How Social Media Has Transformed the Art Industry

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 50% (or only 40%, if you’re lucky) of every sale. Then along came the Internet, and things got so much 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. Their efforts made 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 marketing was here to stay, both groups seemed to settle in to a new way of co-existing peacefully and profitably.

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 (Huff, Blue chip galleries). 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 (Huff, Art galleries). 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 to sell their own work 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 paint-out in Jackson, Wyoming, in mid-September, and nearly 170 women artists plan to attend. Artisans who create fine craft are enjoying a similar experience within Etsy, a site that doubles as their e-commerce site.

A smaller, yet still significant, number of artists can also be found participating in art-related forums all over the web (Huff, Thriving artist). For example, the two biggest “how-to” painting magazines in the U.S., The Artist’s Magazine and American Artist, each facilitate huge online forums where artists can ask questions and discuss issues.  Not only do forums like ArtistsNetwork and ArtistDaily 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.

Arts industry workers and art enthusiasts, in general, are using social media tools to connect, too. In fact, hundreds of art lovers have been using Meetup.com to find fellow art lovers and set up trips to museum shows, gallery exhibits, film festivals, and more. These people have formed groups in cultural cities around the globe, and many groups from Philadelphia to Toronto to New York have memberships over a thousand. London’s Culture Seekers group actually has about 5,000 members (Preston, 2011).

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 (Drell, 2012). Collectively, the images become a work of art.

From artists to art dealers to collectors, art aficianados 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?

–Jennifer

Drell, Lauren (January 20, 2012). Artists and digital: why social media is the new art gallery, Mashable Social Media, retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/01/20/artists-social-digital-media/.

Huff, Cory (n.d.). Art galleries and the internet, AbundantArtist.com, retrieved from http://www.theabundantartist.com/galleries-and-social-media-part-1/.

Huff, Cory (n.d.). The thriving artist survey results, AbundantArtist.com, retrieved from http://www.theabundantartist.com/the-thriving-artist-survey-results/.

Huff, Cory (n.d.). What blue-chip galleries can teach us about social media networking, AbundantArtist.com, retrieved from http://www.theabundantartist.com/what-blue-chip-galleries-can-teach-us-about-social-media-networking/.

Preston, Jennifer (October 21, 2011). Rendezvous with art and ardent, New York Times, retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/arts/artsspecial/social-networking-among-young-arts-professionals.html?pagewanted=all.

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8 thoughts on “How Social Media Has Transformed the Art Industry

  1. Jennifer,
    I really enjoyed reading your post and learning more about the world of art and marketing art. Your post was well written and I liked the pictures that went along with it.
    Chad Staelens

  2. Great post Jennifer. After reading your blog I did a littlemore research on different groups of artists on Facebook. One I found interesting was “Artwork for Ale”, which was a guy who set up a group and would accept any commission on his artwork as long as it covered the cost of a beer (Drell, 2012). It’s seemed like a unique, fun way to ask for donations. Thought it was interesting to share!

    Reference:
    Drell, L. (2012, January 20). Artists and digital: Why social media is the new gallery. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/01/20/artists-social-digital-media/

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