Since the advent of the Internet and the brilliant reach of email, artists have been experimenting with creative ways to profit from the medium. They’re ringing this studio inbox as I write. Typical of low-key, do-it-yourself broadcasting are the sporadic emails of James Donohue. Today there’s a simple note to his friend-based list announcing the completion of a painting. “Hi everyone,” he says, “Here is my latest abstract. It’s called City Inferno 4 ft x 4 ft.” A click on the attachment and it’s there. No prices, just goodwill and sharing.
Also today Sara-J of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, who does flowers and figures, wrote to announce “an outrageous proposition: Make me an offer on any unsold work on my website before January 9 and I’ll write back to tell you if it’s acceptable.”
And then there’s Mark Kostabi of New York, Estonia, and other places, who confidently announces that brick-and-mortar galleries are dead ducks. He claims to sell most of his on eBay — at hefty prices. Mark’s a self-anointing one-man-band who gets assistants to do his stuff so he can spend his time traveling, getting ideas, and promoting.
And then there are the snappy cyber-galleries like Projekt30. Out of Baltimore, MD, this is an “online gallery run by artists, designed to get recognition for emerging artists who need a break. We want to get you shows,” they say, “not just online shows with us, but shows with actual galleries.” Projekt30 features about 30 selected artists every two months. They hit the Internet with an extensive mailing. For artists, there’s a fee but no commission. There’s also a “public jury process” where numerical feedback does the sorting. Awards, too. Interesting.
As almost everyone knows, I’m a believer in brick-and-mortar galleries. But as the Internet evolves it will be fun to see if connoisseurs will start putting a little more faith into clicks. Not so long ago, during the dot-com boom, millions were spent on on-line efforts to distribute fine art. Most of these sites have now quacked. Maybe it’s time for a self-starter cyberstar to arise. She may just have to fill a niche. Her specificity will be googlable, she may live in Humptulips, and her territory will be this planet.
PS: “We got about 1700 visitors the day of the mail out. During the exhibition we counted over 350 messages passing through our internal mailing system to artists on display.” (Projekt30 website) “Only connect.” (E.M. Forster)
Esoterica: When you think about it, the Internet offers an opportunity to be relatively commerce free. It offers the possibility of remaining relatively untainted and true to your vision. This may be its most promising potential benefit. While many artists are stimulated by the hype, excitement and influence of the gallery scene, others are not. Big centres like New York or London can be particularly daunting. There’s little artificiality in simply loving your processes and hanging your things on-line. How’s about a Humptulips studio with a nice view, a nice UPS guy, and a garden-computer in the grape arbour?
Internet made it happen
by Ron Gang, Kibutz Urim, Israel
Without the Internet I don’t know how I could have come this far. For an unknown to start dealing with the art commerce world is a very difficult and scary thing, especially if you live “in the sticks” as I do. My forays into cities, knocking on gallery doors were stress-ridden, just like a shy boy with little self-confidence experiences trying to approach young ladies. When I did “score” with a gallery, it was generally a problematic place, as the good galleries had enough artists of their own and weren’t interested in artists without an established reputation. Since slowly building up my website, starting in late 1996, I have reached people who let me know that my work has touched them. I make sales that have allowed me to survive materially as an artist, and have brick-and-mortar galleries take notice leading to business relationships. Long live the Internet!
Can’t keep up
by Stella Violano, Newbury Park, CA, USA
As an attempt to help animal shelter pets I began selling charity paintings in my eBay store — studies of homeless pets in animal shelters and half the proceeds back to the shelter. My studies became so popular that I have been able to raise thousands of dollars for animal rescues — and I have now acquired many wonderful clients who signed up for my email preview newsletter which shows first glimpses of paintings as they are finished.
Here’s the interesting part. I am a true believer in brick-and-mortar galleries but in November for the first time, even my large work has been selling before the paint is dry so that I have nothing for the gallery! I do like to have work in my gallery so I attempted to finish more paintings for January with the same result. And now I have pushed the date back again to February. It will be interesting to see where this all leads us as artists.
Nothing like it
by Patricia J. Mosca, Rochester, NY, USA
There is nothing like a brick and mortar opening! I love the thrill of the opening! The mingle, the tingle, the wine and cheese, the smell, the size, the visual! Talking with other artists and potential buyers, contacts, reacts. Buying, selling, bartering! There is nothing like a brick and mortar opening!
