Swipe right on art

What do you get when you marry Tinder, Spotify and Instagram? An app that lets non-art experts discover and buy art that they love.

IF you, like me, are pathetic at art but still appreciate a good painting and may even want to buy an artwork someday, ARTO could be your solution.

The Singapore-based startup, founded by Dutchman Jonie Oostveen, has created an eponymous app. Using its proprietary, artificial intelligence-powered "Art Recommendation Engine", ARTO helps art enthusiasts of all levels of expertise find artworks they like based on their preferences.

Mr Oostveen describes the app this way: "Take art as your main ingredient. Add a good dose of Instagram, blend it with Tinder and add a dash of Spotify, this is what you get, ARTO!"

Upon launch, the app shows an art stream (like in Instagram) in which you can scroll up or down to view more artworks. You can also tap "More details" on a particular piece to look at its title, artist, specs, concept and retail price. If you fancy a certain artwork, you can swipe right on it (like in Tinder) to indicate that you love it. The app will automatically save your liked artworks under the Likes tab, which you can open to view anytime.

The more you use the app, the more it will learn about your taste in art, and recommend (like in Spotify) artworks that you are likely to appreciate. Tip: Don't just swipe right. Swipe left on a painting to denote a dislike; this helps ARTO better discern your preferences.

My experience with ARTO has been fun. Even as the art stream takes a while to load (ie, five seconds), I enjoy the activity of swiping (having not had the chance to use Tinder), checking out art pieces, bookmarking my favourite ones, and even learning a thing or two about art styles. It's great for both inspiration and killing time.

It turns out that I prefer contemporary, edgy pieces that feature geometric abstractions or street art. This is analysis - based on my bookmarked artworks - by a good friend of mine, an art teacher who had laughed at me for not knowing what primary colours were until this year.

There are a few other things that I like about ARTO. It uses the digital to bring the art industry - traditionally patronised by the rich or artsy-fartsy - to the masses. The app can be streamed via Apple TV or Google's Chromecast to transform my TV into a digital canvas to liven up my living room. And soon, I'll be able to filter artworks based on price range and size.

It would be nice if ARTO ventures next into social, such that it allows users to publicly share their art lists (like how Spotify users share their music playlists), follow other users, and even gift artworks. Say I know my art teacher friend likes abstract art and has bookmarked several works by British contemporary realist painter Paul James. For her birthday, I could send her a virtual gift card, which she could redeem, and she could have an actual Paul James painting sent to her.

Mr Oostveen hails ARTO as a first-of-its-kind platform. He tells me that while there are many websites and apps where you can buy art, none has a recommendation engine that helps you find art pieces based on your taste. "With the other services, you have to search for art. ARTO has reversed the process. Don't search - we will recommend it."

ARTO, which has more than 20,000 art pieces selling from US$100 to over US$20,000, takes a transaction fee (paid by the gallery or artist, not the consumer) for every piece that is sold through its platform.

It has inked partnership agreements with art providers, including galleries, independent artists, art fairs and museums. With the former three, the agreement is for the app to display their artworks with the objective of selling them. With museums, the objective is not commercial; it is to make their art accessible to the masses, which ARTO seeks to do. Among the big-name art providers are the Singapore Art Museum, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Absolut Art, Affordable Art Fair and Art Stage.

It was in December 2015 when Mr Oostveen conceptualised ARTO. Then, the Dutchman had just moved into a new apartment in Singapore and was searching for art. The process, he said, was tedious. It involved foraging through different websites and looking at hundreds of works of art before finding that one piece he wanted. "It's difficult to describe your own art taste or the particular type of painting you're seeking, and I knew there had to be a better way."

With over 12 years in the mobile tech industry, it was only natural that Mr Oostveen wanted "an app for that", one that also functioned a lot like Spotify, where he was director for partnership business development at the time. And so he took that idea, incorporated an Instagram-like feed, and blended it with the swiping functionality of Tinder, and ARTO was born.

As Mark Twain once said: "There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations."

For businesses creating a new product, it may make sense to adapt best practices from already-popular platforms, simply because people are accustomed to their functionalities and will believe that they can understand the product more easily. Sometimes, there is really no need to reinvent the wheel.