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Stimulating small talk and socializing among guests can be a challenge for any host. One proven method for starting meaningful conversations is to display an interesting work of art or an unusual photograph or mysterious souvenir in a prominent location. Such a discussion starter is known as a conversation piece. A good conversation piece could be an African fertility doll or an autographed piece of sports memorabilia or an abstract sculpture.
The point of displaying a conversation piece is to break the social ice among guests. At least one visitor should ask the host about the history of a certain piece of sculpture or when a candid photograph of a celebrity was taken. Others may start a discussion amongst themselves over the quality of the conversation piece, or they may even question its authenticity or value. No matter what, the end result is usually a tension-breaking round of small talk.
Few objects or souvenirs are ever promoted specifically as conversation pieces, but many people can easily discern if a particular piece would stimulate conversation or not. Sometimes an object may be so conventionally unappealing or shocking that it becomes a great conversation piece regardless of its aesthetics. Some people invest in a few odd-looking or controversial objects simply for their value as conversation starters.
Many times an object becomes a conversation piece by standing out from the rest of a room's decor. Visitors are immediately drawn to an African mask or a Japanese painting when placed against more mundane settings. Curiosity over an object's origins should lead to an interesting discussion or two, which in turn should spark other conversations over the span of a party.
A conversation piece does not have to be an expensive antique or a rare collectible. Sometimes a host's own amateur artwork or photographs would suffice as conversation starters. There is no guarantee that a particular object would actually be found interesting enough to stimulate conversation, so a host may display several different items in hopes of finding one that guests will comment on.
When it comes to finding and displaying a good conversation piece, it helps to think like a guest. If a host finds a particular item to be very interesting personally, then it's most likely his or her guests will find it interesting as well. Deliberately placing a shocking or distasteful art object in a room simply to stimulate conversation would definitely be in poor taste, so the selection of an appropriate conversation piece is strongly recommended.
The correct interpretation of a 'conversation piece' as I understand it, is a work of art that attempts to display a group of people or a family who are interacting with each other, possibly conversing - *not* something that is supposed to promote conversation between viewers.
A work of art should surely be given more consideration than just some novelty provided to 'break the ice' at a dinner party.
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