The Internet has become an unavoidable fact of life. Over just the last few years we have seen radical changes in the way this new technology is changing the way we live, think and shop. Although many artists, collectors and galleries continue to have fears and concerns, even their reluctance is slowly beginning to erode as they accept the inevitability of this powerful, wide reaching tool. In regards to the artworld, there are basically three different types of websites :


1) Information related sites-These can be run by non-profit institutions such as the Smithsonian, or the Getty Information Institute. They are designed to help artists (and the general public) stay informed about specialized topics of information. Sometimes charge a small membership fee to help defray the cost of operating the site, but in general provide plenty of free information.

2) Co-operative membership sites-These sites will charge artists a small fee to participate on the site. Usually included in the price is web page design, so there is a consistency within the site. These sites will try to drive traffic to the individual artist. Because they match the collector to the artist directly, they generally do not take any commission on sales. As a rule, the value of a site can be determined by the number of people that visit that site regularly…do not be persuaded by statistics that include the number of “hits” (a count of random and often accidental landings on one or more pages of the site). What you want to know is the number of “unique users” ( how many people really use the site) and the “sticky-ness factor” (how long they stay on the site)

3) E-commerce sites-These sites are designed to function much like galleries. They do not charge the artist a fee, but rather, offer to sell art to collectors and consultants in exchange for a percentage of the sales price, usually 15%-40%. Some of them require Internet exclusivity, similar to the geographic exclusivity demanded by galleries. However, I try to advise artists not to agree to any exclusive online agreement immediately, but rather, try to negotiate a “piece specific” exclusive…agreeing that certain work will be available only on a specific site. Most of the sites I have been in contact with are amenable to this modification, if it is requested. When deciding on which site to place your work, do your homework. You need to find the site that is best suited to sell your work, has the most traffic and will promote the site.

E-commerce works for a lot of specific reasons…it’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s private. But, one of the most important reasons it works for contemporary art, is it’s anonymous. Art is not the kind of product that you can be talked into…it’s not like a buying a car, or a computer, where most consumers do comparison shopping to check for value as well as quality. Art is one of the few things that is totally an emotional buy. You look at it, you like it or you don’t…it’s a mystery what contributes to a person’s personal taste…there is very little a sales person can say or do to change that. However, being educated about the artist and his career may influence your decision regarding a purchase, but that is only effective after you have already made the decision that you like the piece.

In response to the question of artists designing and maintaining their own website, I have a couple of suggestions.

1) Commit yourself to the idea that owning your own website is a big responsibility requiring constant attention. Update your site regularly with new work, updated prices, your biography, exhibition reviews and articles of interest. Don’t let your site stagnate.

2) Maintain realistic expectations about what your site can do for you. Unless you are vigilant about driving traffic to your site, your site will exist alone in cyberspace and never get discovered. Be aggressive about getting your site listed on search engines and offer to exchange links with other art sites. submit-it.com offers a free service that will list your website with several search engines…they also offer premium services, but the free listing is usually sufficient.

3) Develop a marketing plan. Put your website address on all stationary, business cards, and ads…even your voicemail. Sending out postcards to announce the launch of a new site is also a good idea.

4) Make sure your site is easy to navigate, has an obvious and accessible way to contact you (including a snail mail address, phone number and email) and offers a guest book, for visitors to sign and make comments. Later, this will become your e-mailing list for exhibitions and announcements.

Finally, a few notes on “netiquette”…A lot of artists send out emails to promote their exhibitions or websites. Keep in mind it is really an annoyance to receive an email that is addressed to 500 people. If you are going to send a bulk email, do so individually. Do not send any downloadable files as an attachment, I guarantee they will not get opened. Do not send any images in the text of your email, it takes too long to load. The only effective way to use email as a marketing tool is to create a hyperlink to your website. This means, if the receiver is so inclined, all it takes is one click to get directly to your site. This is your only hope of familiarizing someone with your work or your site…make sure your home page has a visual image on it and is interesting enough to get them to explore the site further.

We are the pioneers for this new technology that is exploding with opportunity on a daily basis…explore it, embrace it, experiment with it. Above all, be creative and have fun!

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Sylvia White and ArtAdvice.com

ArtAdvice.com, founded in 1979 by Sylvia White, in Los Angeles, is one of the few management consulting firms specializing in the career development of visual artists. They advise artists on all matters related to business, exhibitions, and marketing. In 1986 they expanded their consulting services to represent selected artists. In addition to their Los Angeles gallery space, they utilize associates in San Francisco, Chicago and New York to help us familiarize galleries, museums, collectors, critics, and curators with the work of emerging, mid-career, and established artists, their artists have participated in hundreds of exhibitions, nationally and internationally. Sylvia White currently serves on the advisory boards for ArtfulStyle.com, NowCulture.com and Guild.com.