A few days ago the owner of one of my less productive galleries told me she was hooking up with major art websites. She’s a lovely person whom I’ve known for years. She also told me she was considering reducing the size and perhaps location of her gallery, or continuing her business online from home. The reasons, I’m guessing, are high rent and mediocre sales.
I told her she would get varicose veins staring at her screen before she made a decent living with Amazon Art.
Hers is a high-end gallery offering both historical and contemporary art. She is a woman of high principles and a good eye. Yesterday, we fetched my work out of her gallery until the dust settles.
Jeff Bezos and his buddies have sunk a fair amount of dough into Amazon Art. They’ve partnered with several hundred galleries and currently have many thousands of artworks on display. Their search engines can find all the paintings that show swimming pools, if that’s what you’re looking for. I checked with a few of my collector friends and not one of them had ever bought a painting from Amazon Art, Artsy or Artnet. A college friend had bought a Led Zeppelin poster for $79.95 on a similar, now defunct, site.
Those who are buying from big sites seem to be beginners and wall-fillers on a limited budget. Amazon Art might be a spot for lower-priced and new artists, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Amazon model has been tried a few times. But the computer and marketing experts who put these sites together miss out on the basic sociology of placing art: Special people see something they think is special and are guided by a real live gallerista to confirm their special choice. The galleristas who do the guiding need to be special people themselves.
With the fresh empowerment of unknown artists (and lower commissions) one might think fine art is now selling online. For half a year we’ve allowed my twice-weekly to be picked up by Fine Art America on their weekly artist sales report. I’m trying to give a boost to their 40,000 artists, many of them new to the game. Unlike the Painter’s Keys letters, we can tell nobody’s listening because no one comments on my letters when they’re on the FAA site.
In spite of their early promise, I don’t think the big sites are working very well, at least not yet. Would someone, other than a site manager, please write and tell me I’m wrong?
Esoterica: There’s good evidence that local, secondary market, country-specific, auction-based and fun-type bidding sites work. And, as everyone knows, properly managed gallery sites are currently producing brilliant results for persistent owners. Some stand-alone artist’s sites are rockin’ too.
Galleries not doing enough
by John Smith, Durban North, South Africa
Galleries that are in a panic about artists selling via the Web are just not going that extra mile, or do not realise that gallerists have to be every bit as creative as the artists they represent. I have been a career artist for 40 years, and I am a part owner of a fairly upmarket gallery so feel I have a bit of an idea regarding both areas of making and selling art. The gallery has to work every bit as hard as the artists do. Too many gallerists seem to believe if you sit with your hands folded sales will come to you. As you know it does not work that way.
Success with Fine Art America
by Eileen Fong, North Vancouver, BC, Canada
Fine Art America is kind of fun for me. I have been member for many years. Every year, I have 6 or 8 sales of prints, very little money but rewarding. The last print was a request for a wedding gift from a local. I upload the images of the paintings she wanted to the site and the customer ordered the prints (on canvas). I am trouble free and receive a small financial reward. There were also occasional inquiries and comments. I am also happy to have had a couple of sales of originals recently, to the USA and Canada. Of course part of it is my prices are only in the hundreds.
No sales of originals yet
by Ion Vincent Danu, Sibiu, Romania
Fine Art America, you mentioned (and yes, I saw your essays on their weekly letter), RedBubble, Society6, Deviant Art, Saatchi Online and so many other that I simply registered, uploaded images and got nothing and forgot about them. To answer your question: No, I have never sold any original painting through one of these sites. I did get some emails with classical schemes from some African country and found, by Google search that some of my paintings were used illegally (a pudic nude on an erotic site…) But to sell an original painting through an online site, no, I didn’t and I suppose very few, if any, did. Not for a fair, decent price.
I’ve sold some reproductions, yes, for a value of $50-60 in 2-3 years. Not enough to make a living with it. I’ve heard some artists sell reproductions and make hundreds per month with it. One has just to go see what sells everyday on FAAM, for instance.
I would say no serious collector or very, very few, will even consider buying art, real art, for real money, on the online sites. I had some hopes but as for selling originals on line I’m totally disappointed and skeptical. It will take more than one proof to change my mind…
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FASO is amazing
by Karen Weihs, Asheville, NC, USA
I use FASO for my website, it is amazing. Your Keys and occasionally my blogs are syndicated with FASO’s newsletters. I sell through the optimization of their skill set. I empowered my website to the optimized level from their expert guidance. Their support are all artists themselves, a brilliant combo of tech and creativity. Not only can you communicate to live artist technicians by phone, chat about the weather, art tech and making art, but you can e mail them for immediate tech results. They also share information crucial to selling art. The first on line service I signed on with was Fine Art America which was of no benefit to me, and I see no use to continue. I also sell my books through Amazon. I have never received payment for one book, so I have ceased to supply anymore till payment is fulfilled. Since there is never a live person to talk to at Amazon service, and I am not holding my breath. Would I trust my original sales of art to their on line tracking and shipping? Never!
