Cyber Art Market: Decorative and Business Logic
For the past fifteen years, the number of Web platforms focusing on the field of visual arts has increased quite impressively. The relentless growth of various sites has been caused as much by the democratization of art as it has been by art commercialization. Internet offers new opportunities for the art market and allows not only the facilitation of relationships between various people in the field, but also the business expansion to a younger audience with less knowledge. Sites like Paddle8, Artsy, Art Space, and SaatchiArt set up different trading strategies in order to promote, among other things, the creation of new buyers. SaatchiArt, the Internet sales site of one for the most important galleries in London, also has a mobile application, which allows users to visualize artists' works on the user's very own walls at home, simply by using a cellphone camera.
Technological developments as well as the presence of increasingly enhanced visual art in the cyber space democratizes art sales by making it less marginal in certain manner, and more accessible. On art e-commerce platforms, there are usually very few membership requirements. As mentioned by the head of Saatchi Online, Rebecca Wilson, in an interview with Stéphane Baillargeon in 2009, SaatchiArt belongs to people who are registered and offers them an alternative to the world of traditional arts. There are many functional advantages. Most platforms allow transactions that would not occur in different contexts for a variety of reasons, such as geographical constraints. In regard to economic factors, the low prices of certain artworks and the high percentage of the profits handed over to artists helps maintain a dynamic marketplace by promoting both emerging artists and new buyers. Despite all these positive aspects, it seems that some important issues arise through the gradual spread of the art market online.
The question that arises is whether it is really possible and legitimate to purchase a piece of art online, without priorly experiencing direct contact with it. Of course, just looking at the sales figures allows one to see that a large number of buyers seems to see no issues in the process. However, one must also focus on the possible impact of this commercial practice within the art world.
First, the logic of selling on the web has the possibility of reducing the pieces of art to simple consumer products whose only value is their market value. The online sales platform seems, somehow, to ignore the emotional dimension of art, which is generally related to the appreciation of a piece of art with regard to its overall meaning or message. Some collectors like Tiqui Atencio, for example, refuse to purchase artworks without priorly seeing them. There are, of course, all kinds of buyers and not everyone has the same goals and the same vision of art. This has been true long before the emergence of Internet. The web market is perhaps a form of legitimation for those who consider works of art exclusively as consumer products. The differentiation between the artistic and the commercial aspects of art is more difficult to address through an intangible network, and artworks with immense symbolic values thus run the risk of being reduced to simple pragmatic assets existing exclusively in the context of a capitalistic logic of consumption.
The push to invest in works which buyers never had contact with may force value assessments to be based on new criterias. If it is possible to rely on reputations as part of acquiring works of art made by highly rated artists, then it becomes harder to explain the choices made by emerging artists when they attempt to sell their work on these online platforms. Equally, it is difficult to explain the allure of works of art by less established artists to the public. Therefore, the lack of contact with cultural objects could perhaps encourage a return to the dominance of the aesthetic and decorative value of art, especially since superficial characteristics are the only ones which are, even if only in a partial way, accessible through the screen of a computer or another technological device. SaatchiArt could possibly tend indirectly to encourage a mind set where more superficial works of art may become more popular and where the market's capital could become dominated by artists creating works for aesthetic and decorative purposes rather than for their symbolic or cultural value.
Of course, one cannot really be opposed to art sales platforms as they serve as broadcasters worldwide, allow some recognition for many artists and provide a minimum income to local people who might not otherwise be able to sell their art. What remains important is to think about the market's future on the web as well as possible alternatives such as those provided by Artsicle, which allows people to rent works of art before adopting them as permanent fixtures of their homes. In this newly emerging environment, it is equally important to consider options that will further endorse the symbolic value of art.
Head image: Lydia Gifford on Artsy