Imagine if the late TV pitchman Billy Mays were trying to sell you the concept of art. That will put you in the right frame of mind to listen to art historian Lee Sandstead talk about his favorite subject. Like the great salesmen, Sandstead truly believes that his product is the very best out there. And after hearing him talk about it, you might be itching to order what he’s selling.
Sandstead, who hosts Art Attack with Lee Sandstead on the Travel Channel, will give a lecture/sermon about his love of art on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Dallas Museum of Art. Ahead of his trip to Dallas, I spoke with him on the phone to see why visual art has taken over his life.
Art&Seek: Your bio calls you the world’s most fired up art historian. What fires you up so much about art?
Lee Sandstead: In my early 20s, I discovered art, and it just changed every aspect of my life. For instance: I cleaned up my bedroom for the first time in my life because of art. I wanted to make the life of Lee look like the life of art. So the first type of art that I ever discovered was Dutch still-life paintings. And I was fascinated by them – their organization, their color, their light, their texture. And I had realized that as a young man, I had never looked out here. I had never looked at nature. Never once had I really appreciate a sunrise or a sunset or anything like that. And those still-lifes got me looking at things in ways that I had never looked before. Now I was seeing the texture in wood. But not only was I seeing it, I was appreciating it. So I started dusting my shelves.
A&S: One of your goals seems to be to instill the same enthusiasm you have for art with others. What’s the best way to get someone who doesn’t consider themselves much of a museumgoer to give them a try?
L.S.: In no period in human civilization has art dominated more. Americans love cinema, they love the movies, they’re building palaces in their own homes dedicated to movies. We have phones that can hold 35,000 songs, because 100 songs to listen to throughout the day is just not enough. Americans love art. So what I do is tap into that – Americans’ love of cinema, Americans’ love of music – and try to get them to see how painting and sculpture can be just the same.
A&S: When you go to a museum, do you prefer to go alone or with someone else?
L.S.: That’s a great question. When I first started going to museums, I went with friends. But now, because I take pictures of the museums, I prefer to absolutely go by myself. Look at everything, see how everything works, examine everything, think about the museum. And once I’ve completely saturated myself with the museum, then I go back with people.
A&S: OK, two parter – What’s your favorite museum that you’ve visited, and is there a museum you’ve never visited that you’ve always wanted to go to?
L.S.: My favorite museum in the entire world is the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. To me, this museum really upholds the museum function in that it’s right there in town. You can easily find a place to park in Washington D.C. along that mall area. … There’s no tickets, there’s no lines, there’s no purchasing anything. You walk up, you look at great art – three or four pieces – and then you leave. The second part of that question – where haven’t I been? I have never been to Russia. I want to go to the Hermitage.
A&S: What is your take on the Dallas art scene?
L.S.: Because I was on the Sotheby’s circuit and the Christie’s circuit and the auction house circuit, I know that Texans are buying up art like you can’t believe. And you see it all around – outside, private collections, museums – it’s just really fascinating.
For a taste of Sandstead’s passion, take a listen to him further discussing art’s affect on his life: