On the 28th of March of this year I wrote a letter asking about the effectiveness of selling art directly on the web. If you didn’t see the results of this survey please go to http://painterskeys.com/art-web. Since that time many of the online galleries have experienced massive cash combustion, their stocks have plummeted and even though millions of dollars, pounds and francs have been tossed — results have been disappointing and some are now dead-in-the-water or about to be closed down.
Let’s look specifically at online galleries; what works with them, what makes them tick, what mistakes they’re making, what results you’ve had. We need to sort them out and see which may hold the promise of being effective. We also need to know which are a waste of time and money. I’m asking for your input and experience. We’ll publish anecdote, opinion, observation, and the best-informed material we receive. The last time we did this the results printed out to 20 pages — I guarantee we’ll make it neater this time.
Future letters will look into artist-owned sites, online auctions, clicks-and-mortar systems, and other venues.
If you have experience with nextmonet, artgallerylive, artnet, artvault, eartgroup, wwar, artresources, or any of the estimated 300 others — your input would be appreciated. It’s okay to request anonymity, too. Further, if you have artist friends who employ these sorts of systems, please forward this letter to them and ask for their input.
PS: “Artists of the world arise — it’s time to dump your dealers.” (Mark Kostabi)
Summary of responses
(RG note) Over the last three days, writers characterized the large online galleries all the way from giant Ponzi schemes to the wave of the future. Still, the report of unspectacular performance was the rule. No one from the management of any of the online systems wrote to report or defend. If someone sends statistics we will certainly publish them. I also have to say that artists generally did not trash the systems. It may be something to do with the high percentage of rugged individualists who participate in my letters — but most were more interested in telling of their experiences with their own online presence and self-run sites. I’m going to save these methods and systems, many of which are highly successful, for a letter and inquiry in a couple of weeks.
It’s possible to conclude, however, that online virtual galleries who represent a pile of artists is a flawed idea which does not, at the present time, lend itself to the selling of art — particularly expensive art. Several writers pointed out that in the case of books, for example, people pretty well know what they are getting, have already read reviews, etc, and this model rather lends itself to the internet. Another popular remark was—”be patient, these things might eventually surprise us.” In their favor a couple of writers pointed out that there will always be a few collectors who are motivated by the proximity of notoriety, personality and novelty, and that the internet is an excellent medium for connecting to these people. Most “known” artists rationalized signing-on as a nothing-to-lose appendage to their current marketing program and gallery stable, but did not want to rock the boat. Another observation was that if someone’s art doesn’t sell off line, it will be unlikely that it will sell online. It was constantly reported that the web is an excellent marketing tool, if not a stellar direct sales medium.
The following is a selection of some of the more eloquent letters—some with useful ideas or an unusual slant. Thank you for writing.
You will not have many responses from those artists who have signed on with the big online galleries. This will be out of embarrassment for having made that decision. These sites are mainly run by shiny-suit people who do not know anything about selling art, but have decided to try to cash in on what we do. By far the best way to market and expose yourself is to have your own site — either to sell directly or to empower your current dealers.
I have dealt with both brick and mortar and online galleries. As far as I can see, the online galleries do about as much business as through a web site: next to nothing. I sure would love to hear about some that work. I have tried Visions Art Gallery, Art Attack, My Art Connection, Art Mine, Just Originals, Digital Consciousness (not a gallery but a listing with one featured work and links to one’s site) Scribble (Not a gallery but a listing through which I receive lots of click-throughs to my site, wonderful guest book comments but no sales) I hate to waste my time going to others. Some online galleries just can’t get the images on the web to look decent or they are too small if the images are good. Some have so many artists that if your name is towards the middle or the end of the alphabet, you are doomed. I think the web is like going to the museum for many people-they just like looking and they make nice comments. Even after having been chosen as artist of the month on a couple of different sites (the result of those popularity polls on the web), having been selected to be featured in an e-zine, showing on the web, the award results of brick and mortar juried shows, and having work featured on a gallery’s “home page,” I find that web-gallery sales are poor indeed.
I look at it as potential to reach anyone in the world. The reality is that I am a drop in the ocean of sites and will never be seen by anyone ever, but the potential is there and it’s all I have.
Laurie Boese, President, Niagara Artists’ Company
I sit on a Selections Committee at the NAC, an artist-run-centre, or parallel gallery, as I believe they are known in the states. The binders are impressive, with the glossy pictures, written proposals, and professional slides. We have yet to receive any information on an artist’s website, although to be fair, we haven’t asked or suggested that proposals be sent to us this way. I’d be willing to check it out, but a number on the committee are not comfortable with computers at all. The next artist to show in our Main Space has already bought the domain name for the site about this work. We didn’t ask her to do this, nor was it in the proposal that I remember. If a website was in the proposal, I’ve forgotten about it, as I was more impressed with the work.
