Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Selling Art in the 21st Century

Like every other field of endeavor, the Internet has changed the art scene as well. How often do you call the research person at the library? I used to call the research desk all the time. How many call their broker to learn stock prices? I'm curious if people buy Rand-McNally maps like they used to now that we have Mapquest.

One thing the Internet has proven is that it can bring buyers and sellers together in unprecedented ways. EBay is a prime example. People who once held garage sales to get rid of all that excess garbage by following the dictum "One man's garbage is another man's treasure" now sell the goods to an immeasurably larger audience than their hometowns. So, too, there are artists selling in this manner.

Selling art on EBay feels strange to me, though. This morning, for example, there are 2,055,599 pieces listed as art. If you narrow this down to paintings, it is 310,306. And if you look at the expiring auctions, perhaps 30% have a single bid. Yet people are selling.

I briefly corresponded with one young artist who got her start on EBay. The auction site helped her realize she had some marketable work, and it was an easy way to test the market without great expense.

This is not to say the brick and mortar art galleries are going away any time soon. We live in a land with a lot more free time, now that we have running water and electricity. We don't have to spend hours chopping wood and walking to the creek with water buckets every day. So you find a lot of artists and musicians and writers, people being creative in various ways. Unfortunately, all this productivity results in something of a glut on the art markets. Lizzard's Gallery in Duluth has every available wall space crammed with works from area artists. There is no shortage of product. The challenge for galleries is determining how to best use that space, how to carry inventory that will find a home, in a home or office.

In addition to eBay, there are a host websites out there striving to represent good work, and help buyers and sellers come together in a healthy manner. For example, sites like Discovered Artists will give emerging artists a platform while maintaining a higher standard than the eBay venue.

The Internet's great claim to fame is information, and when it comes to selling one's work, you don't have to go far to find it. Just Google it. The Net gives artists access to more information than ever about how to sell your art both online and off. Plus, through Amazon.com you can browse an ever widening selection of books on this topic, many which promise to do wonders for your career.

And then there are the artist communities scattered across the virtual landscape. Some are active and growing, some are now ghost towns. I found several on Facebook which were created with good intentions, but eventually devolved into residue where no one has posted or shared in ages. I myself belong to a Ning network called Artwalk, which gives artists a place to set up a gallery. I have not sold through Artwalk, but the gallery helped me to get a couple of my shows. I simply send the link and say, "Check out my work."

Be careful about getting delusions of grandeur. As in the writing field, there is plenty written to lead a novice to believe that he or she will be the next Shakespeare or Hemingway. Remember why you are making art in the first place.

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