Sunday, March 27, 2016

Selling Art through Virtual Galleries: Yes or No?

Long ago, in the olden days before the Internet existed (yes, I AM that old), artists sold art out of galleries and festivals and fairs and “alternative spaces” like cafes and hotel lobbies. Art-buying was pretty much always an in-person process. We artists convinced ourselves it wasn’t so commodified as, say, buying a can of beans. With art, we told ourselves, people came and looked closely at our work. They absorbed it. There was something about it that sang to them. They “got” us. And then they wrote a check.

But there has always been this other story.  The one where the couple at the art fair stands in front of a truly amazing piece of artwork for nearly an hour, having a loud disagreement as to whether that shade of green will even work with their sofa. The one where a prospective buyer asks if you have a piece “like that one, but horizontal” because he really needs to “just get something over the fireplace before Sunday.” Impersonal, task-based, commodified. Not our ideal, but an element of our reality nonetheless. People buying beans, not meaning.

That’s what the idea of selling artwork online felt like to many of us on the first pass--impersonal, commodity-based, without the opportunity to form any kind of artist/patron relationship.  In reality, the “beanification” of artwork by selling online is nowhere near a “thing.” In fact, if you work it right (and I do mean WORK), it can be an opportunity to create an even stronger personal relationship with people who do truly appreciate your art—but more about that in a later post.

So. Should you sell art through one of the burgeoning number of online galleries? The answer is “it depends,” both on the kind of work you do and your goals.  

Online sellers are constrained by the market, just as many brick-and-mortar sellers are. Vango, a San Francisco-based online art gallery, notes in its curatorial policy statement, “We want every piece to be successful on Vango. To that end, we curate work based on whether we have an appropriate audience to guarantee the work’s success … If your piece is not accepted, we are not necessarily saying it’s “bad” or we don’t like it. We’re saying that we don’t have the audience for it at this time and accepting it would harm the overall artist community.”  

Heather Robinson, a visual artist living in San Francisco, maintains a very active gallery showing schedule for her work, but has also ventured into online sales through Vango.   “There is so much art there it can be hard to be seen unless you spend a lot of time and effort pursuing it,” she explains.  “I have sold a couple of pieces (through) Vango, but it’s been a long time.  I think they are at least trying to be receptive to artists’ needs.”

Santa Monica, CA’s SaatchiArt and Vango offer artists 70% of a work’s sale price and assist with shipping, marketing and record-keeping, outstripping what many brick-and-mortar galleries are willing to do for the artists they represent.  UGallery, which has offices in New York and San Francisco, offers a 50/50 split. All three make a concerted effort to promote their artists within the confines of their online homes.  But all of the websites also offer prospective buyers the opportunity to search work by generic theme, price, size and shape.  And Vango has an iPhone app for collectors that lets them take photos of the areas in which they want to place artwork and then search for work that … wait for it … matches the color palette of the space. 

In the final analysis, selling art online can possibly put your work in front of new audiences that are primed and ready to buy, but there’s no guarantee that your work will be an online success. Cutting through the noise is crucial, but so is maintaining marketability.  A “get rich quick” scheme it is not.

I always hear stories of people selling but I do not know any personally,” confirms Robinson.

So if your goal is to make lots of money easily … insert sad trombone here. Not going to happen. But if you want another methodology to potentially get your work in front of people who just might buy it, then an online gallery could be useful for you. Your work is bound to come up in someone’s search at some point, and who knows—you might be the exact fit for their souls, or their sofas, and which it is might not actually matter.

In the words of the artist at the art fair who eventually accepted a hefty four-figure check from the arguing couple in the first paragraph, “I can appreciate a piece all day long. But if it just sits in my studio forever, what good is that?”


Vango Art



“Art Galleries, Art Sales and the Internet: A Survey,”

“Art Makes a Move Online,” by Scott Reyburn, The New York Times Online, May 18, 2014.

“Small Retailers Get Good News as Online Art Sales Double, per Hiscox Report,” by Annie Pilon, Small Business Trends, March 25, 2016.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Should You Pursue Juried Shows?

