Buy Art Directly from an Artist
I sell my art through my website and etsy. Occasionally when I’m looking for insight into art that sells, I search through etsy to see what’s ranked the highest. Lately pages and pages are returned featuring art disconcertingly similar, all available at a low price as a digital download. I didn’t pay much attention at first until a designer I work with asked me whether I’d consider offering downloadable art and shared a very successful instagram page of two “artists” who were selling downloadable art.
After looking through their site and lovely instagram feed I noticed some of the images looked remarkably similar to others I’d seen. I did some quick checking to confirm my concerns -- much of the artwork they were selling wasn’t theirs. I wish I could say I was surprised. Afterall they had a lovely instagram page where they shared pictures of their cameras and images customers had taken of their work. The average consumer would never be able to tell the difference.
Most artists don’t offer their work for download for a variety of reasons. We survive by selling prints of our work. When an artist offers a digital version for download, the image can be sent to friends, put up on websites and printed over and over again and all this is lost income for the artist. We also care about how the final print looks. Printers are notoriously inconsistent. We care about the quality of paper, whether the paper will last for many years and how sharp the final image is. Most artists cringe at the idea of their beautiful work printed just anywhere or worse, not printed at all but shared on Facebook or instagram. So when I saw this “artist” sold only digital downloads, I knew something was off.
This seller is one of the more popular ones and they are also one of the more ingenious ones. Their edits are good and they make it difficult to identify the original image. But they are not the only ones who do this. While disingenuous, it is not illegal. The people who put their work up on these sites do so with the knowledge that their work can be used commercially for free. Many just ask for attribution but even that is unenforceable. The sad thing is many of these photographers are quite good. But their work is now worthless to them. Other people continue to make money off of their images without them seeing a penny.
It’s a shame for many reasons but most importantly because it subverts real artists trying to make a living wage. These sellers are creating a business on the hard work of someone else and they are selling images for which they do not own the copyright.
It’s frustrating. Many artists like me put their heart and soul into their work. I make very little from my art but I do it as a labor of love and a desire to infuse my life with creativity and beauty. I try to keep my work relatively affordable but I can’t compete with a $5 download. I hope one day consumers will be able to see the difference. If we continue to look at work the same way we look at cheap clothing that comes from overseas, we will be left with few artists who care to invest the time it takes to create their own work.
If you’re unsure if a seller’s work belongs to them, www.tineye.com is the best place to start. In most cases, you can locate the original but sometimes it’s not easy. I would love if etsy did something about this but I won’t hold my breath. I will continue to offer my work direct to the public and hope one day artists and photographers realize that giving their work for free hurts only themselves.
Here are some examples:
The one on the left is from a well known etsy seller. She (or he it’s hard to know what is real at this point and what is fake) has a popular instagram account as well where they share new work. On the right is the original image. The one on the left has been edited - the sand is lighter and the ocean is more turquoise but it’s the same image.
Another example from the same seller. You can see how much the image was edited here (the flamingo flying in the background was removed and the original lightened and re-cropped) but the original details are all the same including the arrangement of swans in the distance:
Another example from a different seller:
When you purchase art directly from an artist (or from a gallery as well), you are helping to support them, their creativity and their desire to make the world a better place. I spend hours making my images, ensuring they will print well and look beautiful enlarged. I work with my buyers to help them choose art that looks best in their home. I want them to be happy and to enjoy my work for many years. For me, selling my work is the fulfillment of my dreams and the reward is in creating of it.
There are many artists I love on etsy and around the internet. They are not always easy to find but I am happy to share my favorites - just send me an email and I will share them with you.