Even if you feel you aren’t able to converse eloquently about a piece of art, jumping from art gallery to art gallery in New York is a worthwhile experience — and it doesn’t require creative speech.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I did it for the first time. Art is open for interpretation, so I thought there might be an open mindset about how to dress and act while looking at art. But sometimes mass media portrays art and galleries as something held for the elite (or those commonly referred to as hipsters), and while that could be argued pro/con in a number of different ways, the image sticks: and full of the intelligent, creative art-types who can spot an imposter or a free-booze hound instantaneously.

Just for the record – it’s not really true. And while I’m sure there are places in the city that do fit this bill, my experience was completely different.

Chelsea is the city hub for small art galleries. You can find them almost everywhere, and they always showcase something different, thought provoking, and beautiful in some way.

The area between 10th and 12th Avenues, and from 20th to 28th Streets is stock full of different galleries and at any given point, exhibitions. I’d never been to an opening until this year, when my friend, a talented art major herself, invited me to tag along to the opening of Despina Stokou at the Derek Eller Gallery on West 27th.

I was completely unprepared for what awaited us. I had work in the morning so I made sure to wear something that could convert into a nighttime outfit, and that I presumed was appropriate for an art gallery opening – meaning a black skirt, nice blouse and fun heels. My business-casual assumption was, however, wrong. My friend, who has visited galleries a few times, was in jeans.

Courtesy of Derek Eller Gallery / Despina Stokou "bulletproof"
Courtesy of Derek Eller Gallery / Despina Stokou “bulletproof”

When I walked in, I realized that there was no expectation for how I needed to look at all. It was completely come as you are. Canned beer waited at the door in a cooler – a choice of Budweiser and Yuengling – and people walked around at their own pace but it was loud and bustling.

After spending some time looking at the jarring paintings by Despina and talking to an older gentleman about writing and the importance of words, we moved along to the next stop – the Winkleman Gallery right next door. And then the next door. And then the next one. People who don’t know the artists do the same thing – they bounce from place to place, gallery to gallery, taking in the different sets, and even drinking socially for free.

Each gallery was different – the first was paintings by Despina, one of the others was a photography exhibition. One of the following galleries housed paintings with crazy figures and colors so bright my eyes might have been electrocuted. And of course, a tour through art galleries wouldn’t have been complete without an exhibition dedicated to modern art. That gallery was two floors, and so crowded we could barely move.

The wine and beer flowed until they ran out – which they all did – and people who knew the artists ran around appreciating their friend’s art, and those who didn’t were introduced or mingled with the other guests crowded into the tiny gallery spaces.

And they were all packed. People were everywhere. It was all interesting work, but the visitors were half of the experience. They all varied – they looked like they came from work or were prepared for their Friday evening in. I saw sneakers and heels, jackets and sweaters, hats and beanies, cool tattoos, disheveled faces and clean-shaven ones. Everyone was socializing. They looked at art, and then they talked.

I had this fear of seeming like I had no idea what I was talking about – my ability to discuss art only comes from my friend and the one required art history class I took in university, but for the most part I can’t hold an eloquent conversation about a single piece of art unless it really strikes me.

If you’re anything like me – no fear; there is no serious conversation required. One of Despina’s pieces was Halloween orange, with black splatters and intensely designed words pasted all over. My reaction was, “Oh wow that’s awesome! I love the orange background!” Another of my friends used the word “disconcerting,” in a nicely formed sentence outlining the feelings she had just by glancing at it. I felt a little unprepared in my vocabulary, but luckily, I was told by an artist that describing something as “awesome” is a pretty great reaction to have about a piece of art. If you have any reaction at all, from feeling underwhelmed or passé to any range of what you could feel, it’s justified. Not everyone gets the same thing out of art.

To anyone visiting New York, I would recommend gallery hopping. It’s a part of the New York culture and art scene. The hustle and bustle and excitement over a person’s – an artist’s – success makes for a pretty exciting and fun evening. You get to celebrate someone’s work while looking at great art for free and–for those who can and do drink–free beer or wine.

Each gallery has a different schedule and hours of operation. For all the info, check out the Chelsea Gallery Map, where many galleries and their current exhibitions are listed. Opening and closing dates for exhibitions are included.