Photo: Jdtornow

“Does it speak to you and can you afford it?”

Like so many abstract paintings, Brian Embry’s advice about buying art might seem simple at first. But if the director of Dallas’ Ross Akard Gallery’s guidance was so obvious, my own art collection would be more cutting-edge than a couple of vintage rock posters and a beer ad.

In fact, I have yet to purchase a piece of art. So I’m at the Fairmont Dallas, located in the largest urban arts district in the United States, taking its Art Immersion Apprentice Trip. In addition to a meeting with Embry, the package includes an hour with the hotel’s artist-in-residence (the position rotates quarterly), dinner with wine pairings at Pyramid Restaurant & Bar and a night in the Arts District Suite. (Redesigned this summer by Embry, the room features work from previous artists-in-residence.)

"Gallerists in the 1980s and the '90s really did a disservice to the art industry by being so pretentious and snobby," says Embry. If you have a question, ask the gallery owner. Embry also suggests not thinking of art as an investment unless you’re spending more than $20,000 (one less worry for me). He also points out that galleries aren’t retail stores. “Typically, you can get 10 to 20 percent off. Start at 20, and see what they say.” If you’ll need to have the art shipped, ask the gallery to cover that expense too.

“Gallerists in the 1980s and ’90s really did a disservice to the art industry by being so pretentious and snobby”

- Brian Embry, Director, Ross Akard Gallery 

The next day, I traverse some of Dallas’ arts neighbourhoods, looking to apply Embry’s advice. There are entry-level works in a few galleries in Deep Ellum, like the artist-run Kettle Art, where I see work with influences similar to what adorns the buildings in this old blues neighbourhood.

Then I move on to the emerging arts area of Tyler-Davis in Oak Cliff. The first gallery, Mighty Fine Arts, opened in 2004. The most recent, Gallery Bomb, opened just four days ago; it focuses on work that’s a bit punchier than what’s available in the more established Bishop Arts District, five blocks to the east.

Some of the more traditional contemporary art in Dragon Street’s galleries call to me so intensely, I feel like the subject of a Caravaggio. But the works that appeal at American Fine Art, the Cameron Gallery and Samuel Lynne Galleries transcend what I can afford.

So how do you reconcile highbrow taste with a lowbrow budget? Embry recommends patience; galleries regularly change their work. Also, prominent artists often donate smaller (read: more affordable) pieces to charity auctions.

Finding an affordable restaurant with an artsy atmosphere that speaks to me proves much easier, likely because I have more experience in this pursuit. Lunch at Parigi features a Texas-size tuna melt under mixed media from the bistro’s resident artist Shane Pennington.

And to paint the town at night? I follow the suggestions of the Fairmont Dallas’ artist-in-residence, surrealist sculptor Hobbes Vincent: first the dive bar Lee Harvey’s, where a youngish crowd, fond of thick eyeglasses, talks about subjects like feminists’ take on F. Scott Fitzgerald; then the even divier Pastime Tavern, where middle-aged men boast of youthful exploits that blur the line between fact and fiction.

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