Yesterday one of my dealers sold a painting to a collector in Indonesia. The transaction amounted to over ten thousand dollars, but that’s not the interesting part. The sale was made entirely on the Internet. There was no coming into a gallery — the dealer doesn’t have a gallery. There was not even a telephone conversation. The painting was shown on his site, the correspondence was by email, the payment by electronic commerce. The dealer didn’t even have possession of the painting. His job was to fetch the painting from my studio, box and ship it.
This sort of thing is starting to happen. It’s got to the point where I’m surprised when I hear that some would-be professionals don’t have an Internet presence. Apart from the potential of sales, the use of the Internet is the communication method of choice for artists. As I may have mentioned before, if you get five of the right kind of folks coming to your site in a year — the site will have done its job.
Even entry-level artists ought to give the Internet some thought. Services such as “State of the Arts,” out of San Francisco, California, and others, offer an easily managed (from your computer) place where your work can be seen and evaluated by anyone anywhere at any time. It’s a 24/7 gallery with open doors to anyone with a computer. There are lots of these types of services — the one I mentioned is typical and inexpensive — a small start-up fee and $20 per month. It’s not necessarily going to find you a new collector from Indonesia but it will be there, ready and waiting the next time somebody asks, “Where can I see your work?” A site like this can find friends-for-life, empower your current agents, or simply offer a current and permanent non-commercial display of your progress.
In the time that it takes you to read this letter there will be over four hundred people turning on a computer for the first time. We are the beneficiaries of a remarkable revolution. Suddenly we are in a time when that painting that is sitting on your easel can be potentially in everyone’s home within minutes. No artist in previous history has had this privilege. No artist should pass up this opportunity.
PS: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” (William Shakespeare)
Esoterica: Suggestion: If you choose to hang your work out for the world, don’t put “copyright” or words like “sample” when you put it on a site. Don’t make them impossible to copy. Make it easy for someone to see, load, print or send to their sweetheart in Idaho. You are in the business of communicating your feelings. Be honoured when people want to pass them around.
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above letter. Thanks for writing.
Extraordinary communication tool
With regard to putting art up on the net we’re not talking ball bearings or pen refills here. Art is a personal and visceral experience. Was your Indonesian collector “site unseen”? Was he/she already familiar with your work? You don’t want to group art buying online with other less soulful products. I like to clarify that the Internet is indeed a revolution for the marketing and selling of original art — but that it happens because of savvy, qualified collectors who appreciate the global market and the convenience and information provided by this new medium. Imagine walking into an art gallery 100 years ago and handing the dealer a telephone and saying, “See this — this is how you are going to do business from now on.” The Internet is the same thing. It’s just a super extraordinary communication tool. When you put it so simply, people aren’t afraid of it.
(RG note) One of my policies is not to pry into a dealer’s methodologies. As far as I know the Indonesian collector bought the piece because he/she liked it. As far as I know he/she didn’t know anything about me.
Needs more exposure
Angus McEwan, Dundee, Scotland
I have had a presence on the Internet for over 3 years and never a sale. I know there are more than likely a multitude of reasons why this may have happened, I hope, although you never know, it’s not the quality of work on offer. Other galleries dealing with my work have been successful in selling this way but so far I haven’t. I recently had an article published in the International Artist magazine. The article, although good, does furnish the viewer with information on my work that is now 2 years old — it took that long for them to publish the article! Which leads me on to another situation I can’t seem to get around. I work and reside in Scotland (near Dundee) and sell primarily in Scotland, although I also have a gallery selling my work in London, England. I would like to sell in North America but can’t get a foot in the door. My parents live in L.A. and have done for 20 years. I have tried unsuccessfully turning up to galleries I like the look of and try to persuade them to look at some slides, but they normally refuse suggesting I bring in ‘real’ work. Perhaps someone may be interested in speaking to me about this issue.
Testing your website first
Oliver, Houston, Texas, USA
Recently I sold a couple of prints through a London based web gallery. Drop shipped the prints to the collector/ decorator in New York and the weak electronic link (I stopped taking Visa a bit ago) took a check in British pounds — (the check was cheaper than electronic funds transfer — I checked). I’m Texas based. I get three to five contacts a week from web galleries, most like vanity bricks and mortar galleries, want you to pay for the listing. I’m very careful about listing with those — in fact I have no such listings — but then I maintain an extensive web site — (personal gallery) of my own. Before you go wild with the web, you ought to do this: Go to someone’s office and pull up a web site on several machines. Last time I did that only about 10-20% of the work looked close to right. Makes you think that most of the sales will be of artists with an established reputation or where the customer has already seen the piece and web is just a reminder, well not really a surprise that most of the sales go to established folks — but my thought is that reputation is more than normally important on the Web.