Art.net and Artnet
by Joanne DeShong, Marble Falls, TX, USA
I recently ran across a site called Art.net that really looks good, no fees, and looks to be artists helping artists. After a few emails with Lile Elam, the originator, I’ve been quite impressed with what they’re doing.
(Andrew Niculescu note) The most important element in this sort of service is the traffic. This is generally a function of the quality and accessibility of content. Art.net has been around for a while and is still growing. It is not to be confused with Artnet.com which is huge — with many thousands of artists and galleries represented. Read more on the subject in the letter Artnet.
by Louise Corke, Southport, Australia
Have you heard of VendorPro? They keep sending me emails (3 to date over the last 12 months) suggesting that I let them assist me in marketing my work. As I am in Australia and most unfamiliar with the North American market I don’t know whether their methods are workable or even practical for a pastel artist or any artist for that matter. Could you comment on this?
(Andrew Niculescu note) VendorPro is a currently active attempt to attract artists with an offer to connect them to retail outlets. The letter that artists are receiving from VendorPro goes like this:
“I’ve spent a lot of time at your website and I think your paintings are perfect for our stores. I work hand in hand with the largest stores in the country, plus thousands of small to medium sized specialty businesses stretched across the U.S. If you want the opportunity to sell your artwork through major retailers plus the other 17825 art galleries, 51005 gift stores, 6088 craft stores, 2990 craft galleries, and over 24000 mail-order catalogs… check us out at http://www.vendorpro.com”
To date we’ve not had a direct report of anybody doing well with them. We encourage artists to send in their experiences with VendorPro or any other similar service. We will compile these real, unbiased testimonials and publish them for reference.
by Terry Davis, New London, CT, USA
Art sites I’m listed on have not provided any clients, which makes me leery of joining other sites, no matter what they say. I often wonder who out there has the time or patience to wade through all those artists whose work appears on all those sites. My own website also generates little in the way of sales. Mostly I get letters from aspiring muralists asking me how I price my work. I have tried selling my paintings on eBay, but find it to be more a buyer’s market for getting art cheaply. See for yourself. Despite what Mark Kostabi says, prices rarely go past a few hundred dollars and most living-artist work goes for a song.
Personal creative megaphone
by Cassandra Russell, Bradford, ON, Canada
My web page is my personal creative megaphone to the world. It is the most accurate prop invented. It is so deliciously visual, that I am surprised many artists shun the idea of showing their images on-line. In addition, the Internet serves to free us from the “lonely-artist-blues” by connecting us directly to our target market. There is a buyer for every type of work and the Internet is the best source artists can use to compel key customers to surface. On a personal level, there is nothing more satisfying than sending off a piece of art that has been purchased from afar. It doesn’t matter if the locals don’t appreciate what I’m doing. It is encouraging to know that someone out there does.
The greatest thrill
by Antoinette Ledzian, Stonington, CT, USA
Daily I ponder balance as I juggle to divide my time between creative email, selling on eBay, working on a new website and doing my art. They are all related and have become part of my happy routine. But I feel almost guilty when I’m not just writing or painting! I truly believe the common thread, which is actually more like a wire with an electric current, is the interaction with people with whom I connect, either by selling an item which is of interest to them through eBay, or better yet, by finding a buyer for one of my pieces of art. Either way, the thrill comes from making others happy through something I’ve created or have had in a collection and no longer need. Without email, none of this would be possible.
In your jammies
by Anne Copeland, Lomita, CA, USA
I have been holding online fiberarts competitions on my web site and having the judges judge online! Talk about creative email! Can you imagine judging an art exhibit while sitting in your favorite chair at home in your jammies? But you know what? The greatest dialogue develops between judges who have never met. Egos just disappear, something that often gets in the way when we judge in person. I am trying all kinds of new ideas with my exhibits using e-mail. I managed to cut out the expense of sending slides. Hooray for email.
In the years before the Internet, only a relative few could afford to get an education about subjects of interest. Today with the Internet and the use of email, we can learn anything, any time!
