Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why Art Sites Work

Why Art Sites Work

There has been debate involving the issue of networking online concerning visual artists for several years now. Some have suggested that online networking is not important for visual artists as far as exposure and success is concerned. Some feel that it is an unnecessary use of time that could be better spent in the studio or in searching for exhibit opportunities on foot. Others suggest, myself included, that online social networking and the exposure gained from it is a worthy pursuit for business-minded artists and that artists can actually save their valuable time if they do it right. Individuals in this camp, myself included, feel that creating and maintaining social networks online is a necessary effort for all artists-- specifically emerging artists-- to commit themselves to if they are seeking exhibit opportunities or opportunities to sell their work.

Why is social networking online necessary for artists? Because in today’s world it is necessary for any professional. I suppose the necessity depends on the artist though. For example, an artist who does not seek exhibition or selling opportunities may not need to focus on social networking in that respect. On that same note, an artist who has been in the rat race for decades may have enough of a following and support that he or she does not need to worry about online efforts aside from maintaining an online presence. However, emerging artists who desire to exhibit and sell need to think of themselves as business entrepreneurs because in many ways that is just what we are. Thus, social networking online is key as it is with any other marketing strategy.

True, social networking online is not the only key toward success, but it beats footing your way in order to obtain information and connections-- gas is not getting any cheaper. In fact, I think artists should view social networking online as a set of keys because there is a world of doors that can be opened with it. The ability to learn about valuable opportunities from your networks online is worth the effort. The potential of meeting a collector or curator online is worth the effort. Keeping in contact easily with fellow artists in order to help each other out is worth the effort. To put it bluntly, social networking online for artists is-- you guessed it-- worth the effort.

The effort you put into social networking online does not have to be taxing on your physical and mental reserves nor does it have to conflict with your daily life. You will be surprised in what you can accomplish just by spending a few minutes online each day in order to promote yourself on art sites that have social networking capabilities. If that effort is meshed with other social networks, such as Facebook or Myspace, you can technically reach thousands of people each day with just a few clicks of the mouse. It is far cheaper than sending out hundreds of business cards that will most likely end up gathering dust in a drawer or simply tossed aside. It is also far cheaper than paying at the pump or handing over money to a taxi in order to hit streets. The simple fact is that social networking online is an economically sound choice for an artist who wants to stay connected to the art world and opportunities while using his or her time wisely. Less time on the streets means more time in the studio, correct?

One reason that some circles of the art world look down upon art sites with social networking capabilities is the fact that the image of artist registries from the late 1990s and early 2000s are still stuck in their head. If you dig deep enough online you may discover the fractured remains of those ancient-- as far as the internet is concerned-- websites. I’ve found a few doing searches about art. I often do not remember their names, but I do remember their fees-- some charged as much as $50 per month for inclusion while others charged a few hundred dollars per year with no other benefits than being able to have a few images posted in their registry. Some of them were free and riddled with ads, but all of them were pretty much a one stop venture without any sense of community. None of those sites, at least that I’m aware of, function today as they did at that time. Sadly, the ill will brought on by those early art sites continue to sway opinions about art sites today as a whole in some circles. Thus, some art professionals tend to miss out on the positive changes that have occurred online over the years.

The simple fact is that many people who experienced those early online art registries first hand ended up closing their mind to any thought of art sites working for artists. Thus, current art sites with thriving communities and curator / collector involvement are unfortunately thrown on top of that old stack of bones due to opinions spurred by the first online art boom-- which did fail. People need to think about why art sites work today instead of holding on to the memory of sites that failed or exploited artists in the past. After all, many of those early art registries and sites did exploit artists in that most did not allow artists to upload images for free and most did involve a fee that was considered high even for back then. The art sites that thrive today are not a fluke. Some of them report sells involving millions of dollars per year-- a few have even been discussed in major papers, such as the New York Times. Again, that is not a fluke.

Today there are several art sites that allow artists to upload images for free. Some do set limits, but others, like, allow users with free accounts to upload as many images as they want for free. These art sites should not be considered just ‘a registry for images’ because most, including myartspace, offer their users the ability to communicate openly as well. For example, on myartspace members of the community can invite other members to their network, can leave comments for other members or send other members messages-- including alerts on the site and by email to their myartspace network when new galleries are uploaded. The network invite you receive could be from a curator, collector, or fellow artist. That is the excitement of social networking online. That is the basics of the importance that social networking online has played-- and will continue to play-- in the success of emerging artists today. The importance of art sites within the context of the art world will not go away anytime soon. Those savvy enough to pick up on the positive changes that have happened will be far better off in the future than those who have avoided it due to concerns of the past.

Why will art sites not go away anytime soon as far as the art world is concerned? Because a few art sites are already embedded within the mainstream art world. A select few-- including myartspace-- are involved, will be involved, or have been involved with major art fairs. Off the top of my head I can think of several art fairs that have featured art sites in one way or the other-- Scope, Pulse, Frieze and the Bridge Art Fair. Correct me if I’m wrong, but last I checked the brick & mortar galleries rush for acceptance from these same venues as well. Thus, at least in the eyes of some art fair founders, one could suggest that certain art sites are just as valid for displaying art as a traditional brick & mortar gallery. Yes, there are differences… but it does show how the internet is changing the way we should think about the art world as a whole. If some of the top business minds and collectors in the art world can find value in specific art sites perhaps the rest of us should at least consider that value, correct?

