Internet art review


Dear Artist,

Let’s review what we’ve found out so far about the current state of selling art on the Net. On December 26 we asked about online galleries (If you haven’t seen the responses to that question you can go to the letter Online Galleries toward the end of the clickbacks that follow). The responses were mostly negative — even more pessimistic than when we conducted a poll the previous March 28.

It was reported that art over $2000.00 is not generally selling from on-line galleries. A figure frequently mentioned was $500.00. Some prints, posters and Giclees are. Movie-star and novelty art is. Original, quality art isn’t. Online auctions show promise. At this time, online galleries are trying to “hold hands with brick-and-mortar galleries in an attempt to gain credibility and/or cash flow.” In some cases they have schemes afoot to “sell dreams and charge fees to poor starving artists” in order to cover expenses. Others are “throwing the kitchen sink at the wall and seeing if it stays up there.” Certainly, consolidation and rationalizations are taking place.

And yet some of us have made the net our own and a vital part of our commercial success. Not only for marketing and exposure, but for direct sales. Many of our brick-and-mortar galleries have seen the potential and are starting to use it effectively. Electronic packeting is a new secret weapon. If you care to write and share your systems and findings, please do.

This time we only want to hear about the successes we’re having, and tips on how we’re doing it.

“Tips mucho bueno, senor.” (The last thing said to me in Mexico)

Best regards,


PS: “My God! How terrible these money questions are for an artist!” (Paul Gauguin)

Esoterica: ” ‘Rejection by mouse’ is seen by the enormous divergence between hits and closings. ‘No one ever lost a buck by underestimating the taste of the American public,’ doesn’t seem to be at work here. Online galleries are currently losing money hand over fist.” (Benjamin Lum — from the letter Mentoring, January 5, 2001)

The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thanks for writing.


Useful service
by Paul Hartmann

I know you are looking for positive information—and this is positive in a way. First, it’s obvious that the net has become the place for poor quality art. It is open and available to all amateurs, charlatans, and would-be artists who could never get galleries to handle their work. But the net is also becoming recognized as the tool of choice to aid in the sale of works from legitimate existing galleries. The net provides a useful service to those commercial galleries and their customers who use it properly. The important thing for people to get into their heads is that the internet is less of a mall and more of a library.


Importance of rarity
by Jack Teague

One of the main principles of the art business, as far as I can see, is rarity. An artist or a dealer with a site should be careful to create this effect, by removing images when sold, subtly publicizing sold pieces, not showing too much work at any one time, giving timeliness and specialness to the site — upcoming shows, connections, events, etc. The concept of easy availability — which is part and parcel to the net — needs to be tempered with the unavailability of the precious commodity.


Theo Digital Gallery System
by Mary and Jeremy Weimer, Assiniboia Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

In conjunction with our gallery’s website we are using the Theo Digital Gallery System. 40% of our sales last month could safely be attributed to this system. We had a couple of big ones to people in Ontario and then a few in Regina. The people in Regina decided on the painting or paintings they wanted by using their username and then just came in to pick up and pay. On Saturday, we were really busy and almost all the serious shoppers knew which paintings they wanted to see because they had already checked it out on our website. We almost need another computer for people to sit at and go through the site while they are here. We are amazed at the way local people have been using Theo. The people out of town are just a bonus. We sent out a digital photo pack to everyone about our Christmas show and had about 20 replies. That’s about 15% reply rate. From those dpps the replies were almost all from our out of town clients. It’s very interesting to see how things are working. Theo continues to astound us in its ability to reach people. Especially the out of town clients because we know they aren’t just going to our site, but checking everyone else out so they really see a difference. We are totally thrilled and I think Theo sales this month should also be very good… we’ll see.

(RG note) Assiniboia Gallery is one of my dealers. Theo Digital Gallery System is an on-line aid for art galleries and artists with websites. It simplifies putting up images and sending out material. It is run by Richard Thompson and can be seen at


Good tip
by Gzonkerdonk Groondly

You say you’re looking for tips. Here’s the most useful one I know of. Say you’re an artist by the name of “Gzonkerdonk Groondly.” You might want to take advantage of close association with loaded web-friendly words. On your site you might write something like “in the recent work of Leonardo da Vinci, Gzonkerdonk Groondly, and Michelangelo Buonarroti.” People using search engines will be pulled to your name when they are looking for something about those other guys.


A piece of the artist
by Toni Onley, Vancouver, BC, Canada


“Munson Mountain” 1993
watercolour by Toni Onley

I’ve had a website for some time and I can say that there has been to date only one sale directly from it — even though there’s a lot of information and value on the site — it won a “Green Award” for it’s educational content. It has however been highly useful in putting people in touch with me. For example, Air Canada went to my site and ended up sending me to Newfoundland to produce a series of works. People generally are more interested in my work when they get to know me. Serious collectors like to get not just a painting but a piece of the artist.