(Andrew Niculescu note) To further enhance the versatility of the comfy chair and Internet connection, I’d suggest a Free service called Skype. It’s a secure VOIP client and an instant messenger (without the downsides of AIM or MSN Messenger). From my experience, the conversations take place at regular telephone quality.
by Pepper Hume, Spring, TX, USA
Then there are picture-trail sites and email communities with show and tell. I belong to DollMakers.org whose show-and-tell gallery contains well over 1000 doll photos, not counting those WIP shots posted for critiquing! Think of the convenience of alerting your email client list to go visit show-and-tell or picture-trail to see your latest doll. You don’t need to have your own website or pay a fee to an online gallery. Just as the telephone and electricity revolutionized life, so the Internet is indeed a brave new world, changing the architecture of the marketplace forever.
by Julie Rodriguez Jones, Spanish Springs, NV, USA
Email keeps customers up-to-date on one’s current work and other goings-on. I, and others, send out a monthly newsletter. Some of us from the Painter’s Keys have signed up for each other’s newsletters. (I get John Ferrie’s and he gets mine.) It is good to see what others are doing and perhaps share ideas. Additionally, every month I give away a small item to keep readers interested. If there are others that send out newsletters, I’d be interested in signing up and perhaps they might like to sign up for mine.
(RG note) Thanks, Julie. I find that the ones I read have several qualities: They are short, to the point, and their illustrations (if any) are quick to access. They answer basic questions such as what, when, where, why and how. I think the ones that may work best are the ones that avoid artspeak, excessive hyperbole and self- aggrandizement. I like the ones that are intelligently written, with good imagery, or that tell a quick story. I have the feeling that some artists take their newsletters seriously and try to make them into small gems of communication.
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
I send out an e-painting every week to friends and clients. I have about 300 subscribers. I do not put pricing on it, just size and medium. I always write a little story about my painting adventure to go with it. I have found the e-painting to be the most effective marketing tool I’ve used. It is far more effective than my website.
by Hank Tilbury, Kansas City, KS, USA
I’ve seen that brief and powerful quote from E.M. Forster (“Only connect”) used before in the context of promoting communications technologies like the Internet. However, it is a short story by Forster that eloquently reminds me of the importance of staying “connect”-ed to the world of bricks and mortar. The Machine Stops, written in the 1920s, describes a world hundreds of years in the future where people live alone in underground rooms and engage the world almost solely through “The Machine.” The Machine allows one to communicate with people all over the world and serves as a repository for all human knowledge (sound familiar?). The story is a tragic, cautionary tale about what happens when people become disconnected from, and fearful of, the outside world and its messy realities.
Obviously, our lives are enriched by the community the Internet has made available to us, this letter being a stellar example. But I believe it’s good to pause every now and then and consider our place in the world as we rapidly take on (and take for granted) the many technological changes hurtling our way. We have to maintain balance and stay connected to the world that will still be here if and when the Machine stops. That’s one reason I believe brick-and-mortar galleries are not “dead ducks.” “Only connect” should apply not only to our current cyber-revolution, but also to the old, familiar world.
Trust and connectedness
by Janet Sellers, Monument, CO, USA
You described me! I live miles and miles from the nearest actual town, the loudest sound at night in summer are the crickets, in winter it’s the snow plow, and my contact to the outside world in any weather is my notebook on my lap in my sun room or on the veranda near the honeysuckle. We have neighbors, friendly neighbors and such, and our social events are home-made. So, for worldly access, I am the quintessential cyberstar/self star-ter artist. Armed with my paints by daylight and computer by night-lights, I send emails with my art for sale, my web gallery is up for receiving cash with click-ready speed, the UPS and FedEx guys can climb our hill daily in snow or summer (we can get snow even in June!) and I write articles to my Art News subscribers and for the local paper from, yep, you guessed it, this very notebook/laptop. I send out digital portfolios to clients and venue contacts. They can sit back and click the ones they want to see, for the day when I bring the work in to hang in their spaces. Why does this cyber stuff work for me? Because, at the basis of my relationships, we have a very good and warm human thing going for us: trust. We have a rapport of trust that smoothes out the rough edges others worry about. I don’t like to worry, it’s very stressful. I do make personal, face to face contact everywhere I go, and ask for referrals and hand out my cards and ask for cards/ info, too. But I think the biggest reason the Internet venue can work is trust with connectedness, a good rapport kept warm.
