I Used To Be An Art Snob
DADA changed the way I look at art.
By Judy Mam
I grew up surrounded by art. My dad was an informal advisor to collectors of Mexican art. When I was a little girl, we used to spend many weekends at museums and art galleries or visiting the houses of artists or collectors. At the time, I thought that anything that was not included there was not serious art.
Later, I took a course in art history, and I was lucky to stand in awe of Las Meninas and the Garden of Earthly Delights at El Prado, visit MoMa, and get hangry from walking the Louvre. I wanted to steal all the Paul Klees at the Met. I wanted to take Jackson Pollocks and Edward Hoppers off their museum walls. I was an art snob.
When I became a creative director in advertising I got to commission commercial art and hire commercial artists. That’s how I met Beatriz, the creator of DADA. I used to hire her and her studio for their spectacular illustration work. Much too often, clients would ruin the art we commissioned for them with needless tweaks. I felt bad for the drudgery of talented artists like Bea who created beautiful work with grace under pressure. “Pearls before swine” came to mind.
But it wasn’t until I saw the art that grows on DADA every day that I understood that my perception of art was very limited. When I saw what people from many different countries could do with a simple drawing tool on our canvas, I thought, if these unsung artists are this talented, just picture how many more talented artists exist in the world. Millions.
Just imagine how much beauty and insight and truth and color we are missing because of the perception that art is exclusive and out of the reach of mere mortals, be they artists or collectors. When I saw the visual conversations that artists make on DADA, I realized that I had been deceived.
We have been living under the impression that art is not worthy of consideration unless it belongs in the established canon (overwhelmingly Western, male, and white), or unless someone can pay astronomical prices for artworks we all know are priceless. Art has been placed in an ivory tower of exclusivity and elitism (and the occasional financial speculation, tax evasion, money laundering, price-fixing, etc). The art world has led us to believe that only a few geniuses can be considered artists who are worth the world’s attention. And because this art is so rare and unaffordable, only a small number of people can have the privilege to collect it.
One day, at MoMa’s subway stop which is decorated with posters depicting art from the museum, I overheard a young tourist, about 7 years old, ask her mom about the posters. The mother said: “It’s nothing. That’s not for us”. I wanted to save that poor girl from the clutches of her despicable mother and explain that on the contrary, the art in MoMa is for all of us, it is us! But then I thought, who is to blame for her reaction? Perhaps it’s her own smug ignorance, but it could also be the $25 a person price of admission. It could be that she finds modern art incomprehensible and intimidating. Cultural and educational institutions don’t do enough to change this perception. Art, a human instinct, is inaccessible and irrelevant for the vast majority of people. People are afraid of it.
I think this is criminal. Art market forces have led us to believe that art is scarce, unreachable, astronomically expensive, and intimidating. This is why crypto art appeals to so many of us. It is supposed to do away with all that scaffolding.
Art savants at fancy conferences have told us crypto artists and platforms that crypto art is not art. That’s because we didn’t ask and are not waiting for their approval. Crypto art has not been vetted by expert gatekeepers, tastemakers, and curators. It’s not important because it’s by nobody “famous”, or because it can be had for $50 or less, or because you can’t hang it.
For them, we’re the barbarians at the gates.
For me, the promise of rare digital art, of NFTs and of DADA, in particular, is to liberate art from this dreadful snobbery, to give millions of people the tools to create as much art as possible, and for millions of people to get to enjoy it, collect it, exchange it and have the immediate relationship with art that they never had before.
My parents were modest collectors of Mexican art. My dad had a very small budget but a great eye. He bought a Carlos Mérida when this painter was unknown, for something like $250, which he paid in installments. Years later that painting was worth much more. My dad truly loved art but I think that in the back of his mind, he knew this collection could be worth something one day. Still, even though my parents went through some rough financial times, they never sold any of the art they collected.
I was at a critical financial juncture myself (read: broke) and my sisters wondered if we should consider selling the small art collection that my parents left us. The money would have certainly come in handy, but selling the art was unthinkable. In fact, it hadn’t even occurred to me. Those paintings are the source of meaningful stories, they represent the spiritual legacy of my parents — what makes me who I am today — and they hold many wonderful memories of our childhood. They have accrued value to me beyond their aesthetic and financial worth. Perhaps I could get something in the high five figures from the sale; it is not anywhere near enough the value they have for me, which is unfathomable.
Collecting is a creative endeavor. It’s curatorial. It can tell a story. My guess is that most collectors collect because we love art, we want to give it a home, we want to take care of it, we want to make meaningful connections with other artworks, champion artists we admire, and appreciate it in every way. Collecting for the primary purpose of making money may be fun and profitable, but it is not very different from betting at a casino. Those who collect to launder money or manipulate the market have nothing to do with art, just like price and value have no relationship.
At DADA, we are considering the role of collectors in the Invisible Economy. We want to blur the distinctions between collectors and artists. We want to discourage speculative collecting because the focus rests on the price and neglects the art, and even the artist. That’s why we want to use the Vickrey auction, which makes people really think about the price they are willing to pay for an artwork instead of scarcity dynamics that prey on people’s fear of missing out. So we have thought of stewardship. What is a collector if not the steward of a work of art? Does collecting necessarily involve owning an object? What are the privileges and responsibilities of owning art? Collectors tend to think about their rights as owners. They have a view of ownership that grants them unlimited rights. To warehouse, to flip, even to destroy art in the worst cases. But do they think of the responsibility that comes with possessing art? Art is our collective cultural trust. Perhaps collectors need to earn the right to hold that trust for the benefit of all.