Key Takeaway: If you’re busy or unsure of what’s available, you can still buy art. You just need to leverage the Internet. These online galleries and collectives will help you get serious about finding art you love that fits your budget.
It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking you can’t afford to buy real art. Most of the hype in art world sales centers around multi-million dollar paintings, installations, and sculptures. Exhibits of well-known artists at museums also fuel the idea that art ownership is out of reach to the average person.
Good news! There is a thriving online art market where you can purchase art you’ll love that you can actually afford.
Before you say, “I can’t afford any art,” consider this: If you can afford $200 for a pair of shoes that are fashionable for a season or two, you can afford $200 for a piece of art you’ll keep forever. I’ll show you how, starting with the basics.
Two kinds of art markets
Primary art market
This is the first time a piece is sold. There are two ways to buy art in the primary market. Sometimes a piece is sold directly by the artist, and sometimes it’s sold through a gallery — both online and in the physical world. Here is a little more detail.
Buying directly from the artist
For many of us, this idea is the most appealing. We get to know an artist personally, connect with her to better understand her work, and then purchase art directly from her. This way the artist gets to keep all of the money from the sale of the work.
If you have the opportunity to go to artists’ studios or art fairs, you should. It’s a fun way to find new art styles and artists you’ll want to collect. There are even art fairs like The Other Art Fair, which has been curated by art industry experts, but you still buy directly from the artist.
For most artists, maintaining a web presence and self-promotion (submitting work for art fairs, exhibiting at art fairs, creating online galleries at many websites, etc.) means less time to make art, so many don’t bother. They rely on galleries, and sometimes commissions, to keep income flowing so they can keep doing what they love — making art.
Buying from art galleries
Unlike when you buy directly from an artist, galleries take a commission. The amount varies from a nominal fee to over 50%. In exchange, galleries offer artists a variety of services, including promotion, sales, and even career development.
While art galleries in the physical world offer a great service to artists, the collector side of the experience isn’t always ideal. Galleries sometimes feel stuffy and unwelcoming. Plus, how many galleries will you need to go into to find “the piece” you’re looking for? And then there’s the hard sell.
Secondary Art Market
This is all subsequent sales of a piece of art, whether online or offline. Artworks in the secondary market are sold at auction, in consignment stores, or even via professionals from other trades like art brokers, interior decorators, and real estate agents.
This market is where prices skyrocket. It mostly serves very rich people who want to show everyone how much money they have. Don’t believe me? Check out these documentaries: The Price of Everything and Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World on Netflix. You’ll see how the secondary markets work, who the players are, how they affect real artists, and how much money can be made “trading” art like baseball cards at this level.
How these markets work online
In recent years, in response to how overwhelming the gallery business can be for both artists and collectors alike, galleries are moving online. They’re adopting innovative business models with lower fees. There are different ways to achieve this, but the benefit of lower fees goes to both you (the collector) and the artist.
A variety of online galleries have significant collections for you to shop. Each has its own voice and curation style. The better ones organize their art collections by color, price, size, orientation, and medium (what the piece is made of). They all focus on bringing affordable art to new art buyers and collectors alike.
Here are some of our favorite primary market art sites online:
Saatchi Art is the very definition of a modern, online gallery. Via the Internet, they are able to source new artists from all around the world in every medium, size, and price point you can imagine. They are super concerned about quality, and seek artists producing high-quality original artwork in every price range. Whether you want to buy wall art (paintings and drawings) or objets d’art (small sculptures for your home or office), they have a huge selection for you to fall in love with.
One of Saatchi Art’s sister sites is Limited by Saatchi Art. They offer Limited Edition prints from artists in many different styles. These are also artist-created, not like the prints of Starry Night you’ll find at every online reproduction house. A Limited Edition print comes with a certificate of authenticity and usually an affordable price tag.
Saatchi also offers a free Art Advisory Service. If you don’t know what you want or need, or simply don’t want to wade through thousands of pieces to find your winner, you can sign up for their advisory service. They’ll walk you the process, find pieces that fit your needs, and get you art you’ll love faster than if you did it on your own.
One last perk of shopping for art at SaatchiArt.com… a 7-Day Money Back Guarantee. If a piece arrives and it’s not what you thought it would be, you can return it for a full refund. This is for original art only, not prints you purchase on Limited.
Artfinder is based in the UK but works with artists from everywhere and their art can be shipped anywhere. Artists, for various reasons, may choose to only work with one online platform, so I strongly recommend shopping around at Artfinder in addition to other online galleries discussed in this post.
If you need help selecting artwork, Artfinder offers a Personal Shopping service. They expect a few things in return for this free service: you must make a $200 deposit, applicable toward any art purchase in the next six months; you must expect to spend at least $750 on art they find for you. These requirements seem reasonable, as they have ample inventory available for you to fall in love with.
In the unlikely event you simply can’t find what you’re looking for, Artfinder offers a commissioned art work feature. For artists that accept commissions, Artfinder will facilitate your commissioning of a work. You simply initiate a request for proposal from the artist, evaluate the proposal, and accept or decline. If you accept the proposal you’ll make a deposit and the artist will send updates on the progress of the piece via Artfinder. Once the piece is complete, you pay the remaining amount due, and the artist ships the work.
