Shuvankar Maitra, a painter, is happy he no longer has to be his own ‘marketer’ and do the rounds of art galleries to sell his work. Four years ago, he created an account on an online art platform — bestcollegeart.com — where he regularly exhibits and sells his work.
Last month, he sold a painting worth Rs 40, 000. In March, he sold four paintings in a day through the online platform for Rs 2.75 lakh. “The buyer was a collector from the UK who saw my work online. The biggest advantage of online galleries is that an artist can focus on art; he does not have to run from one gallery to another to show his work,” he says.
There are many like Maitra who feel the internet may have undermined the publishing and music industry but it has given a new fillip to visual arts. In the past few years, over a dozen online art platforms selling paintings, photographs and sculptures have come up. Some call themselves ‘galleries’ and others define themselves as ‘marketplaces’, where artist can create an account and sell their work directly to the buyer. A fixed commission goes to the ‘gallery’. And no one is happier than emerging artists.
After she graduated from College of Art, Delhi, in 2013, Anni Kumari wrote to many brick and mortar art galleries to exhibit and sell her work but their response was not encouraging. In April, she nominated her work for The Emerging Artist of the Year Award organised by Bestcollegeart in association with Glenfiddich and was one of the five finalists. A few days later, she sold her first work online for Rs1.3 lakh. “Young artists are almost always turned away by established physical art galleries but online ventures have ensured emerging artists have alternative avenues to show and sell their work,” says Kumari, who has sold four paintings online in the past four months.
But is it not more satisfying to associate with a prestigious brick and mortar gallery? “It depends on what stage you are at in your career. An emerging artist should keep earning to keep going, it does matter how he or she sells his or her work,” Kumari says.
Photographer Jashan Deep Singh, who recently sold his work for the first time through World Art Community, an online platform, agrees. “Earlier you needed contacts to exhibit and sell your work, now the internet has ensured any talented artist can showcase his work to thousands of people online and if it is good, chances are that someone will buy it.”
Aditi Chakraborty, a painter, also swears by the power of internet and social media to advance the cause of artists. She says she sold about 30 works online in four years -- five of them in July through a red hot sale. These days, Aditi gets buyers through her Facebook page too and has sold about 25 paintings directly to collectors through the social media site.
“A lot of people send me friend requests and many turn out to be collectors. I have realised that most collectors, given the opportunity, want to deal with artists directly,” says Chakraborty. Many collectors, she says, follow artists on Instagram just to see how their work is evolving. “On Instagram, the focus is only on the visual, not on words, which is good for an artist. But artists should be careful; too much exposure in the virtual world may create fatigue about their work,” Chakraborty says.
Virtual art platforms — Fizdi, Artzolo, World Art Community, Eikowa, etc — have thousands of paintings priced between Rs 5, 000 and Rs2 lakh on sale, offer discount and hold online exhibitions. Many who set up these online art ventures have no background in art. Shobhit Arora, an IITian, worked as a banker and in 2014, he started World Art Community, which he calls a peer-to-peer art marketplace.
“I have no art background but I do have basic art appreciation. There are about half a million freelance artists in the country, including painters, designers, photographers, craftsmen. I realised the art market is driven by intermediaries, where artist is the loser. There we saw an opportunity, and created a platform where artists could decide his own price and directly sell to buyers,” says Arora. “Our team advises the artists. At times we see a lot of traffic on a particular work but it does not sell. In such a case, we advise the artist to reduce the price,” he says.
World Art Community claims to have about 2,700 artists and craftsmen on board – 80% of them painters and 10% photographers. “Many sold their work for the first time on our platform,” says Arora. His online platform adds 300 artists-– aged between 25 to 40 years -- every month.
Most online galleries charge commission that ranges from 10 to 40% and vets a work before it goes on sale. “We have a team of designers and artists who ensure the art work is above a certain quality threshold,” says Arora. “A lot of our customers are first-time buyers and their number is only growing. People are increasingly becoming conscious about their living spaces and want to buy original works.”
Nikhil Girdhar, director, marketing, Bestcollegeart, says about 2,500 artists are registered on the website; a majority are at the early stages of their career. The online platform organises an annual The Emerging artist of the Year award and the winner gets a prize of R10 lakh and a three-month art residency in Scotland. “About 1,000 students pass out of various art colleges but very few carry on because they find it hard to sell their work. We wanted to create an equal opportunity platform for artists to sell their work and for galleries and collectors to spot fresh talent. The work remains with the artist until it is sold,” says Girdhar.
Well-known art critic Alka Raghubanshi says the internet has democratized art and has given recognition to young artists. “Society women who have no understanding of art own most art galleries these days. They have never encouraged young artists, never experiment with new forms of art and have been working for years with same set of artists they have promoted themselves,” she says. “One needs to understand that art can flourish only when you encourage new artists.”
Parul Vadehra, director, Vadehra Art Gallery, says every gallery has a right to decide its curatorial programme and how they should position themselves. “A gallery has its own vision and ethos. Some galleries may have tighter curatorial programmes. We have been exhibiting the works of young artists for many years,” says Vadehra.
What does she think of online art ventures? “Indian art market is at a nascent stage, so any attention art or artists are getting is good,” she says.