The world wide web is frequently cast as the great enemy of traditional culture, undermining the music industry, the film industry and publishing. Yet one form of art has now found a way through - perhaps even a way to thrive - and provide careers for artists of the future. The visual arts are booming online.
This is the claim of a growing number of virtual art galleries, backed this spring by an annual survey of the fine art market. The survey shows the value of the online trade is now around pounds 1.57bn and is likely to more than double by 2018. Experienced art collectors and newcomers are both increasingly using websites to find original contemporary works and ordering them for delivery like furniture. There is no need to go to a gallery or deal with frosty gallery owners. Instead, art can be viewed, paid for and returned if it does not match expectation.
"We have reached a tipping point," said
"We have been playing around with this and now seems the right time," she said. "Young people have a sense they can be involved in a world that even five years ago would have seemed pretty intimidating. I find it intimidating to go into some galleries and I have worked in the art world for 10 years. So if you can find a site with the right environment with a name you can trust, it is very appealing."
Online galleries are also an easier way to spot emerging talent. "There was a tremendous amount of great new art being sold at charity auctions, but unless you were on that small circuit of buyers invited to those events you were never going to see it," said Khan.
The research, by British fine art insurer
Key sites include ArtFinder,
"The idea is to make great art available to a far broader audience," said Blackburn. "I get so excited about the different ways this works. Ours is the kind of place you could spend pounds 75, as you might once have done in
Independent art adviser and academic
Yet, according to Wilson, the limited, privileged cocoon of the international art market has been cracked open. "Historically the art world has catered for a very small number of people," she said. "It has been run in their own interest to a certain extent. They knew the more people who were in that world, the more difficult it would be to keep control." Saatchi's online gallery now features artists from 100 countries and has collectors in 80 countries.
Wilson and Blackburn both agree that the transformation is not only broadening the art market geographically, it is creating a new path for artists. "When I was last in London I had an artist crying with joy because he had given up his last part-time job to concentrate on his art," said Wilson. "We are giving new artists the chance to earn a living. Some can even earn up to pounds 100,000 a year."
"It is really exciting for the artists," said Blackburn. "Twenty years ago they simply could not sell anything. Now they have a route that bypasses all that."
Last year Amazon launched its own art portal and
Online gallery Light Space & Time recently announced one of its regular monthly online art competitions, inviting all artists working in 2D to offer up their "landscapes" for judging this month. The 10 finalists will be exhibited online in June.
Also announced last month was the birth of a new investment opportunity for art lovers. My Art Invest, based in Shoreditch, east
And for those who find their wallets empty even before browsing art online, there is always the website showcasing all the public art work they already own, as a nation, digitised in 2012.
White Cube, home of
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