World changing for the better
Barbara Elizabeth Mercer, Canada
I have had my site since June 11th/2002 and even though it is not entirely perfect, it has made a difference in others’ attitude toward my work, confirming their interest and in one or two cases prompted the purchase of a painting, which is not on my site. I have followed your advice and now have several links, including “Artists in Canada” a gallery in New York, plus several others. As yet I have not learned how to send my work to these sites. I need help with this. My web designer’s computer has crashed and he is trying to have it repaired. This is the frustrating stage I am at now. However, many more have seen my work and the world is changing for the better.
Website is our shingle
Pamela Simpson, New England
My husband and I have our own website that sees a fair amount of traffic, but we also have a Web presence on one of those $20 a month sites where people can view our work and also get our web address and look up our home site. We had one person this year visit our $20 a month site, look at the work on our home site and call us up to invite us to be in his new gallery. We had many phone conversations and even stayed at his cottage to paint the landscape nearby before we actually met him. When we did meet he loved our work and bought all we had brought him. We have been advised by older more established artists to move to a busy place and hang out our artist shingle and get established. I think our website is our shingle and the Internet is a busy place and that this is the best place for us to get established. Our oldest daughter is heading to college next week, we have five other children to bring to that point before I want to even think about moving from our quiet place in the country. I believe, because of the Internet, we can live where it suits our family best and still do business everyday where it is busy.
Internet the new resource of choice
Bruce Meisterman, Germantown, TN, USA
While my website is under construction, I have found that the traditional ways of advertising and publicizing my work do not work any longer. Whether it’s for a show or to drum up business for my commercial work, print is not the answer. I am listed on several more generic and free sites and they have driven business to me. And these are sites without illustrations! Now, I am not advocating just plain, type listings. But, if that type of site listing is successful, one that does show your work will be that much more effective. As the demographics of our audiences continue to widen and become younger, we will only be able to reach these prospective clients through the mediums they understand. Print will not do it. This is a generation that has been raised on cable TV, computers and the Internet. The net is the first place they go to look for something. More and more, I get inquiries. People want to look at the work at their own convenience, in their own home or office and we need to accommodate them. The cost of a website is well offset by its benefits. Registering your name/domain is very inexpensive and there are an unbelievable amount of web-hosting companies around for ridiculously low monthly rates. Am I a believer? Oh yeah, and a more enthusiastic one every day!
Circle of life
I agree to let people copy your work and let them enjoy them. That is one reason I paint to see the joy others experience when they see them. I was at an art show recently and my sister was telling me I gave too much information about how I paint. I told her I was here to teach the world. I have no secrets. I want to give all that I have and all that I know so the world I encounter can go onward and upward. I believe we are all on this planet to share and teach others around us with our experiences and knowledge… it is how we evolve. No one benefits from kept secrets. Besides the more I give and teach the more I receive… it is the circle of life… is it not?
Stealing images from artists
Julie Rodriguez Jones, San Pablo, CA, USA
OK, OK, I took off the “no right clicking” and “copyrighted” notice when you try to copy an image. Your letter was reminiscent of when you know the minister of the church wrote the sermon for you. It is just that I had such a bad experience with someone claiming an image was theirs. Can you imagine someone saying they were going to publish a book with one of your paintings and you potentially getting $0? And then their response being “so sue me” when you remind them that they cannot legally do that? We’ll see how it goes. I even made new links for people to use.
Artists too uptight
I was especially happy to see you comment on sharing one’s art. We artists tend to get too uptight about sharing anything, painting places, techniques, clients, successes and failures. I have found that the old saying “what goes around, comes around” is true. Those artists who keep entirely to themselves become suspicious and cynical — neither of which is good for creativity. I have a friend that I paint with and we share everything and it comes back ten-fold.
