How Has Social Media Transformed the Art Industry?

17 Oct 2012

Those of us in the fine art industry know that artists and art galleries have had a long-standing love/hate relationship. Artists love the fact that galleries market and sell works of art, but they hate the fact that the better galleries keep 40% or 50% of every sale. Then along came the Internet, and things actually got worse. Artists started setting up personal websites to sell their own works directly to the public, and social media allowed them to market themselves like the best professionals. Gallery owners feared their efforts would make deep cuts into galleries' profits. For a few years there, the relationship between artists and galleries was seriously contentious. But once it became obvious that web-based art business marketing was here to stay, both groups seemed to adapt to a new way of co-existing peacefully and profitably.

This in-gallery demo brought in people from the nearby community by inviting them online via social media.
This in-gallery demo brought in people from the nearby
community by inviting them online via social media.
Now that the dust has settled, it's clear that there are still many art collectors who will only purchase works of art from art galleries or auction houses. The collectors look to gallerists and curators to provide a level of expertise and unbiased information that they just can't get anywhere else. And now that gallerists and curators understand the important educational role they play, they're using the web to fulfill this role more effectively than ever before. All of today's galleries and auction houses have their own websites, but most also have Facebook business pages along with blogs and Twitter accounts to push out useful, informative snippets of information. In fact, social media is an ideal forum through which all kinds of art dealers can sell their high-ticket "products" by informing, rather than persuading, which is exactly what today's collectors want. Social media platforms are also a great way for these businesses to remind their customers of openings, auctions, and other upcoming events.

However, many eager collectors are also willing to buy direct from artists, especially if they are familiar with an artist's work. And many artists now prefer selling artwork via the web, although some would still rather leave the marketing and sales functions up to a gallery. Those artists who do market their creations can charge the same amounts for works that are sold in galleries, but they get to keep the full amount (minus taxes and shipping, of course). Many artists feel that the increase in revenue more than makes up for the extra time they invest in marketing their own work. And many of these artists have learned to be pretty savvy marketers. Going beyond merely optimizing their websites and waiting for visitors to show up, they are proactively using social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more to attract collectors' attention.

Social media has turned the artists' world upside-down in other ways, too. The life of an artist has always been a solitary one, with hours spent working alone in the studio. Professionals artists are a fairly rare breed, too, so unless an artist lives in New York or some other major "art town," there were generally few opportunities to meet other members of the artist tribe. Facebook and other forums have changed all that.

There are now thousands of artists who've joined Facebook, and they've set up literally hundreds of different groups where they can interact. Artists typically set up groups based on something they have in common, so there are groups that run the gamut from Serious Collectors of Realism Art to En Plein Air Paintings and Painters to The Beauty of California by Facebook Painters. And it's more than just online socializing—members are using these groups to connect in real life. For example, one group called KAWA (Kick Ass Women Artists), led by founding member Anne Nelson Sweat, will be holding its first group meeting and landscape painting paint-out in Jackson, Wyoming, in mid-September, and nearly 170 women artists plan to attend.

A smaller, yet still significant, number of artists can also be found participating in art-related forums all over the web. Not only do online art communities like Artist Daily provide a place for artists to connect, they offer a place where beginners can learn from more seasoned professionals by asking questions and watching demonstrations. Similarly, YouTube is loaded with how-to videos for beginners. And all of them, along with social media sites like Deviant Art, allow artists to post their latest creations and get feedback from fellow artists.

Many collectors are willing to buy direct from artists, especially if they are familiar with an artist's work, rather than in a traditional gallery setting such as this.
Many collectors are willing to buy direct from artists,
especially if they are familiar with an artist's work,
rather than in a traditional gallery setting such as this.
Almost inevitably, artists are now using social media as a tool for creating art itself. Just one example is the Creators Project, a collaborative art installation that pops up at events all around the world. It's an idea dreamed up by Intel, Vice, and hundreds of artists. Participants contribute pictures and videos of the events through a variety of apps and other social media tools, then tweet, post, or otherwise communicate the project to art enthusiasts everywhere. Collectively, the images become a work of art.

From artists to art dealers to collectors, art aficionados of every kind are discovering an increasingly large and fascinating world of art online, especially through the use of social media tools. How about you? What are some of your favorite sites and tools?


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on 22 Oct 2012 1:40 PM

Indeed!!! that is an amazing open door

The barrier Gallery-Artist can be broken and in my opinion this should be our goal as artist to make our own business.

The possibilities of internet are endless and thinking of our "local market" is totally old fashioned, now we can have the whole world as potential market using the social media and internet.

Rob55 wrote
on 24 Aug 2014 2:14 PM

Very thorough information. Up until I set up my own social media business selling my work I'd sold about forty paintings over ten years. I set up on January 1st this year, I've sold 108 paintings in seven months and now a full time painter. I think that says it all.