Tuesday, November 13, 2012


I ran across this article I wrote several years ago and thought it was still timely.

by Susan F. Greaves

Buying art online is a growing trend despite problems like variable onscreen image reproduction, verifiable dealers and artists, and problems determining true value.  Still, a large number of collectors are entering the market this way. Whether you wish to enlarge an existing collection or are new to the fine art field, there are ways to minimize the pitfalls involved.

1. FOLLOW YOUR HEART. This is a time-tested maxim. Few, no matter how experienced, can predict future increases in the value of an artwork. Preferences change and what was wildly collected a quarter-century ago may be less valuable if it is put on the market now. Web sites tout the glories of this or that, but your educated intuition and preferences are more reliable. Many famous collections stand on their own as a reflection of the interests and taste of the collector, not the specific artists represented. Make your collection YOURS and you will achieve maximum gratification.

2. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE BUYING. Be sure you understand the medium or the method of reproduction used. Certainly, know whether the work is an original or a reproduction. Even paintings that look original may simply be “enhanced” prints on canvas where areas are painted with thick paint to give the appearance of an original. If the work is a print, know whether it is a limited edition lithograph, poster, or giclee.  Ask about its permanence. Were archival materials used? For sculptures, investigate the medium. If it is one conducive to multiples like bronze, ask about the number cast.

3. KNOW FROM WHOM YOU ARE BUYING. Is this web site or listing of a dealer, gallery, artist’s representative, artist directory, or the artist himself? Dealers and galleries take work on consignment from living artists or current owners of the artwork. Occasionally, they buy work directly from the artist or owner. Representatives and artist directories usually get a percentage of the selling price. Ask the agent how long he has been in business, since longevity is a measure of his ability to honor his commitments. Buying directly from the artist may be preferable, in that it allows you to establish a personal relationship with him or her. It may surprise you, but artists relish this. It has been one of the major benefits of selling on the internet for artists. Not only is it more fulfilling for them, it can fuel their future work and tell
artists whether they have achieved the true goal of fine art… communication of their ideas.

4. RESEARCH THE ARTIST. Whether you find the work that interests you on the net through ads, auctions, or web sites, you should learn as much as you can about that artist. Read his resume or biography. To which professional groups has he been elected? Has he won awards? Has he shown locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally? What other sites show his work or list him? Use online registries and other sources.

5. CHECK THE SELLER'S REFERENCES.  Any cross-reference that verifies that a seller is a legitimate and reputable business person is necessary. Auctions like eBay have the advantage because of the feedback system. If a seller, whether an artist or a dealer, has many sales with little or no negative feedback, you can expect to be treated professionally and honestly. With other methods of purchase, verify phone numbers, addresses, call the Better Business Bureau, look for endorsements from companies that verify businesses, and so on.

6. SET YOUR MONITOR FOR MAXIMUM COLOR. Many variables make viewing artwork on the internet and online imaging difficult. The seller cannot control the brightness or contrast settings on your screen. Sometimes a color that is a lovely coral was show as bright orange on a different monitor.  You will come closer to a true reproduction if your settings are maximized. Still, the artwork may not look like what you expected. That leads to our next tip….

7. IS THE SALE GUARANTEED? The unavoidable and undeniable problems with color reproduction and visualization of artworks in the online forum make it appropriate that you demand a “satisfaction guaranteed” commitment. It’s very hard to fully visualize a 36” x 48” painting from even the largest image online. The customary policy calls for the buyer to pay for all shipping, but you should be able to get a full refund for the price of the artwork if it does not prove to be as described or does not meet your expectations. Most reputable dealers and artists willingly offer this guarantee.

8. BE SURE THE SELLER USES A PROFESSIONAL SHIPPER OR IS WELL-TRAINED TO DO IT HIMSELF. After investing the time and effort into finding and verifying all the facts about your artwork, a safe delivery is a must. Most shipping companies - Federal Express, UPS, etc. - set higher requirements for the packing and claims process for fine art. Be sure that the seller uses a company thoroughly familiar with these rules or is so himself. Also, be sure the shipper uses a carrier that allows tracking and that the seller fully insures the piece. Online feedback will give clues. Sometimes it is what is NOT said, such as no reports of damage or returns, that should guide you.

By following these tips, you can enter the fine art market online with confidence. Look forward to the many rewards provided by owning a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of original artwork.

Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions!

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