Monday, April 19, 2010

Brian Walker Interview, Part III

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." ~Pablo Picasso

Last week I had a good dialogue with Brian Walker, co-founder of, that seemed worthy of a wider hearing. We had been talking about the impact the Internet has made on the art scene and a little about the challenges for emerging artists in finding an audience for the work or connecting with buyers. This is the final section of that discussion.


E: When I was in college, I was going through the arts program preparing to be an art major and I remember reading an article about Mark Tobey, how he was discovered at like 45. It was inspiring and gave me hope. I just wrote about this on my blog a few weeks ago, this book of interviews with Duchamp, and Hans Hoffman, Edward Hopper, Mark Tobey, and in the book you read that the guy had gone to Europe, he was with Gertrude Stein, he'd been in New York so when he was discovered at 45, he had already been part of the art scene for 20 years. He wasn't just discovered. He'd been doing things.

BW: It finally paid off.

E: Yeah.

BW: So I think what part of my frustration is for artists, is that I think some of this whole starving artists thing is self created. I think that any product, and I'm not trying to productize art, don't get me wrong, I don't want to make it a commodity because it's not, but there are basic steps that every artist should be taking to get themselves out there. You know, artists on our site for the most part, new guys now under the new way that we market, they're being seen. Their work can be seen by 4000 people in 2 or 3 months, and while sales aren't great right now which is partly the economy, partly because the Internet's not fully realized yet and partly because it takes a while, art's not necessarily an impulsive buy, especially when it's a readily available all over the place. But it takes time. I've always referred to this as a marathon not a sprint. You've got to be out there and that's the bottom line.

E: How big is the art market today? I have numbers for snowmobiles, how many snowmobiles are sold in a year, or what the sales are for amusement parks, diesel trucks, and sports betting. How much is being sold in the art scene if you extract Sotheby's million dollar auctions?

BW: I can't answer it. I'm a data guy. I'm actually working on a subproject right now that's part of what I did in my previous life, a lot of analytic works for large clients, and analyzing their data. A lot of this is not available. I've had a really hard time sort of compiling, how much art, not from the Sotheby's perspective, but how much art was sold last year?

E: Right.

BW: It's really really tough to get a figure.

E: I know, I was trying to find that myself.

BW: I can tell you this, that in the research that I did, on what I considered to be at the time 5 of the top online art market places --these included Boundless Gallery which has now since closed, they were up for 7 years, they closed 2 months ago just about, which is unfortunate, because they had, anyway, that's another story -- but there were 5 of these... and I can't remember if EBSQ was included, but I was able to kind of get a sense... (I joined many of them because I did paint for a while, as more of a hobby; I'm not a good painter although everybody loves my abstracts that are hanging on my walls, but that's beside the point. I'm a marketer, not an artist but I did try that out and partly just for research and I as able to extract data and understand who was selling. I know that Boundless did an announcement while I was part of them, that they had just reached a million and a half dollars in sales in the first 8 months.) ... I think that the total combined for just 5 sites was somewhere in the neighborhood and I'm kind of reaching back but it was around 10 million dollars, and these are smaller kinds of sites. So maybe that's a little bit of a ballpark, and obviously I don't have all the data. Etsy sells, if you want to call it art, they've got a lot of crafts and things, but they're certainly moving a lot of inventory. The price points are lower, but they still move a lot. I had heard, I think this is right, 25 million? Something like that.

E: That's pretty good volume.

BW: Well they have tons of visitors, too. And then eBay did come out with a report, and again I have all this stuff stored away, I haven't referred to it for a while but eBay had come out with a report on art sales on their site, and it was in the multi million dollar range, but with price points under a hundred dollars.

E: I saw that, and if you're doing giclee prints and it costs you x number of dollars and they sell it for less than what it costs to print it, you're not really in a very good business.

BW: You're not in business.

E: Thanks, Brian, for your time and insights... We'll see where it goes.

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