Reflections on Art Basel 2014

My employer, Artsy, sent me to the world’s largest art fair last week. It was my first art fair, and let me tell you, I was quite overwhelmed. Three hundred art galleries, each with many different artworks. Two stories of an exhibition centre, plus another floor for art that “transcended the limitations of typical art fairs”, plus another warehouse for performance art, plus an entire design show.

Holy. Shit.

I don’t have a sophisticated appreciation of art – I’m very new to the art world at large, but have been gaining an eye for good photography over the past few years. I thought I might be prepared.

It started easily enough. I was looking at art I like, turning it over in my head, trying to discern some appreciation from it. Then I started asking questions like, “what even is art?” Then things got trippy. “Can you ever not editorialize art?” Oh boy. Questions I wasn’t prepared to answer myself.


The art fair handed out a handy book claiming to have questions and their respective answers. What is art? Well, we don’t know. All we know for sure is that art is appreciated. And so on.

It didn’t help as much as I had hoped. I was walking around in a haze. Confused by what I saw. Disturbed by some things, aroused by others. It was a confusing and daunting task, to just go and appreciate art. Not just any art, but art that everyone agree is awesome.

And that’s when I got it. That’s when I realized what the fuck was going on. Here I was, surrounded by the best, coolest art in the entire world, and I had no idea where to even begin.

You know what else used to be unapproachable, accessible only to the upper crust of society? Music. Used to be that the only opportunities to hear and appreciate music were live music.

Technology changed that. We invented the phonograph, and then the 8-track, and the CD and the mp3 player and Spotify and holy shit now everyone loves and appreciates music. Wouldn’t it be so cool if we could do that for art?

The art world is hella intimidating. It’s unbelievably unapproachable for lay people like me. And that sucks. And that’s why the work I’m doing at Artsy matters. I want to make it suck less, because I believe in the importance of art, even if I’m not a sophisticated appreciator yet.

When I set out in my job hunt earlier this year, my most important criterion was that the company had to do good in the world. I feel like I’ve really found that here. It’s why I’m excited to go to work in the mornings, even in the darker days of my depression. I feel like I’m making a positive change in the world, and that’s something that neither salary nor anti-depressants can give me. I feel motivated to work because it’s intrinsically important.

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