True killer application
by Michael Speaker, Easthampton, MA, USA

I have had a site for 3 years. When I meet people I hand them my card that has one photo image and my website which is also my name. No phone. Not much happens but I get lots of hits and I do not have to send out slides to long shot people anymore. I also put images on a page in ImageReady or Fireworks. Text and images are put together like a web page and turned into a jpeg file that is not too big. I send these out with a high success rate. I can be specific, write a nice note and include one to five or six images, make it personal and friendly and specific and quick. I do it in about the time it takes to compose an email message. I do it off line, much like a considered letter. I store my images on CD and I have reduced them down to a postcard size image in a tiff file for quark letters that go through snail mail and jpeg files that go on the web. These images are organized on my hardrive so I can retrieve them quickly.

I look at email as the true killer application and the web site as a place to tell your story. I agree with the others who say the lower priced work is what sells.


Don’t be slick
by S Cheung

The “placement” of art does not work in the same way as conventional selling. It’s important to realize at the present time (it may change) that an artist’s or dealer’s site ought not to be too slick. It should offer a small amount of content for the viewer to read as the pictures are loading, and should have the convenience of taking the pics from thumbs to bigs. It should avoid wordiness and flashy gimmicks. Giveaways don’t attract the right kind of people. Advertising and animation don’t help — kids don’t visit art sales sites. It’s not a brochure either — it’s an information zone for the convenience of intelligent people who are trying to find out something.


Collector’s point of view
by George Ellis, Washington, DC, USA

You mentioned in an earlier letter that it’s important not to put too much stuff up on a site. I’m a collector — not an artist. I have bought a few excellent originals and prints directly from artist’s sites. I would like to think that they put only their very best up there. I do not like wading through pot-boilers or works that the artist was not able to sell in galleries. Poor work casts a shadow on the good work. Also, with everybody getting on the bandwagon it’s getting harder to find the good.

(RG note) Right on. Many artists are finding it useful to merely empower their galleries. If artists would like to see how I do it please go to


“Artist of Merit” designation
by Lynette Jamal, UK

In brick and mortar galleries, artists who take up valuable wall space generally have a track record or a reputation of some sort. At least a dealer can talk intelligently about an artist’s background, dedication, sales history, collections, etc. It would be a great aid to on-line collectors and browsers if there was some sort of “Artist of Merit” designation, a sort of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” This would have to be run with integrity, separate from any influence, perhaps by quality artists themselves working together with legitimate dealers. They would be an independent body and above fees and bribes. Such an award might include prizes given by some organization or country. An unbiased endorsement would go a long way toward giving the on-line public the confidence that they currently do not have when thinking about buying art on line.


Fresh opportunities exist
by Marques Vickers, Vallejo, California, USA

There is no doubt in my mind that artists are interested in the possibilities of sales via the Internet and naturally there are skeptics as well (aren’t there always?). It seems many artists are headlong in their expectations that cyberspace will rapidly replace galleries and other traditional mediums. Personally I think that is very shortsighted. Major shifts take time, but there is no question that fresh opportunities exist. Looks like we’ll all get an education as the medium evolves.

(RG note) Marques Vickers has written a book called Selling Art on the Internet. It’s for sale and available online and by disc. I’ve read the book and it gives a fair and optimistic idea of what to do, how to set up, what works and what doesn’t. It’s tightly written and has quite a few resources.


Karaoke works too
by Rick Lawrence

For the first year my website sold nothing. Then out of the blue a guy calls me up from Florida and wants to commission a piece for $4500. Check came a week later. I didn’t know this guy from Adam. All he said was he wanted a 24″X 36″ oil painting with some mountains and deer in it. So that made up for a lot. I have since sold some prints off my site but no other originals. I get a lot of great feedback on my guestbook as they all say they LOVE my work, but I’m thinking not enough to BUY it. I think most people want to see a painting in the flesh. I have sold more art (small prints) by talking to people in a nightclub. As well I take orders for larger pieces. I have made as much as $12,000 in a year selling prints in Karaoke bars and in nightclubs while out dancing a couple of nights a week.


In the last letter, while still on sleepy lagoon, I asked that you write and tell about the spaces you work in. I was longing for my studio and my pockets were full of sand. If you would like to see some variations in studio routine, artistic personality, expectations, and work spaces, please go to


You may be interested to know that artists from 71 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.

That includes Jim Rowe who says, “I am artistically isolated from the world up here in Lakefield, Ontario, Canada, and just to be seen online by say a couple hundred people a week is all the success I need.”

And Chris Dennis of the UK who summed it up: “Inertia is the website’s enemy; conjunction with action in the real world can get results.”

And Russell W McCracken of Oregon and Arizona who says, “Painting is what’s good.”



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