Success on the secondary market
by Ian Duncan MacDonald, Toronto, ON, Canada
In the last year I have sold around a hundred thousand dollars worth of paintings via the Internet. Not my own paintings but paintings by well known Canadian artists like Illingworth Kerr, Bruno Cote, Walter Drohan, etc. It can be done. I have not sold them through art websites like FAA but by making direct contact with art galleries who in turn who have put me in contact with collectors or by placing ads in sites like Craig’s List and Kijiji. I was amazed to find out that the chairmen of large oil companies and executives hunt for known artists in these free public websites. I have sold paintings for as much as $9,000 to people thousands of miles away who have bought the painting based on my digital photograph and who the artist is.
I read somewhere that less than 5% of the population have ever been in an art gallery. My own feelings about art galleries is that they are often run by snobs, arrogant pirates and con artists. The people they have working in the typical gallery often do not have a clue on how to sell. If they did they probably would be selling something that was going to pay them more than the little dribble the galleries pay them.
I believe if you can establish your credibility with buyers on the internet you can sell a lot of art by established artists. You do not need a physical gallery. True collectors just want to make a good deal and they don’t care if it is with an established art gallery or not.
I think art gallery owners, like travel agency owners, are going to become very scarce. Before they were the only way to reach potential buyers and collectors. That is not true anymore. I also think that the internet removes a lot of the B.S. involved in selling art and that there are now hundreds of thousands of artists whose work is now being seen. Their work is often just as good as any established artist. These amateurs, who are not looking to make a living from their art but do it because they like to do it, are not after the kind of money established artists expect. People who buy paintings that appeal to them, rather than by who painted it, will not be inclined to pay more than a few hundred dollars for a painting nor will they need to.
The art world is changing. Soon it is going to be electronic art versus static art. People will want the art on their walls to change daily, or hourly depending on the time of day, their mood or situation. This was never possible with paintings.
Too precious to sell anyway
by Gary Jorgen, Pullman, WA, USA
The whole concept of art and artists has become a cheap and common commodity product of maverick capitalism. I once encountered packets of “modern art” from China for sale in a Grocery Outlet. They were colorful and bizarre; fully prepared to mount on your wall for only $19.99 a set. I addressed this issue to many of my art colleagues, professors, and mentors. Where do artists go from here? Like the cable companies, news networks, websites, pizza joints, cell phones etc… the art world has become an economic arena where there are too many choices and too many distractions. At the last university I attended, graduate students were trying to combat this with works that engaged the viewer to spend more time with the individual works.
I have concluded that I am no longer interested in financial success as an artist. In fact, I have gone back to my origins and simply do works which I find wonderful instead of what I think may sell or please someone else. My last exhibit, granted–at a university, was successful, well-received and pleasing to me. And, surprising to some, nothing was for sale. I loved them too much to sell them, I told the patrons.
by Peter Prest, Calgary, AB, Canada
I appreciate your stand in taking your paintings out while the dust settles around Amazon Art. I think the true market for e-galleries is prints not original art, and I think the next few years will prove you right. There needs to be a public setting for art, even if it’s only for the brief period of initial exhibition. Without that public venue, there is no chance for our art to find its true place, and to create that larger response which is public reaction to our work. (I realize that no response is a response, but catalogue shopping changes the artist/patron relationship irrevocably, and reduces the importance of the personal connection in the artistic process to almost nil.) Selecting art from a website is the equivalent of collecting baseball cards. As artists, we should aim higher.
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What gallerists do
by Melanie Desjardines, Prince George, BC, Canada
I used to sell a lot of my own artwork when I was my own proponent, and now that I have an art gallery,I advocate for as many as 30 artists whom I tout as being some of the best of the best in the region. I can say for starters that it ain’t easy! However, I persevere because I am passionate that people need art in their lives. I’m not talking about scouring internet sites that sell affordable art or prints for something to fill wall space, but actually going into galleries and truly engaging with the art that has been created by the hand of the artists themselves. I also create events at my gallery that give people opportunites to meet the artists themselves, hear about their stories, and see their bodies of work face to face where you can see the brushstokes, feel the color, and sense the emotion. I can usually tell when a particular piece has caught someone’s eye, and it is true that people can have a real physical response to an artwork that speaks to them. As a gallerista, this is where we can help them buy that special piece that can give them a true life enriching experience. So often a price point is a deterrent for people, or the fear that they don’t trust their own judgment, but again we are there to help them weigh their buying decisions, quite often by simply giving them more information on either the piece or the artist. The personal relationships that I build with each person that enters my gallery is crucial to the value of an eventual transaction. The internet will always lack that personal interactive experience for the buyer.
I guess I’m still just old school. I still like to deal with tellers at the bank, cashiers at the store, and real people on the phone.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Changing times?…
Road to Town
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Sam Seamans of Newton, NJ, USA who wrote, “Art Galleries are like good book stores. The excitement, smells and layout draw me in and transcends online art or e-book reading. What Amazon doesn’t understand is that buying art is not like buying a toaster — buying art is a visual, emotional and sometimes a spiritual experience.”
And also Peter Stevenson of Lehigh Valley, PA, USA, who wrote, “I am confused over your omission of outrage over the extinction of the visceral experience while viewing and buying art. Do you not take umbrage? I’m quite frankly nauseated to envision the future of art appreciation. Maybe we should all be designing Zeppelin covers instead?”