Art and the Internet: The Artists Are Here. When will Galleries Participate?
The internet has quickly changed the way that we think about commerce in general. Anything you can think of can be purchased online. Today, businesses can be made or broken depending on the influence they have online. The art market and the selling of art is no exception as far as good business is concerned. Years ago predictions about the influence the internet would have on the art market were often scoffed at due to the early failure of e-commerce involving art. However, much has changed since those early years and several artists and art sites-- with an entrepreneur spirit-- have went on to sell millions of dollars worth of art since that early bust. One can find story after story of artists who struggled in the brick & mortar gallery scene only to carve out their future online by utilizing the potential that the internet provides. Blogs, auction sites, and art sites with e-commerce capabilities have given artists the tools they need in order to market themselves on their own terms without the need of traditional gallery involvement. The internet is here to stay and artists will continue to benefit from it. The question is… when will the traditional galleries and art dealers catch up?
It seems that with each passing month the press notes the fact that even the traditional structure of art marketing is changing as galleries and other aspects of the art world rush to catch up with what they observed as a doomed aspect of the market early on. The changes brought on my the internet-- concerning the buying and selling of art-- has been written about in major newspapers and art magazines. However, there are still certain aspects of the art world that has been slow to embrace these changes and the benefits they offer. Is e-commerce the market for the future as far as the buying and selling of art is concerned? That question may make an art critic, art dealer, or gallery owner laugh. However, one thing is for certain, it certainly seems that it has made an impact-- at least in the careers of artists who have embraced it.
People have called this change the democratization of the art world in that the buying and selling of art is within the reach of all artists-- instead of the relatively small number who are lucky enough to have traditional gallery representation. Self-representing artists can technically avoid the gallery scene all together by focusing on their online efforts. However, there are also a number of represented artists who have also embraced the internet in order to open up new avenues of commerce as far as the sell of their art is concerned. This is a power that artists-- for the most part-- lacked before the advent of the internet. Artists can now alter their marketing path by flirting with e-commerce or pave a new path that goes beyond the traditional art market by fully embracing e-commerce.
My guess is that traditional galleries, and others who deal in art from a brick & mortar setting, will need to adapt to these changes in order to compete. They will always have their place within the market as far as integrity goes, but tradition does not always equal continued success. As it stands, it is possible for an artist to make a better living selling his or her art online than the living he or she would make through traditional gallery representation. Artists combining both marketing structures will no doubt have the greatest benefit-- even if they are viewed as rogues by their peers who disregard the influence of the internet.
What I enjoy about this recent boom in e-commerce involving art and the many ways that artists have adapted to it is the fact that artists-- in general-- appear to be more open about discussing their work. For example, it is common for artists to discuss their thoughts, process, and methods on blogs. Art collectors and others who appreciate art benefit from this exchange. Artist/bloggers tend to give information that appeals to collectors by making the experience of purchasing art online personal even if no direct contact is made. Artists are able to keep in contact with past buyers in a personal way by blogging about their work and keeping a contact list of those collectors in order to send out new information. That exchange is remarkable. The end result-- due to e-commerce-- is an art market that benefits artists and informs collectors about the artists they are considering buying from.
Instead of focusing on the traditional art marketing structure, which often involves up to 50% commission and the burden of living in a city with great expense, artists online can avoid commission all together or discover a much lower commission by utilizing art sites that attract art collectors with their site traffic and the security of the e-commerce capabilities they provide. Artists can embrace this new avenue of art marketing from the comfort of their home no matter where home may be. In that sense, aspects of the traditional art market structure no longer has dominance as far as the success or failure of an artist is concerned. To put it bluntly, art dealers and gallery owners no longer have direct control over the ability of an artist to advance his or her career nor do they have the power they once held as to how successful an artist can be based on representation and exhibits. The ambition of the individual now dictates success or failure.
Traditional galleries and art dealers will always have their place in that they will continue to have access to a tight network of press and influential collectors who may or may not have a presence online. In a sense, they will always play a role in who enters the history books due to press and the acknowledgment that is rooted in it. For example, the art magazines will always cover brick & mortar exhibits in the hubs of the art world no matter what. One could say that the traditional art market will always influence the perception the public has about specific artists and their role within the context of art history. With that said, as the internet expands so will the consideration for what is historic and meaningful. Art bloggers, like myself, are already picking up on that by featuring artists who have yet to be featured or reviewed in a major newspaper or art publication. Eventually those barriers may very well be broken even if the gatekeepers of old are able to hold back some of the flood of change. There is always room for some aspects of tradition, true?
