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Step out of the gallery and onto social media: a complete guide to buying art on Instagram

If the coronavirus has taught us anything it's how to live our lives to the fullest from the confines of our homes. And what life is fulfilled without art? Not only are we starved for art as quarantine keeps us out of galleries, artists themselves are struggling to connect with buyers. Virtual shows are great but it can be unnerving to purchase expensive pieces without seeing them in person (anyone who has seen a photograph of a Pollock and the real thing in person knows no amount of pixels can translate the reality of art to digital renderings). But the coronavirus has worked to advance digital art buying. As a platform designed for the sharing of images, Instagram has proven to be the ideal platform for art exchange.

After some serious trial and error we figured out the best ways to shop for and purchase art on Instagram. We've broken down our method into two strategies determined by your level of time and commitment: a quick version for those who want art now but don't want to spend hours scrolling, and a more tedious but more rewarding version for those who are determined to find the diamond in the rough.

The basic strategies:

-To quickly identify art, find and follow galleries that curate art in your style and budget.

-To discover new artist and unexpected pieces, focus on hashtags and followers.

Thats likely not enough information to take action, so here are the details on how we go about buying. But this is just a template! You may find that some things work for you and some don't. Art buying is as subjective as taste is!

Step one for both methods is to create a separate Instagram account for art collecting. Success buying art on Instagram is largely determined by timing and it's far too easy for artworks to get lost in the swarm of selfies that dominate our personal feeds. Plus, Instagram doesn't include all recent images in your feed so there's the chance a perfect piece won't come across your screen at all! Do yourself a favor and create an art account to maximize your chances of seeing something you love in time to buy it.

Now you need to fill your feed! It can be tempting to start following big art accounts but the work is often out of budget or unobtainable for other reasons. Instead, if you choose to buy from galleries, focus on those that are smaller and more specialized. Don't be afraid to explore both local and international institutions (check out, @sugarlift, and @paperartistcollective). To find galleries you can either work backwards by identifying where artists you like show, doing some research online before taking to Instagram, or, if you're willing to allot a bit more time, go through relevant hashtags and the "Following" lists on the accounts of artists you like. If you go through a gallery, the process is very similar to buying from a brick-and-mortar space so from here on out we are going to focus on how to buy art directly from artists.

That takes us to hashtags. We LOVE them for art buying! If you have the time they are the best way to discover something new. Prominent hashtags for art shopping are #artcollector, #buyartfromartists, #emergingartist, #affordableart, #newpainting, #printmaking etc etc etc. Recently, we've become obsessed with #artistsupportpledge which corresponds to a British movement where artists post works that are $200 or less and commit to buying $200 of art for every $1000 of art they sell. It's a fantastic way to find inexpensive works. When working with hashtags, try to think like the artists you are looking for: want a print from Oaxaca? try #grabadormexicano, want something local? use the format #artfillinyourlocation. Go for #studentartist or #artschool for homework assignments that you may be able to purchase. Avoid hashtags that are too broad like #art or #painting as these will often include posts about art in museums and private collections that will tease you. Take the time to scroll through most recent and you'll likely be rewarded but know you'll have to look past a lot of frogs before you see your prince!

After you find something that catches your eye, send the artist a direct message as quickly as possible. You'd be surprised how quickly good art sells so expressing interest early will help you reserve a piece; most artists won't engage in conversations about a work once someone has expressed interest. With that in mind, if an artist says an item you like is reserved, just inform them that you'd like to be contacted if the piece becomes available. You never know!

If you contact the artist and the work is available, get the important information first (think price, size, medium etc). Sometimes this information is included in the caption so check first to avoid asking redundantly. However, you can be as chatty as you want to be! If you decide you'd love to know the inspiration behind a work or the story behind specific medium choices just ask! Take advantage of the fact you are buying art directly from an artist.

Assuming the price is right, the next step (and in our experience the most important!) is to ask for a photo of the art in a space that offers scale. Often, artists post well lit close-up pictures of their work to show detail and eliminate any background distraction but doing so can remove essential context. Seeing the piece on a wall or set on a table helps communicate how the art feels in person. Obviously, it won't be the same as being there, but it's certainly more helpful that a simple isolated closeup (check out the examples on the left!). If you see the work in context and realize it isn't for you (which happens more often than one would expect!) just let the artist know the size isn't the format your looking for, thank them for their help, and be on your way. If you see it in a relevant space and decide not to purchase it, say so quickly! Don't leave an artist on the hook (it's bad manners).

The next step is to ask for a shipping quote. A postcard sized print on card stock ships for significantly less money than a sculpture or fully framed painting. You'd be surprised how quickly a piece becomes unobtainably expensive once you add shipping costs so ask up front for a quote.

If everything works out, exchange payment. Typically this is done through PayPal although we have had artists direct us to galleries that represent them.

Then enjoy your new art! We highly recommend staying in touch with artists you like. It can be incredibly rewarding (and fun!) to make a connection with someone who is creating for you and establishing a strong relationship is invaluable. We've even been able to purchased pieces that were unposted because artists we previously connected with contacted us before posting to see if we were interested!

If you reach out to an artist directly don't be surprised if this is new for them too! Instagram isn't a platform designed for art sales and many artists are new to social media so follow the steps we've laid out to make the process smoother. Remember, artists are people (often eccentric people) so you might get weird responses and that's half the fun!

*(all the works on this page are for sale! click them to find them on Instagram!)


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