As someone who is over the moon when I hear about innovation in art and programs that lower the barriers to entry for people to appreciate and collect it, the announcement that Amazon would sell fine art online should have made me break out into cartwheels.  And I’m not unhappy. . . just cautious.  The launch was only just a couple of weeks ago, so time will tell whether or not this platform has legs.  Of course, plenty of sites exist that sell original art online, and I love the accessibility of that concept.  Fall in love with art in your pajamas? I’m in!

As this Business Insider article says, “there are plenty of people who are uncomfortable with the typical brick and mortar gallery experience who would actually prefer to buy art online. There's less judgment about what you like, less pressure in choosing what to buy, and customers can rely on Amazon's return and shipping policies, so there's extra reliability.”  Word.  Buying art online takes away so many of the barriers a lot of people new to looking at art (and a lot who are not so new) feel:  galleries are intimidating, art in galleries will not fall within an affordable price range, lack of experience looking at art or knowledge about art history will make the whole experience feel unpleasant and disconnected.

With over 40,000 items for sale on Amazon Art, nearly half are priced below $1,000.  You can sort by medium, size, price, color.  There seems to be something for everyone.  And as opposed to the other sites that sell art online, everyone knows Amazon.  Everyone is already shopping on Amazon.  Need to bump up the total cost of the items in your cart to qualify for free super-saver shipping?  Add some art.

Other online art selling sites also give a wide selection and allow the user to sort through the work in the same ways as Amazon, but there are some significant differences as well.  These other online art selling sites have been designed with the art buyer in mind.  Some cater to more advanced collectors and sell high-end art, and others target new art buyers, but they are all set up to disclose the most important information about the art for sale (condition of art that is being resold, edition sizes for photographs and prints), and they seem to be invested in creating (return) art collectors.

Most sites that are exclusively dedicated to selling art online have an educational component to them, so that new art buyers can dig in a bit and learn about the various art terms and get comfortable with what they are looking at.  They also have blogs with artist features and other bits of information to give you a deeper understanding of the art for sale.  Amazon Art has no more information listed about artwork than for any other products they sell.  While buying original art (over mass-produced décor) is the first step to getting people on the path to recognizing the value art can add to their lives, the ultimate goal is to cultivate their interest in art and get them invested – not just financially, but emotionally – in art.  Adding a cool image to your shopping cart along with diapers, an e-book, and shampoo does not seem to do that.  That scenario gives the feeling that art may be an afterthought, especially since the educational component does not exist on Amazon (unless the e-book is about art!).  If someone was interested in learning more about the artist, the medium, or the motivation behind the work, they would have to make an effort to research it themselves online.  To make art personal to new collectors and allow them to connect to it in a deeper, meaningful, multi-layered way, there needs to be more context. 

Also related to the lack of information available about the art and artists, I noticed that photographs listed say only “Unique Work”, with no mention of edition size.  I am very familiar with many of the photographs for sale on Amazon Art, and I know they are not “one of a kind”, which is what “Unique Work” leads me to believe.  Yes, the work is original, but it exists in multiple, but limited, prints.  

The information issue could easily be addressed by creating additional fields for the participating galleries to fill out for each piece of art.  I’m sure Amazon has a small city’s worth of programmers that could knock that out in minutes.  The educational/contextual component could also be added, if Amazon was interested in collaborating with an art “expert” to provide the content.

Another concern I have that would be more difficult to resolve is the added distance placed between the collector and the artist.  This Forbes article touts the anonymity of buying art online, but for artists who are trying to build relationships with their collectors (which I cannot recommend enough, as I wrote about in a previous post), being so far removed from the purchaser would make the development of meaningful, ongoing relationships between artists and collectors impossible.  In this situation, the galleries do not even have the opportunity for personal interactions with the purchasers, so there is no opportunity to build a relationship there either.

Art alone is beautiful.  Art that engages and creates a visceral response is life-changing.  Sometimes some context and personal connection is the difference between the former and the later.

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