'Get the Picture' is a cheeky dive into the art world's 'strategic snobbery' First of all, can we stop using the word "liminal"? Bianca Bosker spent five years doing in-depth research for Get the Picture — an irreverent book about "strategic snobbery" in the art world.

How the art world excludes you and what you can do about it

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The writer Bianca Bosker got a distinctive view of art and the people who make it. She spent five years working as a museum guard and an art gallery assistant. She also sold some artwork, and all of this showed her the underside of an exclusive world, which she writes about in a book called "Get The Picture." NPR's Elizabeth Blair asked why she did it.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: One of the reasons Bianca Bosker wrote this book was out of frustration.

BIANCA BOSKER: I didn't know how to have a meaningful experience of art, and that bothered me. But also, like, I think the art fiends that I got to know - it's not just art that they look at differently. They behave sort of like they've accessed this trapdoor in their brains. I envied that.

BLAIR: Other journalists might have relied on research and interviews. Bosker went gonzo. She got a license to be a security guard with the state of New York and got a job at the Guggenheim - and pretty quickly saw the absurdities from the inside.

BOSKER: Our job was to protect the art from the people, and in my case, a small layer of dust that was on some furniture on a Joseph Beuys sculpture.

BLAIR: So did you have a duster?

BOSKER: No. We had to protect the dust. The dust was not to be disturbed at all costs because the curators consider the dust a key part of the artwork, and it was, thus, not to be disturbed.

BLAIR: Another time, her entire 40-minute shift was spent protecting a work that included piles of lead strips.

BOSKER: Because people always thought it was trash, and so they would bump into it

BLAIR: In "Get The Picture," Bosker dishes about what she learned behind the scenes and shares some of the pretty awful interactions she had with art world players. One gallery owner told her he didn't like the way she dressed or did her makeup, and said that having her around was lowering his coolness.

BOSKER: I became initiated into the way that the art world wields strategic snobbery to keep people out. And I think it's deliberate, and I think it's unnecessary.

BLAIR: Don't get Bosker started on the wall text museums and galleries put next to the art.

BOSKER: I thought they were annoying, like, borderline hostile. Like, they just drove me crazy.

BLAIR: At the Guggenheim, we saw one that reads, practice explores the liminal spaces of human consciousness.

BOSKER: Liminal. If I had a dollar for every time something in the art world use the word liminal.

BLAIR: Bosker says even one of the artists she worked with told her...

BOSKER: Reading the wall labels is like you're trying to have a conversation with the artwork, but someone keeps interrupting. Well, I really love that. That really has stuck with me.

BLAIR: As a museum guard, Bosker occasionally took the matter into her own hands.

BOSKER: Got to the point where I would actually try and stand in front of the wall labels so that people wouldn't just fall back on the approved interpretations. They would challenge themselves and really wrestle with their own eye, which is so strong.

BLAIR: If museums can make the general public feel unwelcome, Bosker learned that small galleries are even worse. We went to one downtown that was hard to find.

Where are we?

BOSKER: Yes. So we are standing here at what appears to be 404-406 Broadway.

BLAIR: You wouldn't know there was a gallery there. And Bosker says that's deliberate.

BOSKER: I worked for someone who's, you know, referred to the general public is basically Joe Schmoes. And I think that there's a lot of way to keep out the Schmoes. And where you put your gallery is a big one.

BLAIR: This gallery is owned by Robert Dimin. Bosker worked for him as well. He does not refer to the general public as Schmoes. But he does like that his new gallery is tucked away. His last one was a storefront.

ROBERT DIMIN: There have been moments when we were on the street level that, like, people would come in and just have phone conversations on rainy days because it was, like, an open space. And like...

BLAIR: Like they are probably not coming in to buy a painting. But Dimin admits the art world is opaque and he's glad Bosker is unmasking it. There are parts of it even he doesn't understand.

DIMIN: Even as an art dealer, it sometimes is confusing. Like, why is X, Y, and Z artists getting acquired by every museum and having these museum shows? So it - you know, what is challenging for a person like me who's been a professional in this business now for over 10 years, I can only imagine a person that is, like, not within the industry having even more challenges.

BLAIR: Confusing, elitist, cloistered - Bosker's new book is a takedown of the art industry. She even compares it to a country club. But she says her feelings about art itself haven't diminished. If anything, she says, she's learned how to look at art - mostly from advice she got from artists, like slow down, don't try to see everything, and to linger in front of one work for a while.

BOSKER: An artist that I spent time with encouraged me to, in front of an artwork, challenge yourself to notice five things. And those five things don't have to be grandiose. It doesn't have to be like, this is a commentary on masculinity in the internet age. It could just be, you know, like, this yellow makes me want to touch it.

BLAIR: Bosker says even though there seem to be barriers to entry, making the effort to see art is worth it.

BOSKER: I think being around art ultimately helps us widen and expand our definition of what beauty is. And I think beauty is not necessarily - doesn't exist in just a proportion or in a color and a line. Like, beauty is that moment when our mind jumps the curb. It can feel uncomfortable, but it also is something that draws us to it.

BLAIR: Bianca Bosker says the five years she spent working in the art world convinced her that everything we need to have a meaningful experience with art is right in front of us. Her new book is called "Get The Picture."

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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