For an artist just starting out, the art market can be a fairly terrifying place. Dealers and collectors are often impossible to reach—and even if you do manage to connect, they might not be interested in engaging unless you’re an artist they already know. Plus, there’s an entire foreign lexicon that includes words like “primary market” (and, more daunting, “secondary market”), not to mention the commission structure and consignment agreements that can be especially knotty for the uninitiated to decode.
Online, things aren’t much easier. There are more than a dozen websites that claim to offer artists the opportunity to sell their works directly to buyers (as opposed to art e-commerce sites that source the work from an intermediary, like a gallery or publisher). A lot of them look similar—collections organized according to seasons and color schemes, or simply by medium and size—and they usually profess to make art accessible to all. But, as an artist, how do you know which site is worth your time (and, in cases when there’s a profit share, your money)?
It turns out that “democratizing the art world” is easier said than done. To tease out some of the issues, we’ve rounded up a variety of sites that promise to help artists sell their work online and pored over their offerings, terms of service, profit margins, and overall experience to help you navigate the many e-commerce outlets. This is by no means a complete list, as we opted to include platforms that maintain “curatorial” standards—i.e. have a selection process (though this remains opaque, even to us)—and those that offer information and application processes for artists to submit. Read up below, and happy selling.
WHAT IS IT? Saatchi Art bills itself as “the world’s leading online gallery”—and it is certainly one of the biggest. It also boasts the most comprehensive suite of tools, from a seamless iPhone app, a constantly updated blog that routinely features new artists, and an online manual that covers everything from packaging your work to establishing a fair price for it, helping artists to promote themselves.
SCALE: Around 500,000 original artworks by more than 60,000 artists.
PRICE RANGE OF AVAILABLE WORKS: Uniques, $125–$100,000. Prints start at around $40.
WHO’S IT FOR? The application is free and easy to complete, with helpful links to uploading images and creating a profile—meaning more or less anyone can sell their work. But if you’re lucky, you’ll get an extra boost by gaining a “seal of approval” from one of the site’s curators, whose selections comprise the “featured” homepage section.
WHAT’S YOUR CUT? Artists receive 65 percent of the sale proceeds. Payment typically comes one or two weeks after the work is delivered to the buyer via PayPal, check, or wire transfer.
NUTS & BOLTS: Per the Artists Handbook, artists are notified when a sale is made, at which point they are connected with one of Saatchi’s couriers for pickup. The artist is responsible for the cost and care of packaging the work, and sellers must comply with Saatchi’s shipment guidelines to qualify for an insurance policy. The shipping fee should be included in the artwork price, and is covered by the customer.
PERKS: Arguably the first to get into the e-gallery business, Saatchi boasts industrywide name recognition—even if that name is attached to a controversial founder, who has since sought to distance himself from the site, now owned by Demand Media. The platform also partners with the Other Art Fair, an event that takes place in six cities around the world, so you also have the opportunity to present your wares IRL and meet collectors face-to-face. On the technical side, Saatchi also offers an iPhone app you can link to Facebook to keep your friends and followers in the loop on your latest work.
USER EXPERIENCE: Very good, comparatively speaking. For collectors, it’s easy to discover new artists and search for specific types of artwork through a variety of filters. Plus, Saatchi has a more robust online marketing presence than almost any of the other sites.
WHAT IS IT? Artfinder brands itself as a dating site for art. It uses AI technology and personal shoppers (free for customers willing to spend over $500) to match buyers with art they’ll like.
SCALE: More than 300,000 works by over 10,000 artists, and more than 500,000 subscribers.
PRICE RANGE OF AVAILABLE WORKS: $13 to $11 million. (Yes, it’s a big range.)
WHO’S IT FOR? Artists of all stripes sell every kind of art on Artfinder, from drawings to massive sculptural installations. Because there is advanced matching technology involved, if your work is super conceptual or difficult to describe, your work may not be identified by the standard filters (size, color, medium), so you’d run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle.
WHAT’S YOUR CUT? 67 percent
NUTS & BOLTS: The application is free, and the company also has helpful links for how to complete your profile, price your artwork, and plan for shipping and handling. The seller is responsible for shipping fees and packaging materials, so bear that in mind when pricing your work.
PERKS: In 2017, the company launched the Artfinder Independent Art Market Report, a survey of independent artists’ incomes. It also has a slew of partnership deals with art suppliers, art fairs, and more.
USER EXPERIENCE: Decent. Among its chief positives, it offers an easily accessible range of products and a manual for artists to understand their own business.
WHAT IS IT? A multi-pronged platform that includes an e-gallery, studio manager software, and even a podcast.
PRICE RANGE OF AVAILABLE WORKS: $100 to $5,000.
WHO’S IT FOR? For people who want to learn more about the art world and browse for art offerings on the move, Vango is worth looking at. Its podcast “State of the Art,” which features interviews with art-world innovators (like Matty Mo, aka The Most Famous Artist), is a high point. The website itself, however, is lackluster and difficult to navigate.
WHAT’S YOUR CUT? 70 percent
NUTS & BOLTS: There is a deck that has links to FAQs for artists interested in selling with the platform, but the process to register as a seller can itself seem an exercise in futility, especially for those less inclined to navigate the digital realm.
