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9 Tips for Buying Artwork Online

Puja Lalwani
As most businesses go online, art is not left far behind. With the convenience of online shopping, why step out and hop from one gallery to another to pick up art when it is available on a platter as you sit in the comfort of your home and browse through a global collection?
Buying art based on a digital image has become the norm rather than the exception. 71% of art collectors have bought art online sight unseen.

―The Online Art Trade 2013 (Published by Hiscox in March 2013)
While the Internet has made our lives convenient to a great extent, it has also been touted as a place where no purchase can be guaranteed, and cheap imitations of real products are sold.
Though the online shopping experience may not be that bad for some, when it comes to purchasing art online, there has to be a legitimate way of identifying the authenticity of the piece you are willingly going to shell out your earnings for.
That exquisite sculpture, that surreal photograph, that striking painting―what goes into buying art online? Here are some tips collected from global experts.

Look for Authentic Websites

Experts recommend purchasing art from online extensions of real galleries to ensure their credibility.
However, there are other websites that exist solely in the virtual realm, and have been set up so that you can avoid the cost of a middleman, and purchase directly from the seller or even the artist. To verify such websites, look for a physical address, a phone number, and an email address. Call them and discuss the piece you want to buy.
You will be able to gauge from the conversation how well they know their business, and this will increase your confidence in the website that you intend to purchase from.
Though this is true of any online shopping experience, ensure that websites you buy artwork from are secure; while paying, the address bar should read https:// that proves that your credit card details will be safe with them.

Learn More About the Artist

You may have seen a piece of art you really like, but do you know the artist? Because of the volatile nature of the art market, it is difficult to predict whether that artwork is going to stand the test of time or retain a position of pride and importance in your home.
If you are purchasing art as an investor, and intend to resell it after the value of the piece appreciates, it is important that you learn as much as you can about the artist.
Alan Bamberger, art consultant and author of The Art of Buying Art, says, "Knowing how to assess an artist's career information becomes increasingly important the more expensive or significant the art is that you're thinking about buying."
He suggests learning about the life of an artist, his education, number of years in the field, publications that mention him, the galleries/ auctions/ exhibitions/ websites that have showcased his work, and also his references from other buyers and gallerists. In short, the popularity of an artist determines the value of the artwork you are going to buy.

Learn More About the Artwork

Is the piece of art a single piece, a part of a collection, or a limited edition? Is it an original or an 'enhanced' reproduction, or more importantly, a giclée (a fine art digital print)?
Some of these may look original, but upon receiving them, you may realize that they are not. You may be told that you are being sold a signed print, which is not the same as the signature of the artist on the original work.
This is where the verification of the artist and the site becomes more important, to ensure that you are not being conned into spending a colossal amount for something worth much less.

Time Your Purchase

If you happen to find a piece of art that is up for sale as soon as it is launched, you are likely to buy it for less. Since the value of art appreciates over time, it is a good idea to find websites that highlight new releases, from where you can buy originals at their starting price.
This also means that eventually, the value of your possession may appreciate, and if you intend to sell it, you may get a suitable return on your investment.

Be Well Aware of Your Requirement

Are you looking for a certain type of artwork? A certain color or size? Ensure that you know what you want so that you are not lost for choice, and are in fact, able to easily narrow down your choices based on your preferences.
Measure the area where you are going to put the artwork. It may be difficult to judge the scale of the painting online. Something small may look very huge and vice versa.
If possible, get a mock-up and put it up in that space so that you get used to the idea of the size of the artwork.

View the Artwork Closely

Purchasing online means giving up on the facility to see, touch, and experience the artwork in its real glory; of course, this is only one of the things you have to give up for the convenience this medium offers.
Colors may vary from screen to screen; what appears salmon on screen may actually be peach in reality, and this can really throw you off balance when you receive the artwork.
So, view the picture of the piece of art in the highest resolution and the maximum screen brightness so that you can see the color and detail as closely to its original self as possible.

Demand a Certificate of Authenticity

All original artwork is accompanied by this document, and if it is not, you know you're not getting the real deal. Not only does this validate the authenticity, it also is mandatory if you intend to sell the work in the future.

Verify the Shipping and Return Policy

Once you are sure that you've found a piece that your heart is set upon, read up on the shipping and delivery policy of the website. We've already established that artwork is an expensive investment, so it should be delivered to you in mint condition. Ensure that it is insured for damages during shipping by the seller.
Further, most websites have a return and refund policy, because what if the artwork doesn't look as it did online, or what if it just isn't working out in the space you had planned to put it up in? If a website does not have this policy, steer clear of it.
There is a stipulated time within which the artwork may be returned (usually 7 days from the date of receipt), but this may be different for each website.

Explore, Explore, Explore!

It is easy to like something online and purchase it immediately. However, spend some time in research. Don't rush in. Experts suggest using a minimum of one month to research and identify your taste in art.
Once you are able to do so, it is only then that you should go ahead and make that purchase. One more thing that you should do is buy one small piece of artwork, and see how that works out.
Did you get what you were looking for? Does it look exactly as it did online? Did you have any trouble during shipping/payment? Does it suit the space you have bought it for? Does it suit your taste? If the answer to all or most of these questions is yes, you can safely switch to online shopping for artwork.
Remember, however, that nothing beats the real-world experience of interacting with art connoisseurs, and understanding the meaning behind each piece of artwork. So, while you do switch to online shopping, make it a point to, once in a while, step into a gallery and enjoy the real experience.