Artists move online to sell their work to wider audience

By Lucy Burton
Business reporter, BBC News

  • Published

Have you ever wanted to hang a Damien Hirst in your hall? How about an Edgar Degas in your dining room?

Now might be your chance as galleries and curators are increasingly using the internet to sell art at affordable prices.

Some websites are even letting people rent out works of art for less than the price of a monthly mobile phone bill.

Young artists are hoping that this will help them reach an entirely new audience.

San Franciscan Scott Phillips recently launched a 'try before you buy' rental service on his website

Mr Philips believes "finding great art can be time-consuming and intimidating" and wanted to make the experience easier for the novice art buyer in the UK.

Image caption,
Scott Phillips says: "I want people to interact with the art and artists"

His company rents out original works of art to people to try out on their living room wall before they commit to buying it.

The pictures are delivered with a curator's description of the piece and a pair of white gloves to minimise damage.

While flipping through pages of the website on his iPad in a friend's gallery in Hoxton Square in London, Mr Philips says he believes in the democratisation of art: "We wanted to make buying and renting artwork accessible to people beyond the wealthy and well-connected."

Social platform

His is not the first company to offer online art rentals - Artiscle for example, offers a very similar service in the US.

However, Mr Philips believes his site is unique because it is not a pure e-commerce venture, but a social platform for rising artists.

Image caption,
The art world has been quite slow to adapt to digital platforms

The social networking part of the site encourages potential customers to join the online community and talk to the artists about their work.

This gives the artists a chance to promote their work to a new generation of collectors.

Mr Phillips says artists are so focused on their work that they do not always know how to sell themselves.

"Here they can build a community and submit their work - it gives them a much bigger platform than a degree show."


Ting Ting Cheng is one of the young artists whose work is available to rent on the site.

She is a 26-year-old photographer, originally from Taiwan, and her work centres on the themes of language barriers and alienation.

While working in a friend's tiny, paint-spattered studio in East London, she says online platforms are vital for her generation of artists.

Image caption,
Photographer Ting Ting Cheng says it's good for artists to have their own website or blog

"There is so much competition because there are so many art degrees and courses."

She says her website and blog makes it easier for her photos to be seen by galleries and potential buyers.

"When people see your artwork they can go home and Google your name - that's really important."

A true child of the digital age, Ms Cheng says that every time she makes a piece of art she thinks about how to put it on her website.

'Missing a trick'

Some galleries are now just using their studio space as a marketing tool to promote their e-business.

DegreeArt is both a physical shop in Bethnal Green and a website, which allows art lovers to buy the works of art students, and those who have recently graduated.

It is co-directed by friends Isobel Beauchamp and Elinor Olisa.

The women realised there was a gap in the market for a company that could promote and sell graduate art work.

"The idea is to leave the business part to us, and let the artists do what they do best - their art work," says Ms Beauchamp.

Image caption,
Elinor Olisa and Isobel Beauchamp say there is "a desire for affordable artwork"

Both of them advise students on how to brand themselves post-university and surrounded by a colourful exhibition of pictures of rats and amphibians Ms Beauchamp stresses the importance of online promotion: "If you don't have Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Flickr then you're missing a massive trick."

Ms Beauchamp says that artists now have to be business savvy and appeal to buyers with less disposable income.

She points to her father, Paul Beauchamp, who belongs to a collective of Welsh artists called Gallus Editions.

Made up of three artists and a photographer, Gallus Editions sells affordable, limited-edition prints online.

Mr Beauchamp says this way more people get to know and enjoy their work and then want to visit the galleries where their more expensive work is sold.

Although Mr Beauchamp is something of a latecomer to the internet he is enthusiastic about the opportunity it gives artists to communicate with each other: "The internet stops old artists like us from ending up as an island," he says. "We need websites to push us along."

Perhaps if artists like Vincent van Gogh had had the internet - they may have had the recognition they deserved during their lifetime.

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