Art History Makes Us Better: A Chat with DailyArt Founder Zuzanna Stańska
On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of DailyArt, a Polish-born app that makes a piece of fine art pop up on your phone daily, Culture.pl talks with its founder Zuzanna Stańska about the appeal of this growing project, why she chose a quote by Picasso as its motto, and about the ups and downs of a career in making apps for cultural institutions.
Marek Kępa: ‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’ That’s a quote by Picasso. Why did you choose it as the motto of DailyArt, your app that publishes a piece of fine art every day alongside a short description?
Zuzanna Stańska: Well, because it was said by Picasso and because it's true! After many years of our work it also seems to be a perfect motto for us. Our users say that for them DailyArt is something that lightens up their day and helps them survive their everyday burdens. Art helps in their existence. DailyArt helps in their everyday existence!
MK: The app itself is pretty basic, you get three screens: one showing the day’s artwork, an archive of previous pieces and a page of brief information about the developers. Would you say that this simplicity, this accessibility of the artworks’ descriptions (which don’t necessarily reflect the often meandering discourse of art critics), is an important component of the appeal of DailyArt, which has been downloaded by over a hundred thousand users?
ZS: Yes, I always wanted DailyArt to be simple. The most important thing is the piece of art and it's story – there shouldn't be any distractions. In the iOS version you can also read more information about the artist, the museum collection it’s from and the genre, moreover you can add the painting to your favourites, and even search for a particular piece. These features will be also available on Android soon.
The other thing is that we have a lot of elderly users who are not ‘digital natives’. Excluding them from DailyArt by making it overly complicated would be horrible. And regarding art critics – I understand them and their work, but in my opinion, art should be simple, understandable for everyone who is interested in it. In the end, what counts in admiring art is our opinion about it. If it resonates with me, that's fine (both in a positive or negative way). If it doesn't, it's ok too. No matter what some art critic writes about it – often in a super sofisticated way, which we always wanted to avoid in the app. We wanted to make people look at art and think about it on their own.
MK: DailyArt presents a great variety of artworks. You can find many paintings created in different styles, like pieces by Caspar David Friedrich or Kazimir Malevich, but I also stumbled upon a photo of a 9th-century sculpted stone known as the Viking Raider Stone or an illustration from a 17th century book on fencing. How do you select each day’s work? What’s the process behind it?
ZS: There is actually no organised process!
MK: You collaborate with numerous museums across the world including Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Sorolla Museum in Madrid. I hear this kind of co-operation helps especially when it comes to copyright issues. Was it hard to convince many institutions to work with you on your project?
ZS: Yes, it's a bit hard to convince them, but you can't blame them. We aren't Google Art Project, we have only around a half a million users monthly so we are not giants. And museum professionals are overworked, tired and it’s often difficult to start new projects with them. But we are very persistent, we present their collections for free and we give them more and more visibility in this world flooded by all kinds of information. This September, every Sunday we are presenting masterpieces by Toulouse-Lautrec from the São Paolo Art Museum. It’s a great collection!
MK: This year marks the fifth anniversary of DailyArt’s existence – by now you have presented close to two thousand different artworks. What were the most memorable moments in the app’s life and what made them significant? Is launching DailyArtDaily.com, an art history website linked to the app, among them?
ZS: Oh my, there were plenty of memorable moments. Maybe I should say that launching our online magazine DailyArtDaily.com (soon to be rebranded DailyArtMagazine.com) was one of them, as well as developing new versions of the app, but to be honest, all of them – at least for me – were about people and their kindness. All those people who work for DailyArt. All our volunteers. All the support our users showed us during our crowdfunding campaign. All the love they send us with emails when they describe what DailyArt means to them. That is most important.
MK: DailyArt isn’t the only app created by your company Moiseum, which specialises in providing technologies for museums and cultural institutions. You have also created an app that acts as a guide to Warsaw’s Museum of King Jan III’s Palace in Wilanów. What made you enter such an intriguing line of work?
ZS: That was my idea for a living before DailyArt. In 2010 and 2011, I got excited about possibilities the mobile world can open for cultural institutions – museums mostly, because I’ve always loved museums. I wrote my bachelor's degree about it and by coincidence, I started to work for a VC fund which invested in start-ups. There I met all of these people who were working on creating software – designers, developers. When I realised that that is what I wanted to do, I started Moiseum, which after nearly six years is still alive and well, better than ever.
MK: Speaking of Moiseum’s beginnings, in 2012 you made the augmented reality app My Warsaw showing places in Warsaw linked to the famous Polish-Jewish writer and pedagogue Janusz Korczak. Although the app – no longer accessible – was warmly received, after its launch your company entered a bumpy period. How did you manage to stay afloat, did DailyArt play a part in that?
ZS: It was horrible! It was a matter of timing, which I didn't know back then. Intuitively I knew everything would change one day. So the thing was, that I started too early. Museums or cultural institutions weren't ready for mobile apps. Another thing was that I didn't know anything about business – law, taxes, sales, marketing, nothing. I was starving, and with the last bit of money I had I developed DailyArt, which for the first two years didn’t make any money. But luckily running it was very rewarding so I never thought of closing it. Moiseum started to receive more and more commisions and became profitable after two years, when I became a bit smarter and museums wanted to do more digital. You know, I really love what I do. Spreading art history and creating digital projects for museums. This is why I didn't give everything up when times were hard.
MK: Personally, what are your favourite works of art presented on DailyArt?
ZS: Most recently it was Manet's Bar at the Folies-Bergere – there is so much sadness and melancholy in it! All in the middle of a crazy party at the cabaret! I love it. I even put it on our fifth birthday feature. But there are dozens of my favourite works we’ve shown in DailyArt!
MK: Where do you want to take DailyArt in the upcoming years?
ZS: I want to reach more and more people. No matter how, by what means, if it will be via a mobile app, an online magazine or social media accounts. I really believe that art history makes us better, as humans, and that it makes our lives better. Or at least more bearable.
Author: Marek Kępa, September 2017