Art trade made simple

Art for art: an inclusive approach | Photos courtesy of Lena Tan

Resisting the attachment of monetary value to art, Lena Tan creates cards that can only be traded for other art cards while opening a non-judgmental space for expression.

Tan’s exhibition this October, Micromeditations: Artist Trading Cards, invites people to come and trade cards of art. At the talk, she will explain what an Artist Trading Card (ATC) is, why people make ATCs, the philosophy behind these cards and what her art exhibition is about.

ATCs are the size of a sports trading card: the card is two and a half by three and a half inches.“When you make a card, you would basically make a design or some collage. […] And then you sign the back of it and that’s what an ATC is,” Tan explains.

The concept of ATCs

ATCs are created for the purpose of trading art with others. For Tan, ATCs represent a movement that compels people to question art and who an artist is.

Tan expands the philosophy more extensively. “The ATC philosophy says anybody can just express themselves through art [and] make use of any techniques they want, any sort of materials and they don’t recognize any rules that are set by somebody, somewhere,” she says. “And so anybody can think of themselves as artists and anyone can just make art.”

Tan also notes that the trading cards are not for sale but free for everyone to trade because, according to the philosophy of ATC, art should not be treated as a commodity nor should it have to conform to the hierarchy and standards of the art establishment. ATCs create an open a space for expression: making them does not require special skills or materials, they are not critiqued or judged. In other words, anyone can make these trading cards, says Tan.

The artist also feels art’s value should not be solely based on a price tag.

“The validity of an artwork is not defined by the price in the marketplace. Art has an intrinsic value in that somebody [made the] art – that’s why [ATCs are] traded and not sold,” says Tan.

Opening art to all

Art for art: an inclusive approach | Photos courtesy of Lena Tan

Tan believes that everyone’s art is equal. “Because [ATCs] are traded one for one, we don’t recognize one person’s art as more valuable than another person’s art. So you give one card, you get one card back, no matter who you are,” she says.

For Tan, ATCs provide an avenue for a spontaneous expression of her world view, which includes the social, political and environmental, and also for enjoying the work of other creatives. She hopes to share this the inclusive world of ATCs with those who come to her talk.

“I would like to encourage anyone to come. If there’s children, it would be great. I think children make really nice cards”, says Tan. Art materials will be provided during the event.

Tan hopes that everyone will make their own cards during the event and have a card to trade.

Micromeditations: Artist Trading Cards will be featured at the Britannia Art Gallery (Vancouver Library, Britannia Branch) throughout October. Tan will also be delivering a talk at the same location on Oct. 25, 7pm.

For specific exhibition dates and times, visit

Lena’s website: