Online Artist Collectives Auction Art on eBay
Artists have been selling their art on eBay pretty much since the auction site began operation. Back in the old days, though, selling that art was not easy. Because eBay provided limited subcategories under the category of "art," artists had few options for listing their work. Most were forced to place their art into catchall categories that included everything from original art to copies of famous paintings to flea market finds to store-bought posters.
Buyers looking for original art by contemporary artists had an equally difficult time locating works for sale. Unless they knew specific artists' names, about all they could do was plow through thousands of art listings one-by-one in hopes of finding pieces they liked. They could narrow their searches by using specific key words like "oil painting" or "sculpture," but that was still pretty much of a hit-or-miss process.
eBay has since added a category of art called "self-representing artists" for artists who market their own work, but even searching this category is difficult for inexperienced buyers. As of this writing, the "self-representing artists" category has nearly 4,000 works of art for sale. Everything from Japanese brush paintings to ceramics to woodcarvings to linoleum cuts appears in a jumble, organized only by the times that the auctions end. Artists still had big problems establishing significant online identities.
According to Stephanie Greene, curator of eMOMA, independent online artist collectives grew out of the need for artists to achieve higher profiles and recognizeable identities on eBay. The idea behind these collectives is strength in numbers. Each collective offers multiple works of art by a group of contemporary artists like that typically seen at bricks-and-mortar art galleries or group shows. Each collective can then cultivate regular collectors in much the same way that dealers and galleries do.
By banding together and "branding" their art, artists make their work easier for eBay buyers to locate. Members of each collective are allowed to use a unique word in the title of every piece of art that they auction on eBay. Collectors, in turn, locate members' art by searching eBay listings using that keyword.
For example, the first such online collective, EBSQ, initially offered free membership to any artist interested in joining, regardless of his or her qualifications. Every work of art auctioned by EBSQ members contains the word "ebsq" in its title line so that buyers can easily locate all EBSQ for sale listings whenever they log onto eBay. EBSQ still allows any artist to join, but now charges a modest annual membership fee. The site has also added a juried section of art and artists called EBSQ+, chosen by judges based on factors like quality and professionalism. This art is searchable on eBay under the keyword EBSQ+.
EBSQ has approximately 200 participating artists and, at the time of this writing, its members have nearly 500 auctions in progress on eBay. A check of almost 900 recently completed EBSQ auctions shows that the most expensive piece sold for a little over $450 with the vast majority of pieces selling for under $100. EBSQ reports that 60% of all member auctions are successful with an average selling price of $40.
Unlike EBSQ, which allows any artist to join, eMOMA.org is a juried site with curator Stephanie Greene selecting artists based on the relevancy of their work to that of the site as a whole. This selection process, says Greene, provides a unity to the work and allows collectors who like particular artists to easily find similar works by other member artists. eMOMA artists currently have 60 auctions in progress on eBay (search eBay using the keyword "emoma"). A review of nearly 70 recently completed auctions shows a high selling price of $140 with most art selling for $30-$50 and some selling for as little as $5. eMOMA does not charge a membership fee, but artists have to be accepted onto the site.
Belonging to online auction collectives provides artists with a sense of community, particularly those living in out-of-the-way places. Sites offer various services including discussion boards, chat capabilities, resource pages, online shows, and featured artist pages. Members can get to know fellow artists, critique each other's work, give moral support, and provide links to their personal websites. They also share information about techniques, styles, how best to list and display art for sale, and how to ship. Most collectives have no membership exclusivity clauses so artists can join more than one collective in order to increase online exposure to their art.
For buyers, online artist collectives are a great way to shop for reasonably priced art, and for art by artists who do not show at galleries or live in major cities. In addition to bidding for collective members' art on eBay, buyers can also visit artists' personal websites to see larger selections of art, buy directly from those artists, and even commission works in some cases. Artists who belong to collectives tend to be more reliable in terms of shipping, pricing, and doing business than independent artists with no online affiliations.
Artist collective sites offer additional benefits to collectors including basic information about how members are selected for each site, temporary and permanent exhibits of members' art, tips for buying art, and answers to frequently asked questions. Several of the larger sites also offer on-site magazines, newsletters, news updates, featured artists, and email announcements. Buyers who prefer better quality art can shop primarily at sites offering juried selections of work.
Online artist collectives are pretty much in their infancy, especially with respect to selling higher priced work at online auctions, but the basic foundations have been laid. Over time, expect the overall quality and quantity of these sites to increase as artists and art dealers develop more sophisticated methods for auctioning quality art by artists who are more established in their careers.
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