23 Apr

From Etiquette: Rules and Usages of the Best Society, an 1885 book published in Australia to help ensure that our Colonial cousins were comporting themselves in a suitable manner. I’m sort of from the 19th century anyway, but even if I wasn’t there would still be a lot of what follows I’d commend as good advice to many of the rude, selfish idiots who visit galleries in the current century and generally walk around as if they’re in a bulletproof bubble outside of which other people don’t exist.

I also really wish that more people in the present treated artists with the kind of respect and admiration urged under the heading of “Conduct in an artist’s studio”… albeit possibly to a fault. The impression overall is that the author regards artists as being rather akin to thoroughbred horses, fine creatures but liable to bolt and possibly kick if you make the wrong move. He’s probably right.

Something else of note, something very true but probably unknown or not fully appreciated by anyone who’s not worked seriously as an artist or writer, and definitely isn’t understood by anyone who thinks we should do art or literature in our spare time: “… the steadiness of hands in manipulating a pencil is sometimes only acquired each day after hours of practice, and may be instantly lost on the irruption and consequent interruption of visitors.” In other words, all those times when we don’t seem like we’re working to you? Those times when we’ve been in the studio or at the desk all day and appear not to have produced very much? We often are still working, or getting ourselves to a place where we’re able to work.


In visiting picture-galleries one should always maintain the deportment of a gentleman or lady. Make no loud comments and do not seek to show superior knowledge in art matters by gratuitous criticism. If you have no art education you will probably only be giving publicity to your own ignorance. Do not stand in conversation before a picture, and thus obstruct the view of others who wish to see rather than talk. If you wish to converse with anyone on general subjects, draw to one side, out of the way of those who want to look at the picture.”



If you have occasion to visit an artist’s studio, by no means meddle with anything in the room. Reverse no picture which stands or hangs with face to the wall; open no portfolio without permission, and do not alter by a single touch any lay-figure or its drapery, piece of furniture or article of vertu posed as a model. You do not know with what care the artist may have arranged these things, nor what trouble the disarrangement may cost him.

Us no strong expression either of delight or disapprobation at anything presented for your inspection. If a picture or a statue please you, show your approval and appreciation by close attention, and a few quiet, well-chosen words, rather than by extravagant praise.

Do not ask the artist his prices unless you really intend to become a purchaser; and in this case it is best to attentively observe his works, make your choice, and trust the negotiation to a third person or to a written correspondence with the artist after the visit is concluded. You may express your desire for the work and obtain the refusal of it from the artist. If you desire to conclude the bargain at once you may ask his price, and if he names a higher one than you wish to give, you may say as much and mention the sum you are willing to pay, when it will be optional with the artist to maintain his first price or accept your offer.

It is not proper to visit the studio of an artist except by special invitation or permission, and at an appointed time, for you cannot estimate how much you may disturb him at his work. The hours of daylight are all golden to him; and the steadiness of hands in manipulating a pencil is sometimes only acquired each day after hours of practice, and may be instantly lost on the irruption and consequent interruption of visitors.

Never take a young child to a studio, for it may do much mischief in spite of the most careful watching. At any rate, the juvenile visitor will try the artist’s temper and nerves by keeping him in a constant state of apprehension.

If you have engaged to sit for your portrait never keep the artist waiting one moment beyond the appointed time. If you do so you should in justice pay for the time you make him lose.

A visitor should never stand behind an artist and watch him at his work; for if he be a man of nervous temperament it will be likely to disturb him greatly.”

Oh, and a PS for those who still don’t know 120 years after Rules and Usages of the Best Society was published: when you have to squash past somebody the right answer was and is that you give them the front, not the arse. Or preferably that you don’t ever (if you can help it) be obnoxiously fucking late in the first place for any event where other people will be sitting down or otherwise immobile, this kind of persistent lateness being another selfish incivility that seems to be reaching epidemic proportions.


Gentlemen having occasion to pass before ladies who are already seated in lecture and concert rooms, theatres and other public places, should beg pardon for disturbing them; passing with their faces and never with their backs toward them.”



  1. Alistair 23/04/2013 at 8:59 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

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