Selling Your Art Online – Can You Do It?

The World Wide Web is a wondrous technological advance in how we humans interact with each other. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Tim Berners-Lees for inventing it, back in 1980. The basic thing for artists to understand about the Web: it is all about Communication. The Web is the most cost-effective way…

The World Wide Web is a wondrous technological advance in how we humans interact with each other. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Tim Berners-Lees for inventing it, back in 1980. The basic thing for artists to understand about the Web: it is all about Communication.

The Web is the most cost-effective way to advertise your active presence in the art world. On the Web, you have a vast choice of venues on which to promote your art. But it is not primarily the place to try selling your artwork.

Back in 1985, when the Web was barely known outside of the scientific community, I was just starting out as a gallery owner-director. Some of you will remember the 'Eighties as the era of the' Gordon Gecko 'figure with his motto of' Greed is good. ' I soon found that the motto applied not only to Wall Street.

Disgusted and astonished was my reaction to news that private galleries in New York, in London and even in Sydney had begun taking decisions of fifty percent and higher. Some were also demanding a 'hanging fee' – in effect, artists had to pay rental on the gallery's wall space.

  • Disgusted – because I already knew from my own experience that if your business could not survive on the traditional commission – one-third of the selling price achieved – then you were doing something wrong. Although regulation is still voluntary, the Australian Commercial Galleries Association has now set the bar for ethical practice in Australia.
  • Astonished – because, as an artist, I surprised why other artists were accepting such terms. There is always the choice to get a job that pays a decent wage, and make art in your own time. That's what principled artists have always done.

Even the greatest names in Art history had to train in their craft and develop their style in obscurity while they waited for the longed-for attention from a patron. If the work was good enough, that attention always did come, sooner or later. Here, you might be thinking along the lines of 'What about Vincent Van Gogh, then?' Van Gogh is the stand-out exception that proves the rule. I do not intend to debate the merits of his artistic output, but a brief perusal of his life story will show you that he did very little to advance himself on the business side of the art scene.

  • Today, you have an unprecedented opportunity to build recognition. Uploading images of your art to the Web attracts the attention of collectors and galleries at little cost or effort to yourself. But you will be setting yourself up for disappointment if you fail to understand a basic truth about the Web.
  • There is a certain price level beyond which online art buyers will not go. Currently, this level sees a set at a few hundred dollars. Shipping costs for sculpture, pottery, even a low-priced painting, if it is framed or under glass, will deter many online shoppers. Put yourself in the buyer's shoes and you'll soon understand this reluctance.

After all, the people who are willing to pay thousands of dollars for a painting still want various assurances from a creditable expert in the field. The assurances they seek include a guarantee that the work they're buying is either stolen or a forgery. They want to know that the gallery will undertake to re-sell the work should they need to put it back on the market. Some dear souls even need re-assurance on their choice. They need the gallery nod that their selection is 'in good taste' and agreements with the prevailing Establishment fashion.

What's the solution? Some people resign themselves to churning out pieces priced to sell on the online market. At this soul-destroying rate of through-put, such people can never develop in a way that would satisfy the true artist.

  • There is a far better alternative.

Personally, I have never tried selling originals online and among the professional artists I know, not one has reported having sales by this method. However, like many others, I have had success in selling reasonably priced prints online, via a personal website.

The Web holds a treasure trove of information to educate the beginner on building and maintaining a website. I would just add this piece of advice:

Avoid those big, free, catch-all sites whenever they are general retailers or specialized art sites. You will be easily lost among the endless lists of other artists. Patience and perseverance with a well-designed personal website will get you the contacts you need. May I wish you success in the venture and lifelong joy in making your art.

(c) Dorothy Gauvin