By E. Marie Robertson

Juried calls for art seem to be everywhere these days, for everything from established galleries to “alternative spaces” like storefront windows and vacant buildings.  Opinions about whether artists benefit from participating in such calls are equally diverse;  Juried calls are characterized as everything from a great way for emerging artists to build up their exhibition records to activities unworthy of ‘serious’ artists or, at the far extreme, pure scams.

To be sure, there are calls for work out there that fit each of these descriptions.  How can you tell the difference?

According to Benny Shaboy, editor and publisher of the curated call list Art Opportunities Monthly and a thoughtful student of juried calls for more than 18 years, your first step should be to check out the website of the call’s sponsor.  Adverise-y language or hype is usually a tip-off, as are for-profit galleries that mention additional fees for “hanging” or “initiation.” For-profit sponsors that charge a submission fee but also offer framing, art consultation, or other paid services for artists or customers may at best be a private business running a competition to generate income.  “It may not be bogus, but the odds are slim that your work will be seen by the sort of people you want it seen by, and the odds that it will sell are even slimmer,” he explains.

“Good” calls for work may or may not charge a submission fee.  “In general, established calls that have been around for at least a few years are better because they have worked out the kinks,” Shaboy adds.  "The prestige of the [sponsoring] organization and/or the juror(s) should also be considered.”  

So is it worth your time and sometimes money to respond to a juried call? According to Shaboy, the answer is “it depends.”

“Entering a juried show on a whim is about as useful as buying a lottery ticket,” he asserts. “It should be done as part of a thoughtful plan.” Before pursuing participation in any juried show, consider where you are in your art career, what your goals are, and whether actually getting into that show will result in something that is specifically helpful to you, whether that’s cash, exposure, sales, a solo show, or getting your work in front of a particular juror.  

If you’re considering submitting work to a juried show, Shaboy offers the following tips to help you select and, ideally, be selected by, the “right” kind of juried exhibition:

1. Pay close attention to the sponsoring organization’s website. Look at what they seem to feature or respond to, especially if they showcase the work of past winners. Make sure the work featured is a good fit with your own in terms of type and aesthetic outlook. If you find no website or a site with very little information, strike that “opportunity” off you list, Shaboy suggests.

2. Consider the artistic history and background of the juror(s).  Google is your friend when seeking out this type of information.

3. Make sure you meet any specified criteria for the call, like medium, size, geographic location, etc.  Various estimates suggest that 25% to 40% of all work submitted to juried calls never makes it to the jury because of immediate disqualification for not meeting one or more of the call’s stated requirements. “In this case, the artist gets nothing and the organization keeps the submission fee, “ Shaboy points out.

4. If you’re just starting out, focus on local calls at first. They’re not only less complicated to enter (avoiding fees for shipping work long distances), but you  also have the opportunity to follow up by attending the show in person.  This is vital, especially if you were not accepted into the show; by attending and looking at the work that WAS accepted, you learn what a particular juror or organization is responding to. This is useful information for the next time you submit.

5. Make note of patterns you see emerging and be ready to adjust your plan accordingly—and keep at it.  If you feel juried shows are for you, don’t give up; consider every show regardless of outcome a good learning opportunity, Shaboy explains. “I have a good friend who started out entering the shows put on by her local photography club. After the first two, in which her submissions were rated last or next-to-last, she decided that the photo club was not for her ideal venue.  She began entering other shows, making the kind of notes and observations I mentioned above, always looking for the type of jurors and shows and competitions that seemed to fit her work best. She continued this process for several years and as of today has had more than a dozen important shows around the world, including museum shows. Her work is in about 20 museum collections in the US, the UK, Europe and Asia.”

Carefully screened art opportunities list for traditional and contemporary artists working in all media. Readers of this blog who are not already subscribers can get an absolutely free three-month subscription to the Professional version of AOM by using this link:


Joanne Mattera Art Blog

By Aletta de Wal