Art dealers and galleries should take notice of the changes around them. It has been suggested that many dealers and gallery owners are not paying attention to the success of online art auctions, e-commerce art sites, and the ability artists have had to build their own careers by utilizing the internet. Very few traditional galleries with websites have e-commerce capabilities-- in fact, many gallery websites are horribly outdated compared to the standards of today and the expectations of tomorrow. The decision to not expand in an ever-changing market is either bold or foolish. In other words, if traditional galleries lose their standing it is due to being stubborn and not embracing the technology of today while everyone else is. Frankly, the same can be said for newspapers and art publications who discredit the changes that have occurred due to the internet.
History tells us that in the past certain aspects of the art world felt that the buying and selling of art online would never be in reach-- that it would not work because buyers are not able to see the art in person. Many art dealers and gallery owners feel that only mediocre art is sold online. I’ve overheard that prejudice during discussions about the validity of selling art online. However, I know artists who embrace both the traditional art market and the digital frontier of the art market-- artists who have sold art online for thousands of dollars while their work in a brick & mortar gallery remains mostly unsold. Thus, remarks about artists utilizing the internet being mediocre is a sign of ignorance or denial.
Today e-commerce involving art is obviously working and will continue to work. Especially in a time when gallery owners are reporting a decrease in traffic as far as exhibit openings are concerned. Some have suggested that the decrease is due to gas prices and other economic factors. In that sense, exploring what the internet can provide is a question of economics and keeping a roof over the art they represent. Thus, I would think that now is the time for traditional art dealers and gallery owners to take notice and to embrace the change. Unfortunately, most tend to be stubborn on the issue-- a choice that may very well hurt the artists they represent and their business as whole when everything is said and done. Artists continue to reap the benefits of e-commerce and the rewards of maintaining a social network online while the majority of art dealers and gallery owners remain gridlocked on the issue.
The art market is changing in many ways due to the internet. It is foolish to consider it as just another trend-- it is a reality. The influence of the internet and the capabilities that the internet offers, such as establishing a large network of contacts, is a reality that every successful business must accept in order to maintain that success. At some point traditional galleries may have to embrace social networking online or risk failure. For example, it has been suggested that there is a new wave of younger art collectors that have entered the market. These young collectors are internet savvy-- they have experience utilizing sites like www.facebook.com and www.myspace.com in order to keep in contact with their peers. That is an aspect of the market that artists have tapped into by utilizing social networking websites and enhanced personal websites. One must ask, why are the brick & mortar galleries behind?
The implications of social networking online concerning art and the buying and selling of art is straight forward-- it does not take a business degree to understand it or to explore it as part of a marketing plan. Thanks to the internet it is possible for artists-- or gallery owners-- to discover art collectors on social networking websites or to be discovered by that youthful-- and influential-- market. For example, social networking art sites like www.myartspace.com allow artists to build a network of fellow artists, collectors, and curators. Myartspace allows artists and gallery owners to keep track of one another and inform people in their myartspace network about their career growth and exhibitions. These connections have helped artists to be accepted into brick & mortar gallery exhibits that they would not have otherwise known about. Traditional galleries should take note of that and benefit from the connections that are within their reach.
Traditional galleries and art dealers can benefit from having a presence online as well. For example, art dealers and gallery owners can benefit from having free profiles on websites like Facebook, Myspace, and myartspace. By utilizing these websites an art dealer or gallery owner-- or staff person-- can establish a network of ‘friends’ which will result in free advertising for upcoming exhibits when said network is informed of the event. Having a social networking presence also allows art dealers and gallery owners to observe potential talent with ease. The ability to contact emerging artists or mid-career artists who are not currently represented by a brick & mortar gallery is reason enough for an art dealer or gallery owner to consider utilizing the internet as part of his or her business model. It is a way for them to keep their gallery fresh with new artists when there is space available. In a sense, the art dealer or gallery owner who utilizes the internet and social networking sites can tap into talent before other art dealers and gallery owners have the chance. Thus, it is my prediction that art dealers and gallery owners who embrace the internet may very well corner that aspect of the traditional art market by leaving their peers and rivals in the dust and confusion of ‘what was’.
In closing, artists from all walks of life-- both unknown and known to the traditional art market-- are taking responsibility for their own careers by utilizing the potential of the internet. They are reshaping the business structure of the art world by embracing e-commerce and social networking. Many are making a living, or better living, from that activity. Some artists who have never exhibited in New York, Chicago, or Miami have a better presence online than artists who have stuck to the traditional route of art marketing. In fact, some of the artists who are well-known in those centers of the art world are practically unknown online. You can scoff at that statement all you want, but the simple fact is that content is King and the internet is the King’s castle. Art dealers and gallery owners can do the same. One could say that they must embrace it for the sake of their artists. The time for wishful thinking about the ‘way things were’ has passed. Welcome to art commerce 2.0. Don’t you think it is time to participate?
Take care, Stay true,