The influence of the internet and how art sites can work for artists can be discovered in physical art publications as well. Years ago some art publications stated that the sell of art online was doomed and that the internet would never be a viable way to support artists. Those publications wrote the internet-- as a vehicle for art commerce-- off as mere pipe dreams. Today much has changed in that many artists are able to earn a living, or at least extra income, from selling art online by utilizing eCommerce. Art publications have finally picked up on this and are starting to feature artist social networking capabilities on their websites while praising the influence the internet has had on the art world in print. Again, if those professionals can observe the value of social networking and selling art online perhaps those who still have doubts should at least consider the possibility.

As Brian Skiba, the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Financial Officer of myartspace, has pointed out-- there are a variety of reasons why sites focusing on the art world are built, survive, prosper, and work. Regarding what I’ve been saying, Mr. Skiba’s opinions-- in my opinion-- reveal that the flukes of the past must be forgotten unless we wish to be blind concerning the art sites that shine in the here and now. Observe the following text concerning these issues in the words of Mr. Skiba and his opinion of why art sites work for artists today and will continue to work for artists in the future:

First, a site like provides software functionality that is free and generally is more easy to use in what is known as a SaaS (Software As A Service) model. So artists can manage a contact list, blast out marketing messages, create price lists and catalogs in PDF form, build presentations that integrate music, video, audio narration and images. The level of expertise required to do most of these things by themselves with the basic flash/html/Adobe tools is expensive and complex. So simplicity and ease of access is a primary driver to a website like myartspace.

Second, communities like myartspace, by their nature, attract more traffic than do individual websites. Involvement on an art site will normally bring an artist more traffic than his or her personal website would by itself. There’s a reason why galleries are concentrated in cities. They draw art appreciators into the area of critical mass. The same is true for online sites. Most online sites are being hit tens of thousands of times a day, and this is far more challenging for an individual site, such as a personal site maintained by an individual artist, to do.

Third, the way search engines operate, the more cross-links that point to your individual websites that exist, the higher your site gets ranked in the search engines. So if your presence on a community site includes a link back to your personal site, the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is improved.

Fourth, communities are able to offer benefits that individuals would have difficulty achieving without scale. For instance, if you enter the myartspace competition to have your work shown at the Bridge Art Fair Miami , it will be reviewed by curators from the Whitney Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art, The San Jose Museum of Contemporary Art and the Bridge Art Fair.

In the past myartspace has brought in jurors from the Tate Modern, Sotheby’s, the National Portrait Gallery (London), the Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Institute of Chicago, and more. While it would be nice to believe that most artists had access to such curators for review the simple truth is that they don‘t. Thus, as a community member on myartspace they have the opportunity to gain that access if they choose.

Thousands of art appreciators come on myartspace every week. With over 400 interviews with contemporary artists known and unknown (the likes of James Rosenquist or Michael Craig-Martin), people are attracted to unique perspectives and proprietary content that is made available.

Fifth, artists do appreciate peer review, and participate in commentary, critique and dialog with other community members on art sites. This ranges from opinions on newly submitted work to opinions on art trends, politics and the price of oil.

Sixth, over time, many of the sites like myartspace begin launching eCommerce capabilities so artists can set up shop, sell original and on-demand printed work, and begin monetizing their experience online. Once again, a free, and easy to use platform is a lower hurdle for many artists when they are looking at representing themselves and dealing with the myriad of IT issues associated with a web site.

There are at least another dozen or two reasons why artists join these community-oriented art sites. The challenge to the overall perspective is the “registry” concept. A site like myartspace is not just a site for including your art in an online registry. Registry accounts for about 1/1000th the benefit of the community membership.

In closing, the art sites of yesterday may have not worked for artists. In fact, many of them were very self-serving in that they demanded high fees for questionable benefits. Some boldy exploited artists. However, today there are art sites that do work for artists and that will continue to expand into the future. True, it is not rational to focus your time on every art site you discover. Just as there are top brick & mortar galleries there are also art sites that are more professionally legitimate than others. In that sense, traffic is not always the marker of a professionally sound art site. That said, don’t allow hundreds of bad apples to spoil your basket.

Art sites do work! The art fairs have noticed. The art publications have noticed. Business professionals have noticed. Investors have noticed. Collectors have noticed. Millions of artists have noticed. Don’t you think it is time to take notice? Don’t you think it is time to acknowledge the fact that social networking and eCommerce involving the selling of art is one direction that the art world and art market is going? It is inevitable. Art sites work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Remember Hehe, I crack up just thinking about it.

But seriously, 60% of my sales are because of MySpace and my personal blog. It is also how I've been able to get representation by various galleries and meet other artists that I like. By chance I had an interview and a painting of mine featured in the Wall Street Journal, all because I was one of the first Americans to sign-up on the Saatchi Gallery networking site. It goes to show you never know where all of this can lead or who will find your work.