Artists Turn Social Media Into Insta-grand

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The Internet– like it has done for so many industries — has opened up the art world to everyone. Now this multi-billion dollar market is being filtered into hundreds of new sites selling original artwork. Artists with widely ranging skill-sets and talents are finding more ways to sell their work online.

Victor Vazquez is one of those artists.  On an afternoon in his home in Oakland, he was lying on his bed, drawing symbols on a blank sheet of paper. He described the picture as he moved the sharpie across the page, “I’m gonna draw a ying yang, probably a decapitated dog head, maybe a peace sign, weed leaf, money sign, and the names of one or two corporations.”

Vazquez AKA Kool A.D. started cultivating his artistic style during his last gig, fronting the rap group, Das Racist. “If you want to put it in marketplace terms,” he said, “I already developed a brand that people have come to love and trust.”

But since Das Racist broke up last year, the rap money dried up. Vazquez described the day he realized he could still get paid as an artist, “I doodled on a piece of wood at a friends house and put it on the internet for a $100 and someone bought it so I kept doing that,”

Vazquez posts his art for sale on Twitter and Instagram, where it’s mostly bought by fans of his music. This year, he says he’s sold nearly $5000 worth of art.  It takes him about half an hour to  fill a page with wavy lines around cartoon characters, icons from the Coexist bumper sticker and corporate America.

When it’s ready for sale. He uploads the picture to Instagram,  He tags it, “Am I Ed Harris?” after confirming on Wikipedia that Ed Harris did in fact play Jackson Pollack in a movie.  He says good copy can help move product. Then he prices it, tweets the link, and sits back to wait for a buyer.“I think people tend to like the simple $100 thing,” said Vazquez, “but who knows what people like, man?”

Am I Ed Harris? For sale: $100.
Am I Ed Harris? For sale: $100.

Fans seem to like Vazquez’s simple style and pricing. Patrons also like buying more polished works online.  In the last few years, more than 300 businesses have opened, trying to connect art with art buyers.  Does any platform have a clear advantage?  Alan Bamberger who runs the website says, “Artists seem to find different platforms that are conducive to their types of art and they settle with those platforms. It is not that one has any advantage over any other.”

 If you have a large social media following from your former rap career, like Victor Vazquez, finding buyers on Instagram and Twitter may work for you.  But if not, you may turn to an online gallery like San Francisco based, UGallery, to help find your audience. Director and co-founder, Alex Farkas says his company exists, in part, to help artists who might not have access to the traditional art market, “We like to help people who don’t have galleries around them, or patrons. So that’s one fantastic thing about the internet.”

Works on Ugallery sell on average for $700, but you can get a painting for as little as $100. Farkas says affordability and accessibility have opened up the art world. “For a long time the art world was a pretty narrow space, you had to be involved with  the gallery scene, know where to go, know the questions to ask. Now there’s such a wealth of information both, to learn about art if you’re a first timer and then even to start buying art,” said Farkas.

The white-wall galleries of the old art market have fallen, or at least lowered to let in more first time buyers. Like most of the fans buying Victor Vazquez’s art.  About 30 minutes after he posted a photo of his drawing to Instagram and Twitter, Vazquez got a message, “someone named Jenkins Joe on instagram left a comment, ‘let me buy this.’”

With a quick swap of some Paypall information, the trade is made. It may not be a Sotheby’s auction, but Jenkins Joe got an original piece of art, and Victor Vazquez made $100 with a sharpie and social media.


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