Internet the future
Cathleen Perkins, Bozeman, Montana, USA
The Internet is the future. We have seen it impacting so many other businesses. I had seen quite a lot of an artist’s work that I admired on the Wet Canvas site and decided to have her paint my portrait. I didn’t want to paint my own but wanted someone else to paint me from another point of view. So I contacted her via email, got her prices and we really clicked. I sent her digital photos and she began the portrait online as a WIP and I got to watch and add comments along the way, as did other artists. When it was finished and dry, I gave final approval and paid for it and she shipped it, all done without a phone call!! It was a three-week process and I couldn’t be more thrilled by this portrait, which was even better in person than the photos I’d seen over the Internet!
Take the risk
Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Many artists cling to the ways of the past thereby rejecting new concepts and new challenges. I have seen several who aren’t interested in the Internet and marketing, are still painting with the same boring colour schemes, still using tacky framing styles that are twenty years old, going through their chosen careers with no focus or direction and wondering why they are having such a difficult time. What about taking a chance, trying something innovative and having an expectancy that things will change? The Internet is an amazing opportunity — for selling as well as for purchasing. I can honestly say that I am not an angry artist. I have no reason to be. Rejections have taught me lessons, I am committed 100%, I plan ahead, I keep up to date with framing and colour trends and I market my work on the Internet, referring new clients to the galleries. The gallery owners that represent me know I can be trusted to pay them their commission and I fulfill my inventory commitments to them. The gallery sites work the best for me — I paint and they collect the money and ship the artwork. There are risks, but far less than the risks of doing nothing and whining about it afterwards.
Early home technology
In my opinion any portal that offers the kind of service you mention must be cheaper than simply having your own site. Artists are learning the skills needed every day—how to build, attract, maintain, empower. Sure, there’s a bit of complication. It’s just one of the skills we’re all going to have to learn. I’m sure the first washing machines baffled some users.
Infinite marketing potential
Your letter was right on, the Internet is the future of art marketing and a godsend for artists, but I would strongly recommend for all artists to manage their own sites. I finally took a course in how to make a website last year, now I have full control. I can change the site on a daily basis and make it as big as I want. It is really easy, simple, and a lot of fun to do. I haven’t sold anything yet but I have listed with all the art directories and I have gotten 2800 hits since I put the site up last November. There is no other way I could have exposed my art to that many people . The potential is infinite. If anyone has any questions or needs help with any aspect of web design or promotion, I would be glad to help.
Pleased with soarts
I am very pleased with soarts services. I have never had a sales connection from people looking at the website, however it comes very handy for potential customers that have seen my work in person, at art shows or galleries.
(RG note) On previous occasions we have taken a look at other art portals on the Internet. An examination of the artnet service can be found at http://painterskeys.com/artnet/
“Internet Art Review” http://painterskeys.com/internetreview/
“On-line Galleries” http://painterskeys.com/online/
“Survey results — selling art on the web.” http://painterskeys.com/results/
Positive Internet results
Alice Smith, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA
Most frequently when sales and the Internet are mentioned on your site the results are negative. Since you personally have now experienced some positive results could you do a feature asking people that have had success with web sales to give those of us not yet involved some insight concerning what has worked for them. I do believe we have heard enough concerning what doesn’t work to last us quite some time to come. Any help concerning positive results would be most welcome and refreshing.
(RG note) I have always been a big supporter of the Internet. Some of my dealers claim that 30 to 50% of current business is net-derived or at least empowered by it. Most of my galleries now use a service called the Theo Digital Gallery System. This service makes it easy for them to post shows and send out preferential electronic photo-packs. The system is adaptable for individual artists as well. Smart galleries these days take an active interest in their Internet sites and understand the potential. Some are doing so well with it they consider it their secret weapon. Information on the Theo Digital Gallery System is at http://www.theodigitalgallery.com
I included that story about the Indonesian sale because it was perhaps the first relatively large offshore painting sale of mine where no one spoke directly to anyone. Needless to say there are many artists who have written to say that the Internet doesn’t work for them — and this time was no exception. For those who seek commercial success on the Internet, my general advice at the present time is: “If your work is not selling in galleries it will probably not sell on the Internet.”
Instant creative inspiration
Gary Myers, Carrollton, TX, USA
Not only is the Internet a tremendous tool for exposing your own works, but an essential source of information and inspiration for artists. We can find and view endless portfolios online, (not all of them pretty), but there for free! Most of our kind, being a bit ego driven, love to receive emails from other artists and especially art buyers! I began designing and constructing my own site about 3 years ago with the help of some fairly user-friendly software, the how-to manual and lots of trial and error. It has been well worth my investment in time and money. Join the revolution! It will enhance your creative pocketbook.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.