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Our Guide to Buying Art on Etsy

Painting by Britt Miller on Etsy

Painting by Britt Miller on Etsy

Many of us have an Etsy habit. Looking for some quirky jewelry or a one-of-a-kind gift? It's pretty much the best selection of handmade items on the Internet, while keeping the process of buying from an individual relatively hassle free. I love that I can online shop while still supporting small businesses and local artisans.

But what about bigger items like fine art? Making the leap from buying "stuff for your walls" to actually buying paintings from an artist can be intimidating. But as you settle into your first (or second or third) home, you want to start hanging something meaningful on your walls and creating a grown up living space. One of the best ways to do that, which allows you to really express your personal style in your home decor, is through art. And Etsy is more than tiny knit cats.

Britt Miller

Britt Miller

Philadelphia artist Britt Miller says that Etsy allows shoppers to "own the process of buying the artwork themselves" instead of purchasing through a gallery or chasing down an artist on the Internet. "Putting the power in the hands of the customer to be able to shop and choose their own artwork really takes a lot [of logistical issues] off my plate."

It also takes a lot of pressure off of first time shoppers. When I was decorating my house, the prospect of going into a gallery and looking for art to purchase didn't even occur to me, even though I frequently visit galleries big and small just to look. A lot of that was about cost. I assumed I would be priced out of shopping in a gallery, which very well may have been true. Sometimes prices are listed in a gallery and sometimes they aren't. On Etsy, not only are the prices and all related costs like shipping listed up front, but you can even shop by price so you won't fall in love with a painting or objet that is way out of your price range. You can "sort by price" to view the cheapest items out there or put a minimum and maximum price in the left hand menu to narrow a more general search. It's also fair to say that the price point on Etsy is, in general, lower for the same categories of art (paintings, sculptures) than in brick and mortar galleries. That's not to say you won't find expensive art on Etsy, but you are more likely to find a $50 painting than you are in a gallery that has to sell at a certain price to justify the overhead costs of their physical space.

Carol Conklin

Carol Conklin

There's also more customizable options to help an item fit your budget. Glens Falls, NY artist Carol Conklin offers buyers the option of just a print, or a backed and matted print, or framed, backed and matted in her Amity Farm Batik shop. She's also flexible on shipping, willing to do as expedient (and expensive) shipping as the shopper is willing to pay for.

The second way Etsy allows you to avoid the intimidation factor is just the ease and privacy of online shopping. No one is looking over your shoulder, or alternatively, actively ignoring you as it can sometimes be in gallery spaces. You can take your time and more easily compare between different pieces. You also have measurements readily available for both your space and the art you are considering. 

Third, on Etsy you can almost always speak to the artist directly rather than a curator or gallery worker. Taking out the middleman does more than lower the cost, it allows for easier communication. Miller has seen this not only as she communicates with customers but also as a buyer of hand crafted items on Etsy.

"The shop owner worked with me to get the exact dimensions right, and was even able to expedite the creation/shipping of it so it would be here in time for my housewarming party. I was extremely happy with the entire experience," she said. That's the type of experience she wants to create for her customer.

Horse Sleeping Below Tree of Rebirth by Carol Conklin

Horse Sleeping Below Tree of Rebirth by Carol Conklin

Buying art off the internet, however, still doesn't have the same air of legitimacy that buying from a brick and mortar retailer does. There are the usual risks of fraud. It's best to only shop from sellers with positive feedback on the site, and also to shop with a credit card that has fraud protection through PayPal. In the case of an item being misrepresented or not shipped at all, your first line of defense is Etsy itself, then Paypal (which almost all sellers use) and then your credit card. When it comes down to getting your money back, your credit card's fraud protection is probably the most secure and reliable, so be sure of your policy before buying. With all of these reliable services in place, you can feel pretty secure in making a significant purchase.

Chances are, if you let yourself fall into the black hole of browsing art on Etsy, you'll find something you fall in love with. Whether that's something you can purchase right away or need to save up for, you'll have found something that speaks to you and reflects your tastes and interests much more quickly than if you were relying on conventional galleries.

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