eBay pays off
by Manuela Valenti, Atlanta, GA, USA
I’m a believer that either the mortar and brick galleries change their approach with artists or eventually they will end. Artists these days are more in charge of their art career than ever and some don’t allow galleries anymore to direct it. They need to lower their huge fees to make it possible and attractive for artists already successful online to continue existing. eBay and the Internet in general provide me a great global exposure that no brick and mortar gallery ever could. My sales have increased tremendously as well as my popularity, and we all know that the more popular an artist is, the higher the prices go. Also, the costs related are substantially less and we are left with more money in our hands after a sale on eBay than in a gallery sale. On eBay the fees are nothing. In a bad month at least 10 paintings of mine were sold. The amount of work is also higher if the artist wants to have a decent income selling on eBay, as the market is a complete different thing than the “street” market. The artist should be able to list at least 1 painting a day, which means that the artist has to paint fast. As there is no gallery that will be handling the sale and shipping, it is the artist’s job to do it all — painting, invoicing, paying, packing, shipping. You have to do newsletters and a weekly specials update to keep the repeat customers interested. Now it’s the artist’s job and not the gallery’s. Every market has its pros and cons, like everything in life, but the satisfaction that I get when I receive an email from a customer thanking me for the painting and praising my work, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
by Luciana Alvarez, BC, Canada
I follow your letters all the time and they are very inspiring. I would really appreciate if you could answer this question for me as soon as you can: If you were to give one or two advices to a young artist who is about to enter the artist industry (for a career) what would it be? I thank you kindly in advance for dealing with this matter.
1. Go to your room
2. Work regular hours
3. Finish lots of stuff
4. Fall in love with process.
Where’s the Bob?
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, TX, USA
Laura Wambsgans is such a gem. I was thrilled to recognize one of her sculptures on your clickbacks page. Reading her text, I chuckled at her mention of my name in context with “proof” that you were real. When my friends and new acquaintances have spoken of you, I tell them that I had written you once to ask how to pronounce your name and what your very human response was (1/18/03: “It’s g as in god awful, as opposed to g as in ginger snaps . . . Bob as in butta”). Several have just looked at me in awe: You had the nerve to write to him? I then get to impress them (I think) by telling them how we “met.” I was one of the few artists with a website and you e-mailed me asking if I would like to sign up for your e-letters. So, from day one you have come across to me as a fairly earthy and accessible celebrity, although we have yet to meet.
What if there really is no Bob? What if there is only a diabolically good-natured Andrew who created Robert Genn as a character in a mass Web experiment? I wonder what the dynamic duo of Robert-Andrew will be doing to celebrate the upcoming 5th anniversary of the letters — perhaps a world tour to meet each artist in this thriving community would be in order!
(RG note) Thanks Kelly. Readers might be interested to know that Kelly’s letters have been published in a total of 94 clickbacks. Now that’s friendship. The idea of a world tour is appealing. I once mentioned in a letter that I was painting at the corner of Hoohu and Pee Road in Poipu, Kauai, and ended up taking five subscribers for pizza and beer at the “Brick Oven” in Kalahao. I’ll do the world tour, but not just yet. As for Andrew, he’s a figment of my imagination. I made him up during a slow week in 2002. But we could start with him. He’s planning a North American coast-to-coast bicycle tour in the summer of 2005. His solar laptop and wi-fi will be on his rack. He’ll manage TPK from the shoulder. When he’s getting ready I’ll ask him to publish his route here. Perhaps you can take him in. He doesn’t eat much. Nothing really.
Miss June 2053
3ds max, finalRender and Photoshop painting
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, 2004.
That includes Thelma Smith who wrote, “Do you know that Humptulips is actually a small village? It’s along the Hood Canal in Washington State.” (RG note) I painted there once. I liked the name. I’m not sure grapes would grow there, but I’m sure dreams would.
And also Merrilyn Huycke of Princeton, BC, Canada who wrote, “This morning I resurrected my old neon “OPEN” sign and installed it in my studio. The plan is, when I am here in my space the light is on and there really is somebody home.”