When buying anything online, it’s important to be able to return it if it’s not what you expected when it arrives. Artfinder offers a 14-day no questions asked return policy. If you don’t love it when you open the box, send it back.
Similar to Saatchi Art, but smaller and more curated, Uprise Art selects artists to work with and sells their art in an online gallery. While Saatchi happily sells every style and price point imaginable, Uprise Art is focused on affordability. Their aesthetic is aimed at a younger crowd (under 40) but works for anyone with a youthful vibe. Most of the work they sell is urban or abstract and will go well with current decor trends like minimalism and boho.
One of the best features of Uprise Art is their installment plan. The first place you’ll encounter it in earnest is in the shopping cart, so I want to call it out before you even visit the store. For art under $1,000 you can pay $50/month or 10% of list price each month over 10 months. For art over $1,000 you can choose to pay over 10% of list price for 10 months or 5% for 20 months. The installment plan is not available for items in their “Art Under $800” section.
Uprise Art also offers a free art advisory service to help you select art you’ll love. Since all sales are final, I strongly recommend taking advantage of this service when shopping Uprise Art.
Pictoclub is an interesting place to buy art, not least of which because of their innovative business model. Here’s how Pictoclub works:
- Their smart designers come up with interesting ideas for paintings that fit into decor nicely.
- They mock them up in rooms and offer them at a variety of sizes to suit your needs and budget.
- They have the paintings created on demand when you order.
If you like the look of the paintings, it’s a terrific way to buy an “original” piece. I put original in quotes in that last sentence for a reason. These are essentially limited-edition paintings, rather than original one-of-a-kind artworks. This business model means they can charge a bit less for a painting than you might find a truly original work of the same size.
One thing I really like about Pictoclub’s art choices is how well they sort of fit the zeitgeist. If you follow a bunch of artists and critics on Instagram like we do, then you see what’s sort of popular in the art world right now. Pictoclub’s collection reflects those trends surprisingly well. Another smart part of what they’re doing… they don’t offer dozens of variations of each concept, so you don’t get overwhelmed with selection.
Caveat: They claim they’ll only produce a limited number of each design, but there aren’t any specifics around how many, if the limits are set by each size of each design, and who knows if they’ll change the numbers later, etc. This will likely decrease the value and suitability of their paintings for resale or investment.
Pictoclub offers a return policy that requires you to notify them of your intent to return a painting within 14 days of receipt. They also art advisory services, but not for free like some of the other businesses included in this article.
Twyla is another interesting online mashup of business models. They’re a really sophisticated art reproduction house — they print things using archival methods so they’ll last more than 100 years — but they also serve as a curated online art gallery for artist clients.
When you shop on Twyla, you’re choosing art from living artists and you’re buying a limited edition print that you can’t purchase anywhere else. Each piece comes with a certificate of authenticity, is signed by the artist, and has a custom frame.
When shopping for prints, Twyla gives you two good reasons to start with them. First, they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee — this is not standard in the online gallery world. Second, they offer financing through third-party Bread Financing. Choose a 6-, 12-, or 18-month plan to make your decorative art dreams come true.
Art Start Art
Art Start Art features a monthly collection of art produced by art students enrolled in BFA and MFA programs across North America. Their pitch to you is that you’re buying art from emerging artists before they even emerge, so you have the best shot at increasing your investment return.
In my opinion, the best part about Art Start Art is that you’re helping young artists discover market forces like finding product-market fit, how to price your work, how to represent yourself online in a professional fashion, and how to partner with businesses to help sell your work. And, let’s face it, young artists can benefit from a leg up in the form of the extra cash you’re putting in their pocket.
That said, please don’t buy art you don’t like just because some promising student created it. You should only ever buy a work of art that you love and will create joy every time you see it.
Where NOT to Buy Art Online
At Art of a Kind, I promote buying original art and limited edition prints created by an artist who is still alive. I believe that supporting living artists by collecting is a better use of funds than buying a cheap print or giclee of a Van Gogh or a Monet. I also think you get much more bang for your buck when you buy an original canvas.
Generally, when you purchase a reproduction of a piece not originally designed for reproduction, you get a poor facsimile of the original.
Giclees may be on canvas, but they aren’t dimensional or vibrant like a painting. Brush strokes add texture and depth, creating an experience; CMYK printers can’t faithfully replicate the original pigments that artists work with, so the colors are usually muted or incorrect altogether.
Another class of places not to buy prints are stores promoting art strictly as decor. These stores generally choose cheaply-printed, cheaply-framed and uninspiring works of art that fit well their furniture line. I don’t want art that blends in, I want art that has its own voice and occupies a meaningful place in my space — I think you should, too.
Original art and limited edition prints have the potential to increase in value, though I don’t advise investing in art (vs buying a piece of art for your enjoyment) unless you know what you’re doing or are working with a trusted professional.
To really wrap your head around the technical ins-and-outs (i.e. do a deep dive on your own), start by reading the FAQs at all of these websites. You’ll learn how they source their work, how easy or difficult it is for an artist to get representation, how they handle returns, and so much more.