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The Art World Emojis We Need

In honor of World Emoji Day, we’ve dreamed up a shortlist of emoji that the art world is missing, from tote bags to a Duchampian urinal.

A few of the art world phenomenon in need of emoji representation (graphic by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Aligning with the date eternally present on the emoji calendar, July 17 marks World Emoji Day. While Apple already announced a new slew of emoji for 2020, from boba to nesting dolls, Hyperallergic’s news team has a few ideas about emoji that the art world desperately needs, from the existential to the obvious. (But don’t think we forgot about the gavel emoji to illustrate our auction-related needs — maybe it’s time to recirculate this Change.org petition to bring it back!)

  1. Appropriation — Are you an artist who frequently borrows from and exploits cultures in an attempt to make your work more interesting? First and foremost … stop. But with this emoji, the rest of us will have a symbol to represent how deeply uncomfortable your art makes us.
  2. Art handler — The unsung heroes of the art world, art handlers provide an essential service but are often regulated to the sidelines by gallery and museum administrators. This emoji could finally give these workers the acknowledgement they deserve. (Disclaimer: By no means does use of this emoji excuse your organization from paying them adequately and offering safe work environments.) 
  3. Artwashing — Did you just inherit a lot of money from a shady uncle or a racist grandparent? Maybe you’re a founder of a startup that caused 10,000 people to lose their full-time jobs by finding a way to outsource it all to freelancers in a poorer country? Better yet, you have a new fancy luxury development and need art to make people forget about the protests against gentrification; the families that were displaced; or the inevitable rent hikes that will follow. This will do it. 
  4. Conceptual Art — No art world emoji pack would be complete without a urinal to represent the hackneyed tale that art history can be divided neatly into pre- and post-Duchamp, ignoring any non-Western lineages and elevating the conceptual artist to the status of a genius. This emoji of Duchamp’s most famous readymade will help you convince your friends — and dealers, curators, and critics — that art can be anything. Find it between the toilet and faucet.
  5. Esoteric tote bag — The ultimate status symbol of international culture vultures who like their signifiers a little more lowkey, a tote from an obscure biennial or VIP event could score you the cool points you seek. This emoji communicates it all, though with the recent trend of questioning the environmental impact of flying around the world to see art might make this emoji mean something else in a few years, but until then, we’ll always have our tote from the Lhasa Triennial to prove how cool we think we are.
  6. Graffiti — We can’t believe it has taken so long, but seems like it’s time to introduce this ubiquitous visual language into our emoji lexicon. 
  7. Protest — That’s the name of the game now. Speak up or step aside. There is going to be a lot to change in the coming years, so this emoji seems essentially, not to mention the history of modern and contemporary art has included a series of protests against an establishment that sometimes forgets people should come before objects.
  8. Sculpture — Have you noticed that when you type “painting” in a text message, an adorable emoji of a framed landscape with fluffy clouds pops up, but typing “sculpture” yields…absolutely nothing? Personally, we denounce the hierarchization of mediums, and as such, we demand a sculpture emoji to celebrate the joy that is three-dimensional creation. Also, unlike the painting emoji, the sculpture one should not reside in the furniture section, which we resent.
  9. Student loans — Spent hundreds of thousands on a degree for access to top-notch professors (on indefinite sabbatical) and studio space (in moldy buildings), just to enter the art world’s exploitative job market? You’re not alone; an emoji to express the torment of student loans with your fellow artists would quickly enter your “frequently used” list. In the meantime, you can make do with the famous emoji of money taking flight. 💸 
  10. Unpaid Labor — Sounds like great exposure, right? Well, you can die from exposure in the wild, so no thanks. Pay me. This emoji should help. But what should the emoji look like, you ask? How about a bag of ramen noodles and some tea, because that’s all you’ll probably be able to afford if you keep doing this.
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