Unfiltered #5: Buying Art Online: Too Much of a good thing or oversaturating Art


 Variety is the spice of life, they say. It's a cliché to start with, but undeniably true. However, when it comes to art, that notion becomes a bit more complex. While it's easy to agree that art comes in all forms, implying that any creation—be it a painting, a photo, or a sculpture—can be deemed art by at least one person, may not sit well with everyone.

 I won't dive into the exhaustive debate or write a four-hour dissertation on what defines a work of art. Instead, let's revisit the expectations of art enthusiasts (particularly buyers) and artists themselves regarding the art market and, more specifically, online art purchasing: the desire for curation, expertise, guidance... That's where the reality of the situation brings us to the crux of this article: too many options can stifle choice... and art.

 Let me elaborate.


Cultivating Your Love for Art and Choosing an Artwork : Yes !


Immersing ourselves in art involves exploring various styles, and within those styles, discovering every artist's unique language. This exploration sharpens our perception and sensitivity, and offers us a kaleidoscope of emotions and inquiries. The more we immerse ourselves in art, the richer and more profound our relationship with Art becomes.
From classical to contemporary, figurative to abstract, and everything in between—painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, digital art— Art's diverse array contributes to its bounteousness and dynamics, for the pleasure of our senses.

Throughout history, art has evolved through distinct periods and movements, each with its distinctive styles: Classical, Renaissance, Baroque... In contemporary art, we witness an explosion of creativity, offering an even broader range of emotions and sensorial experiences.
This abundance of artistic expression allows us to cultivate our love for art, in its various forms and styles. Moreover, it allows artists to connect with buyers who seek novelty, thereby expanding and diversifying the art market.


Two game-changers: Internet and social media

The emergence of the internet, coupled with the ascent of online art platforms, and the pervasive impact of social networks, has fundamentally altered market dynamics, saturating its supply chain!

Less than fifteen years ago, the interaction between art buyers and artists (and their artworks) occurred primarily within the confines of galleries and art events they attended, relying heavily on curated selections and personal connections. Artists faced limited avenues to showcase their work or connect with potential buyers, often relying on gallery representation for exposure and validation within the art community. In the absence of such recognition, they resorted to hosting “openings” in their studios or renting booths at regional art fairs, since international art exhibitions remained largely out of reach. Their hope? To catch the eye of a discerning buyer or influential figure within the art world, thus propelling their career forward.

Today’s digital era has revolutionized the art market, enabling a buyer in Singapore, from the comforts his home, to discover the artworks of an artist tucked away in Portugal (without the artist even being exhibited in a gallery) and follow the same artist on social networks... see his studio, watch him paint, etc. Meanwhile, traditional galleries have harnessed the power of online platforms like Artsper and Artsy to broaden their audience beyond brick-and-mortar exhibitions, while artists have also seized the opportunity to sell their artworks themselves by using platforms such as Art Traffik, Saatchi Art, and Singulart, thus completely bypassing the traditional gallery altogether.

The surge in artistic diversity has not just globalized the art scene; it's sparked unforeseen connections, all thanks to social media algorithms. What seemed unlikely is now the norm, as lesser-known artists capture the attention of collectors worldwide. It's a thrilling and transformative phenomenon—I've personally uncovered hidden talents on Instagram while sipping my morning coffee.

The root of Art’s peril : volume...

To fully grasp why this revolution poses a threat, it's essential to understand how it operates... Because the abundance of choice is not only accelerating, it’s also guided by two laws :

#1 The Law of E-commerce and Art: Always Aim for Quantity

In the realm of e-commerce, including marketplaces tailored for both artists and galleries, the golden rule is abundance. The primary goal is to boast the most extensive catalogue possible, spanning various categories like quantity, price range, styles, and even suppliers (apologies to artists for the business-like term). Why? Because the more "references" you have, the higher the likelihood that search engines like Google will position your online platform on its top search results, thus driving more traffic to your website. And once visitors land on your site, a wider array of choices increases the chances of them finding what they are looking for…and consequently buy something.

#2 The algorithm of success: catering to the masses

Whether on social media platforms or e-marketplaces, the goal is to provide you with what's most likely to appeal to you, based on the preferences of other people like you. An artist's visibility on your Instagram feed or at the top of the online art marketplace you’re used to is determined either by that artist’s popularity or impressive sales figures. These outcomes are dictated by algorithms designed to present you with content that's most likely to “please” you.

These two laws directly contradict the essence of Art and its uniqueness, as well as the distinction between a work of Art and a mere "product," or an artist and a mere "supplier." They prioritize commercial viability over genuine talent and artistic expression.

Excessive choice inevitably leads to a degradation of Art:

This brings me to the peril that this relentless pursuit of volume, driven by the internet and social media, poses to Art in all its forms. In the quest to democratize and commercialize Art, are we erasing the line between true artistic expression and mere decorative goods? Are we reducing Art to nothing more than mass-produced commodities, devoid of soul, meaning and Talent?

 #1: Too much of a good thing…oversaturating Art

The landscape of online art sales and its e-commerce dynamics defy any notion of curation—a task traditionally mastered by galleries. Claiming to offer the widest array of options, online platforms often forego any form of curation. This is particularly blatent with marketplaces that allow artists to showcase their work, often requiring the artist pay a subscription fee. And why would these marketplaces pass up such a profitable deal ?
Only gallery-based marketplaces uphold a certain standard, as galleries typically curate their selection. However, even in these instances, there's a noticeable decline in overall quality, as galleries, grappling with online competition, increasingly prioritize commercial viability over artistic merit.

 #2: Overabundance and algorithmic rigidity stifle Art

What truly defines both the artwork and the artist is Talent. Returning to Marcel Duchamp's words: "the worst enemy of art is good taste." In today's age of social media saturation, where content thrives on virality and popularity, works that accumulate the most "likes" are crowned as the "Art standard" by these digital algorithms.

Yet, this metric of popularity hinges more on the adeptness of the community manager and their marketing finesse than on an artist’s genuine quality and artistic commitment. Let's not overlook the phenomenon of paid likes and followers, artificially boosting visibility on platforms like Instagram. Nor should we dismiss instances where a celebrity endorsement catapults an artwork into the limelight. It's this rising tide of social popularity that increasingly defines the commercial success of an "artist," imposing their art as unquestionable "artworks." All this comes at the expense of Art and its loftiest ideals.

For further insights, read our article "The Art of Marketing and the Marketing of Art."



I can’t emphasize this point enough : Art in every price range, absolutely. But above all, Art at all costs ! Let's reevaluate our perception and admiration of Art to acknowledge its true value. Let's distinguish it from the overwhelming commercialization saturating the market, driven by passing trends and superficial aesthetics. Let's make intentional choices, ones that surpass the confines of rules set by the almighty marketing !


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Article published by Julien ARBELAITZ