Changed the trend
When I moved from Los Angeles to a small city in the Mountain West I left my wonderful dealer behind with a promise to send him a couple of things every two months. I didn’t have time to do that because I decided I needed to take advantage of the free publicity available on the web. I have not made any sales, but I have generated many local opportunities to do demonstrations and I am now giving a few classes at our art center. I use the site to provide additional links for my students and I’m using the classes to help me refine my ideas for a book. The site is a good way to introduce myself or remind contacts I meet at gatherings and conventions who I am and what I do in both writing and art. I also have creativity articles on Themestream, which pays per hit, and I index them on the site. I plan to set up a page of instructional books on Amazon, which pays per purchase. My site is free to me and easy to maintain. I update the links as I surf through Blink and they automatically change on my site. I’m definitely going to turn more and more to instruction online and spend more time doing new art. I’ve scouted some new galleries — oh — a new one actually contacted me from seeing my site and wants me to send work this spring. Hmm.
I do not agree with those who say everyone online is “bad”. In my personal opinion there was plenty of really bad art in galleries in Santa Monica and more in Monterey, Santa Fe and Scottsdale. Abstract Expressionism has become Derivitivism and the New Realism of dew on peaches is cloying. Installations and performance art are just the sixties replaying themselves like diminishing storm waves on the shore. What’s “bad”? What’s “good”? Depends who you ask. For the fellow who thinks “bad” art makes him look better — I recommend a line from the poem by Bobby Burns called The Louse — “…to see ourselves as others see us…”
Here’s the situation. I currently sell in a dozen galleries and make over $200.000 per year from my art. I signed up with wwar about six months ago and they have so far sold two of my works—for a net to me of less than $2000.00. These two sales happened, I think, because of a backlash against one of my galleries which happens to be run by a particularly depressed and unpleasant woman.
The voyeur factor
There are tens of thousands of artists out there cruising the net. I believe these wandering loners are responsible for a high percentage of the hits to the sites you mention. Some of the hits reported by online galleries are extraordinary. In light of the miniscule percentage that actually buy my art online I can only conclude that these are artists looking at my stuff.
I had a web site on IMALL for 2 years and got lots of hits but not one sale from it. The only people who made money were the people at IMALL This cost me $2000 and around $800 for the set up fee etc. Not a good experience for me or my pocket book!
Guidelines that work
oliver, Texas, USA
I have sold no work through the online galleries. For a while I used to pull up my web site on every machine I could get my hands on – living in Silicon Valley at the time this was easy. It was amazing how different my work looked on various machines. Very few had good color and most lost resolution quite badly – only 10-20 percent gave results reflective of my work – some were very, very bad. My guess is that until these issues are solved that Art over the Internet is going to be limited. Once it is solved – then you have the reputation of the vendor to establish/consider. I believe it will be the well known artists whose work is established and prices are available – like through artnet. The other category will be very inexpensive things like under $50 or $100. —- Sculpture that doesn’t rely on color maybe – but a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional work has problems too. I have sold a few things from my web site. More after I took prices off it. I have looked into buying through the web – I expect as a buyer to see price, size, a body of work to look at and something about the artist. There must also be the right to return.
NextMonet, based in California, has the feature of a discriminating jury of “art historians, curators, artists and critics,” who have currently chosen about 1500 artists for their list. This struck me as adding authority to the choosing of art. They partner with galleries. I chose them because they present works of art well and run a clean, simple and honest site and seem like sincere people. So far nothing.
Art.Net is an interesting small site with about 100 artists and a non-commercial spin. Artists support the site by paying an annual membership of $60.00. Artists are also asked to donate one piece per year to be auctioned off on the site to help support it. Sales and connections after eight months negligible.
All of the business that I’ve gotten on the web has been through my site at art.net. My site at art.net has resulted in a gallery relationship, as well as many inquiries for slides. I found it very expensive to deal with individuals, because I’d have to send out slides and most of the time they would not get returned. I decided to just post the galleries on my site so anyone interested in my work can contact a gallery near them.
Eartgroup accepts art for sale and resale from galleries and private dealers only and has about 2400 names on file at any one time. Some of these of course are dead artists. One of my dealers puts my work here. There has been no sales so far, but some reported interest and many hits on my work, but we have not given it much time. Theoretically collectors go to this site because many of the artists are already well known and sold in galleries.
Internet art resources is a tasteful and intelligently constructed sales site with constantly changing content. The written content is a bit intellectual; which does not always go with selling art. They have a few favorite artists that they seem to push and links to about 2000 others. Mine is one of the links and I have had a few referrals.
