Why Are People Snobby About Art & How to Avoid Sounding Pretentious


Before we started enjoying art, we thought everyone we would soon come in contact with was going to be an art snob. After all, snobbery and art go hand-in-hand, right? Why are people snobby about art?

While art snobbery is an old perception, pretension in art is due to factors like high prices and knowledge imbalance. Social elitism around any topic reduces the accessibility for newcomers to learn and appreciate a subject. Recognizing and adopting a student and teacher mindset fights snobbery.

Our experience has been the complete opposite of the stereotypical reputation. True professionals in the industry, on the whole, have been welcoming teachers of their world. There are those individuals that are snobby or “come off” that way.

Here are the common types of art snobs and how to avoid being viewed as one.

Beautiful rich woman with a snobby affect smoking a cigarette. Why are people snobby about art?

Ownership Art Snobs

Not all people who collect art are snobs. However, some are. Ownership snobs are special. They tend to buy rare and expensive work from the art market hold it privately until there’s a profit. 

These individuals have an esoteric view of art and the artist. They tend to collect a painting or illustration that they believe can only be appreciated by them and other people of their status. At other times, a sense of ownership because a piece is rare or desirable is the sole reason for the purchase. These ways of thinking cause many unique artworks to rarely be seen in public.

Elitism in the Art Ownership World

Some art collectors and owners view themselves as elite. They look down upon newcomers who may have less experience. Even if new art lovers are well versed and studied, established owners will often still look down upon them because they don’t have an established reputation

Because some owners have reputations in the art world, they are more likely to be sold pieces from high-end galleries. Gallery owners find this type of snob desirable clientele. 

Metaphysical Art Snobs

Metaphysical art snobs believe that every piece of art needs to have a symbolic meaning or message. If it doesn’t, then they don’t consider it to be true art. 

For these snobs, there is no beauty without meaning. Regardless of the style:

  • contemporary art
  • conceptual art
  • impressionism
  • abstract art
  • modern art
  • pop art

The metaphysical art snob must find a message or symbol hidden somewhere within the subject matter to enjoy it. What fun is that?

It can be rather annoying to be around someone who can’t simply enjoy the beauty of a piece. It can be even more upsetting when they review a piece you spent time creating (as the artist) or collecting and tell you it holds no value because they cannot derive meaning from it. 

Art students at a museum learning why are people snobby about art

Art Student Snobs

We are all aware of the stereotype that students studying art tend to be one of the snobbiest groups. Although nothing is universally true, some students could be easily accused of elitism due to their art views. 

These students tend to be from rich families or have parents that are artists. Thus, they believe they are a part of an elite group of individuals that dominate the art world and look down upon those who don’t belong to their group.

With elitism in mind, students tend to act like know-it-alls who, in fact, may not know that much. They may have had more exposure to art, having visited many museums and galleries worldwide, but may not be talented artists themselves.

Art Students That Know It All

The main characteristic of an art student snob is that they think they know it all. They don’t like to listen to the art teacher and oftentimes try to correct other students on their work. 

To them, no one in the room is as qualified to be creating or studying painting, photography, sculpting, or other fine art. They often feel that they don’t even need to be taking some of the lower-level courses. They behave as if everyone is so far below them that they just can’t stand to be in their presence. 

They have no desire to teach their classmates about art either. Often, this may be because they don’t actually know as much as they claim to. They just come from a family of art snobs. They feel that that is reason enough to become an art snob themselves without having any real knowledge of art.

Another reason art students can be snobbish is that they don’t want to let anyone know as much about art as they do. There is no fun in being in an elite art group if just anyone can get in. 

Materials/Mediums Snobs

These snobs tend to be traditionalists. They don’t view pieces made from certain mediums and materials as legitimate. Instead, they prefer their traditional mediums as the only true artforms.

Woman who is snobby about art walking away from glass art display.

Glasswork is a commonly looked down-upon medium by these sorts of snobs. They believe that glass should not be considered a good art form. 

Acrylic snobs are another type of material snob. They view acrylic as just ‘plastic goop’ and think that a painting done with it is not quality work.

Often, these sorts of snobs are other artists, not collectors. They look down upon the artistic skill of their peers for using mediums that differ from their own just because they are not following “the traditional way.” 

Other Examples of Material/Medium Snobs

There are so many debates about materials and mediums used. You may not even realize that you could be one of these snobs. For example, consider these debates:

  • Acrylic paint vs. oil paint
  • Digital art vs. visual art
  • Digital photography vs. film

If you believe one of these art materials is superior and look down on others who use a different form, you are a materials/medium snob. 

Art is all about having an open mind. If you are intolerant of other people’s arts just because of the medium or material they used, then you are missing the true meaning of art.

It’s okay to prefer one medium over the other. However, it is not okay to belittle someone else’s art because they used a medium you don’t prefer. 

Avoiding Pretension & Snobbery

To avoid becoming an art snob, you need to stop and remember what art is all about. It’s not about the materials used or how many pieces you own. It’s about the art itself. 

At its core, art is about bringing people together. It is about seeing the world from different perspectives and understanding other cultures and ideas. Sure, some art is just for entertainment or communication, but every piece has something about it that can be appreciated

Even if you don’t want to take the time to appreciate each type of art, it doesn’t mean that it is not worthy of appreciation. 

How to Avoid Becoming an Art Snob

To avoid sounding pretentious or snobby, you should be open to all the different forms of art. This doesn’t mean you have to like them, but rather that you respect the creator and recognize their work as art. There is no need to put someone down for creating something you may not enjoy, but they do. 

You should also share your knowledge with those who want to learn. Why keep all your wonderful artwork locked away where no one can see it? Why keep your in-depth knowledge trapped in your mind so that no one else can understand it?

The art world is much more interesting when you get to share your ideas and knowledge. Who knows, maybe those beginners will give you a new perspective you would never have considered.

Man showing his daughter a sculpture to teach how to appreciate art without becoming a snob.

Preventing Future Generations from Being Art Snobs

Let’s be honest. Art snobs often come from a long line of other art snobs. This is especially true in well-to-do families that can afford to buy expensive art pieces and attend art classes and training

Fixing your own snobby behaviors is not enough. You need to make sure you help your friends and families realize that being a high art snob goes against the true meaning of art appreciation. 

Artists themselves can raise arts snobs too by not appreciating art forms that they do not use. This is why it is important to expose your children to various art forms, find local artists, go on museum trips, and discuss great art and associated culture with open minds.

Most of all, though, teach your children and friends that fine art is not a secret elite club. It’s something to be enjoyed by the whole world, and you should do everything in your power to share the wonders of it. 

Mandy Chu

Mandy and Mike are digital nomads and avid travelers. Art brings us joy whether in museums, galleries, or our home. Join us as we learn about the art world as down-to-earth admirers, collectors, and investors.

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