For most of my life, I couldn’t care less about art.
Sure, I’d bought the occasional print to decorate my apartment. And I’d actually been to one or two art shows in my time. For a while I even sported a membership to the MFA in Boston.
But my motivations and experiences with art were purely superficial. Having art on my wall made me feel like a “grown-up”, and going out to a show was less about the art and more about having something to do. Tickets to the MFA were simply another “stop on the tour” for visiting friends and family.
For all the time I spent knelt at the altar of art, I simply wasn’t a true believer.
And it wasn’t for lack of trying or having an open heart. I was no stranger to guided audio tours and spent more time than was comfortable staring at exhibits. It just didn’t click for me, and I often found myself feigning interest while wondering what I was doing wrong.
In 2014 my company relocated from Boston to San Francisco, and seven coworkers and I made the move across the country. One of the others was a designer named Jon Smith, who had only joined the company a few months prior. I didn’t know him very well at the time.
As a life-long artist, Jon was pumped to move to SF, if only to get up-and-close exposure to the renowned art scene. He was constantly scoping new shows to check out on the weekend, and would often extend invites to coworkers to join. Being new to the city myself, I started to tag along to catch a glimpse.
At one of the first shows we went to, I recall going through my typical motions of devoting “enough” time to every piece. But I must have looked particularly unenthused because Jon came over and said, “Hey man, not feeling anything in here? No worries, me neither. Let’s get out of here. There’s a great bar around the corner.”
We left and ended up having a great time over drinks.
Looking back, that experience ended up being a turning point for my experience with art. Jon and I had planned ahead for the show and taken an Uber to get there, so I’d felt an obligation to enjoy the art – or even if I didn’t like it, to at least spend some time pretending that I did.
Jon’s casual suggestion to leave had given me permission, in a way, to dislike what I saw. I realize now that had he not pulled me out of the gallery, I would have struggled to connect with the art for another 45 minutes and then left with another negative experience, which would’ve further discouraged me from spending time with art.
I learned then that art isn’t something to be forced. It’s to be felt. Everyone has different tastes and it’s just as valid to not like something as to like it. For so long I’d been struggling to fill a me-shaped hole with art that I was told to like, instead of just responding naturally to what I saw.
As it turns out, you don’t need an art degree to feel comfortable liking what you like and disliking what you don’t. It’s OK to feel however you’re inspired to feel.
Jon and I ended up becoming great friends, and he eventually showed me a lot of really fantastic art and artists that I connected with. For a time, it felt like I had a big brother taking me to a record store, and thumbing through records that he thought I might like. Now years later, I’m so enthusiastic about supporting art and artists that we decided to build a mobile app to try to recreate our experiences for others.
We’re only at the beginning of this journey, and we go into it believing that one of the greatest obstacles to growing a connection with art is the way that it’s often presented to us: behind glass in cold, white rooms or as a history of what’s “good” or “important”. But the current, living world of art is so much more colorful and storied than that, and its history is written individually – by and for each of us.
So I’m excited to build a place where we can each discover our own journeys into art. A place where we’re encouraged to like or dislike whatever we want, and where we can follow our own curiosity. Connecting with art and with others over art seems ever more important in a world as divided as ever, because art has a unique capacity to speak across cultural and tribal lines.
If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be building an app about art, I wouldn’t have believed it, but looking back now I can’t imagine doing anything else.