Insights derived from the survey outlined below must be taken primarily as anecdotal indications of popular, culturally specific sentiment. It would be nonsensical to weigh interviewer-constructed, curtailed answers received by under a thousand respondents as some form of undisputed truth when gauging the art world’s almost incomprehensibly diverse and expansive practices.
Respondents preference’s do although hint at more broadly applicable considerations. The survey raises thought provoking questions regarding the future shape of online art sales across a variety of mediums:
“The percentage of art buyers making online purchases has fallen in the past year, and the growth of online art sales has slowed for the second year running, a new report has found. The findings may cause concern for artists who make a living selling art online, although overall, the online art market has continued to grow.
The survey also found that mobile purchases have continued to increase and take a larger share of the market, and social media remains a key way for people to find new art. “The future of the online market is guaranteed, although the shape remains a mystery,” writes Robert Read, Head of Art and Private Clients at Hiscox, the insurance company behind the report. He continues: “Buying art continues to be hugely enjoyable and exciting (as well as occasionally frustrating) and the continued influence of social media, especially Instagram, helps fuel the growth of the market.”
Changing Sales | The report’s findings, which also assess the impact of cryptocurrencies and cybercrime, are based on responses from 831 art buyers surveyed through Art Tactic’s client mailing list. Roughly 43% of art buyers bought online in the last 12 months, down from 49% the previous year. The slowdown was particularly pronounced for people under 35. Only 36% of this group bought art online in the last 12 months, compared to 44% the year before. According to the report, this suggests that the art market is “struggling to convert hesitant, as well as occasional online buyers, into repeat customers”. Hiscox notes that while the online art market grew by 20-25% between 2013 and 2015, the last 24 months showed signs of a slowdown, “perhaps as the industry struggles to broaden and grow its online client base”. The market growth rate fell to 15% in 2016 and 12% in 2017.
Accessing Art | 63% of survey respondents said that Instagram, which had 800 million monthly active users as of January 2018 and is expected to break through 1 billion active users by the end of 2018, was their platform of choice for finding art. The three categories with the most Instagram followers were “museums”, “artists” and “galleries”, according to the survey results. Tate’s Instagram account has 2 million followers. 90% of new art buyers said that price transparency was a key attribute when deciding which online art sales to buy from, making this a potential obstacle to increasing sales.
Threats | The report also finds over half of surveyed selling platforms had been the target of attempted cyber attacks over the past 12 months. Around 15% said that an attack had been successful. Just over 40% of online art buyers are either concerned or very concerned about cyber crime when buying art online, and 82% said they would most likely buy from platforms they had prior knowledge of due to fear of cybercrime. Read concludes: “The art market is dominated by small- and medium-sized businesses who have historically been at the less tech-savvy, more complacent end of the scale. “These businesses are vulnerable and our findings suggest that cyber criminals may be waking up to this, perhaps seeing the art market as a soft target.” Arts Professional
The Medium Is The Message
Discussions reference art sales as they pertain to traditionally defined canvases, prints or typically smaller compositions. Similar to the structure of the most popular promotional tool implemented, Instagram with it’s series of panels, a ‘gallery view’ is perfectly suited for these.
Here it may be argued that each stage of the process has been influenced. From concept, creation to end-client delivery all portions necessarily either overtly or unconsciously account for the promotional restrictions that such a medium inherently entails. Meaning an artist who profits from utilization of the ‘gallery view’ sales channels may coordinate their efforts, however individually measured as ultimately positive or negative, so as to achieve the best result when their work is viewed through this type of platform.
A similar contention may be exponentially compounded for mixed media, larger three dimensional compositions, performance or any number of visual art forms. If understanding the purpose of artistic creation to be unencumbered creation or sharing of novel interpretations, such a self-reflexive and influential delivery mechanism should perhaps cause some misgiving.
Who’s Buying & Why?
Galleries and advisors were once held as gatekeepers, the art world authorities. The Tate’s some two million followers on social media prove it can still be argued that source reputation and influence may precede deference to personal interpretations. At the very least formal reputation may function as a type of collective indicator of quality filtering for what is an eclectically diverse or perhaps commonly imperceptibly saturated field. And when viewed as investment vehicles, this collective work evaluation retains a significant impact.
An inconsistency arises though with bureaucratically structured gatekeepers now facing democratized, self-controlled and almost truly decentralized purchasing capacities. Art transactions are possible directly between almost any gallery’s producing and consuming target markets.
Through online channels independently each artist has the potential to reach relatively unlimited audiences. Although their authority, expertise and or ‘formal’ stature may be diluted in the face of participant breadth as well as presentation context. At this time galleries or advisors may retain an educated expertise, discerning judgement and or appreciation far past the commonly grasped. Although a purchaser’s choice in selection could still be seen as a liberated one because of the multiple avenues permitting ownership achievement.
Purchasers may decide to buy directly from an artist or upon expert influence. Do they value a composition or did they purchase it because they believed it to be of value. The democratization of accessibility calls into question how worth may now be collectively assigned.
Pricing transparency was indicated as the single largest influential factor. The security concerns and use of reputable channels is more or less subsumed into that metric. If the site, channel or medium was not safe nor secure then any ‘transparency’ in pricing would naturally be secondary and false.
Transparency implies open valuation and clear accounting, from source to receipt. Yet to quantify price must be to defer to one collective or subjective interpretation. It is the price attainable during re-sell or that which is self-ascribed from sentiment or attachment. On its own, transparency may offer no stable universally extendable footing. Value ascribed remains as variable as the art itself, it is derived from the eye of the beholder or market [beholders].
Online or off, publicly available options loosely dictate artwork sales being formed from a place of informed value recommendation or as a facilitation of subjective interpretation. Objective gradations and statements of a composition’s worth cannot be equally nor legitimately applied to all.