers that will raise the roof, or possibly bring the ceiling down. Here are a few of our faves:

“Hurt” by Johnny Cash

“Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton

“What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes

“Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.

“Creep” by Radiohead

“Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine

“Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child

“Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick

“The Living Years” by Mike + the Mechanics

I can’t even get a piece in a group show despite being on a first-name basis with more than a dozen museum directors, curators, and gallerists. How do you transition from a friend to a praiseworthy artist without groveling like a dog? I could list all the many favors and projects I have done for these people basically for free, but the submission box for questions on your website has a limit on space.

Bummer, it looks like you’ve landed in the dreaded “friend zone.” Dry frottage with art gatekeepers is leaving you with hampered longings, crushed hopes, and big blue paintbrushes. Like the historic opera character Pagliacci referenced by Smokey Robinson in the classic song “Tears of a Clown,” you stand around at parties crying on the inside, giving the mistaken impression that your glad expression is a smile when, actually, you are really sad. On top of that, the submission box for questions is much more than a portal on our website. It is the container in which your expectations reside.

After graduating from high school, you can pretty much call any other adult by their first name, so this makes us wonder if the directors, curators, and gallerists you mentioned are true amigos or merely grinning associates. Did you befriend them solely because of their status? We hope not, because impersonal and transactional relationships will only get you into a crowded biennial, at best. Your question suggests that being in a show is a form of exchange, something owed you after everything you’ve done for others. If this were true, we’d all be receiving Tate Modern Turbine Hall commissions and Creative Capital grants without even applying. Real friends—even art friends—don’t always collude. Sometimes they provide support in essential and less nepotistic ways, by giving encouragement, listening, offering tips, and even lending money that you both know won’t be paid back.

You should try approaching people with a no-pressure request for a studio visit. Explain that you are at a critical juncture in your work and would benefit from a trusted colleague’s feedback. While it’s impossible to predict if their epiphany will land you an exhibition, the interaction could provide vital insight into their perspective—and possibly help answer why you aren’t getting the shows you want. If they take up your offer for a visit, then your relationship is genuine. But if they blow you off, it might be time to start hanging out with the nice folks at the farmers market who always smile when you eat their free samples. They seem chill, don’t they?

Your queries for Chen & Lampert can be sent to

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