PERKS: The Vango Studio works as an “inventory management tool” to help artists compile, organize, and track the platforms they use to sell and the transactions they complete—making it a one-stop shop for operating your accounts at Artfinder, Saatchi, and other partner sites. Also, the Studio offers to help artists write their bios, shoot videos, and photograph their work.
USER EXPERIENCE: For buyers, not so great. The “collections” are mostly organized by color or medium, with no option to view all the works at one time. Many images fail to load entirely.
WHAT IS IT? An online marketplace that distinguishes itself by only accepting original work (no posters or un-editioned prints).
SCALE: More than 7,000 artworks by approximately 500 artists. The majority are paintings, with photography as the next largest category.
PRICE RANGE OF AVAILABLE WORKS: $75 to $17,000. The largest category is works under $500.
WHO’S IT FOR? Anyone who’s got 10 digital images to upload and is willing to shell out the nominal ($5) application fee.
WHAT’S YOUR CUT? 50 percent. Expect to be paid 30 to 40 days after delivery.
NUTS & BOLTS: After the sale, artists are notified by email; UGallery will send artists custom art boxes for packaging, and artists based in the U.S. will also get prepaid FedEx labels. If you’re working outside the U.S., or your work is 3D, the packaging supplies and shipping labels are on you—but you’ll be reimbursed by the company.
PERKS: The company has a good track record for partnerships—they recently inked a deal with housewares giant Crate & Barrel to offer UGallery artists’ works on its site.
USER EXPERIENCE: Pretty good. The website isn’t as sleek as some of the others, but it offers a responsive customer-service chat function and a comprehensive section for FAQs and, for artists, helpful tips for marketing yourself online.
WHAT IS IT? Absolut Art collaborates with artists to produce exclusive, limited-edition artworks that are signed, framed, and delivered to the collector’s door. And, yes, it is owned by the vodka company—it is “a new independent extension of the Absolut brand aimed at broadening access to contemporary art on a global scale,” according to the sites FAQ.
SCALE: More than 400 artworks by about 150 artists
PRICE RANGE OF AVAILABLE WORKS: $105 to $3,065.
WHO’S IT FOR? In describing the site’s sensibility, Absolut Art founder Nahema Mehta said she’s looking for art that falls somewhere “between posters and Picassos,” and that the company has “a 20/80 goal for each collection: 20 percent should be well known, ‘media darling’ types, and 80 percent should be up and coming.” The company promotes itself more as a tool for collectors to find new art to buy, not as a way for artists to promote themselves, but there is an artist application available online for enterprising types looking for a sleek context.
WHAT’S YOUR CUT: 50 percent
NUTS & BOLTS: Absolut takes care of the packaging, and depending on the country it’s being shipped to, either Absolut or the buyer covers the shipping tab—in this way it’s more like a traditional gallery that takes care of the logistics once you’re on their roster; they also use marketing activations like video clips and professional photography to enhance your wares!
PROS: You’re in the company of well-known artists like Miranda July, Sarah Meyohas, and Frog King Kwok, and have the robust marketing chops and corporate cachet of Absolut at your disposal.
USER EXPERIENCE: Quite impressive, really. As a buyer, you’re treated to a smooth-functioning website, impressive social media chops, and a lot of great press that supports your decision to shop here. For artists, though, just because you apply doesn’t mean you’ll get in—the selection process here is more exacting than other sites on the list, so make sure you already have an eye-catching online (and IRL) presence to get noticed.
WHAT IS IT? According to Tappan co-founder Chelsea Neman, the site was created to “foster the careers of emerging artists by giving them an online platform to sell their work, tell their story, and reach collectors all over the world.” the company as “a full-service art firm, digital platform, and gallery in Los Angeles for discovering and collecting original work and limited-edition prints by today’s best emerging artists.”
SCALE: About 1,300 artworks available by 56 artists.
PRICE RANGE OF AVAILABLE WORKS: $15 zines to $12,000 unique sculptures.
WHO’S IT FOR: The offerings have an Instagram-friendly, minimal vibe and is predominantly curated based on similar muted color palettes. If you like matcha lattes and avocado toast, this might be the platform for you. At the same time, it’s not 100 percent clear how you can get on it if you’re a new artist. Asked where Tappan’s artists come from, co-founder Neman said, “Everywhere. We scour everything from MFA grad shows to Instagram. We’re always introducing new work, but we’re really invested in our artists.”
WHAT’S YOUR CUT? Undisclosed.
NUTS & BOLTS: Tappan actually operates somewhat like a multi-platform art incubator, offering its select emerging artists access to residency programs, international exchange programs, brick-and-mortar exhibitions, and access to brand collaborations.
PROS: The company has forged partnerships and collaborations with some heavy hitters in the fashion/art/influencer realm, including the fashion label Vince, healthy-food purveyor Sweetgreen, and California-chic lifestyle brand Jenni Kayne. It’s just rather opaque how artists can get in on the action other than having the luck of being scouted by a Tappan employee, but it’s worth trying all the same.
USER EXPERIENCE: Fancy, mysterious, a bit cliquish, with a photo of Jonah Hill sitting in the Tappan office setting the vibe.