J. St. Croix
I receive numerous requests for help with foundry techniques as well as inquiries of suppliers of sculpting materials. I have received several commissions as a result of my site. Each time the commissions were for custom work. It would not be enough to pay the rent but I am encouraged by these sales. The fact that a client is willing to pay several thousand dollars for a sculpture they have not seen in person off the internet by an unknown sculptor leads me to believe this may eventually become more commonplace.
One thing the web doesn’t provide well is the relationship that a gallery owner has with a client — the “recommendation” factor. Anyone can put their work on the web, but no one knows the reputation of the individual artist. Overall, I have still enjoyed my web experiences, but possibly more for the community of artists I have met than for actual sales. (Kristin Barnhardt Conrad)
My work sells well because some of it is “event triggered.” In other words, because I do the art for events like the LA , San Francisco and Lake Tahoe marathon. I get a lot of “hits”… some of which turn into sales of other art. I also have found that being associated with multiple online galleries is helpful. I look for new venues daily…..some turn out to be good places to show — others don’t. So — multiple associations and event-triggered art have been good for me. I sell art everyday online. (Phil Dynan)
Same old stuff
Sites like ArtTRUST.net and idealive seem to be stuck with the same old stuff — themselves and a few of their artist friends, and while they try from time to time to do something new they must fail to bring much business. The number of these sorts of sites does, however, indicate that they must be getting some of the sales of the brick-and-mortar galleries. And this is a problem.
Chris Dennis, UK
I’ve had a website for nearly three years. This is a professionally managed site getting plenty of hits and high on the search engines. During that time I have been linked to many of the online galleries you mention, I have removed most links now. So far I may have had one commission through this site, but certainly no sales from other on line galleries. I get the impression that it may be useful to have website that you can give people through advertising as a reference to your work, therefore if this is true one has the double expense of advertising and maintaining a site! I don’t know the answer and would love some advice, but to be honest the only effect it is having on me is to make me feel that the work isn’t good enough, negative thoughts are bad for any artist. Theoretically the internet should work.
Jule Rotenberg, Los Angeles, CA, USA
I’ve been skeptical about the online galleries simply because of lack of traffic to my own website. I know that I could be linked up to other sites and generate more traffic, but an informal survey among friends suggested that art is a major purchase and that people want to see it in person before purchasing. That actually would be my inclination if I were purchasing art myself. I personally believe that there’s an experience to purchasing a work of art and that includes more than what cyberspace can provide.
Brita Seifert, Berlin
I have not the best experiences. Since my site is in the web I had about 13,000 visitors and I sold 2 (!) paintings. It’s a bad statistic. I’m a member of different online-galleries too, but also there – nothing. Now you could say, maybe my paintings are not good enough. But the reactions from the visitors you can see in my guestbook, they like my works very much. The most of them are regular customers in the meantime. One reason could be that I’m living in Germany. It is still something exotic here, in this question we are a developing country. Also it’s not usual to buy something about the web. Maybe a book or a CD for some dollars – but more expensive articles- no, never. Finally I can speak about one positive effect: About the web I found galleries, where I can make shows in the next year. I hate it to go from gallery to gallery and to ask for exhibitions, now the galleries are coming to me and they are asking if I would like to have a show.
Changes since last inquiry
Duane Henderson, New York
In your inquiry last March you asked a more general question: “How does art sell on the net.” This one is more specific—How are the pure online galleries doing? One thing that has changed since the last inquiry is that many of the online galleries have seen the light and have begun partnering with existent bricks and mortar galleries.
Can’t be serious
The only way people are going to buy stuff on these sites is because they have seen and know the artist’s work already. You can’t be serious if you think people are going to plop down big bucks for unknowns. Unless they are really dumb.
Self-run site surprises
I have sold l5 paintings over the net the last three years which was surprising to me. I have my own site and have not used any of the sites you mentioned in your email. I also have a notecard section on my website and have been very successful with that.
More to come
Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, Florida, USA
I don’t use any online galleries. I own my own site, and have links there to other agents, galleries and nonprofit artists groups who also maintain a web presence. I’ve had a positive experience on the net and will be happy to share my experience with you when you ask for letters about artist-owned sites.
You may be interested to know that artists from 75 countries have visited these sites since December 1, 2000. That includes RW Brinson of somewhere in Hotmailand who wrote, “High quality work automatically finds collectors.” And Mark Vinsel of California and other places who says, “People listen more closely when you whisper.”
Take a look at the Resource of Art Quotations. Before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, there will be an additional 45 pages of quotes posted to this collection. It’s the world’s largest. It’s also the world’s best — quotes of artists, collected by artists — and it’s free. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the associate editors who are participating in this project. Our wish is that artists worldwide will enter the new millennium better informed and more inspired than ever.