Is it safe to buy art online?

Perhaps you’re a new art collector. You don’t know where to start, or maybe you don’t live in an artsy area, and galleries are sparse. Where do you go to buy art? Of course, there’s art on the internet.

Or, Let’s say you’re a seasoned collector. You go to all the galleries. You shop the art fairs. You’ve adorned your walls with local art for years. Maybe you want to consider something else. Maybe you’re looking for a Southwest scene, but you live in the upper Midwest. Again, there’s art on the internet.

Either way, you may wonder:

Is it safe to buy art online?

Short answer: Yes.

There are dozens of online art galleries, each with thousands of artists to chose from, at several different price points. Sites like Saatchi, Artfinder, and Etsy safely offer work from thousands of artists. Sites such as these have been trusted for many years.

There are also independent artists, like me, who have worked to build, market, and maintain their own small online gallery sites. These artists paint as much as they can, then try to get their work out into the world. These sites are most likely perfectly safe as well.

Still, one must be careful. How do you know for sure if you’re dealing with a legitimate, serious artist?

First of all, art is hard to sell online. In the short term, it’s not a lucrative business. It’s highly doubtful that you’d be dealing with a scammer. It just isn’t a good, fast way to rip anyone off.

There’s still the matter of trust. Can you trust the person behind the artist website?

An active, real artist will have a presence beyond their art site. They will likely be active in other organizations. For instance, an artist friend of mine is the president of the Lake Superior Art Association, the main visual art organizations in my area. I’ve been part of groups and projects as well. Artists who are active in their community can very likely be trusted online.

art fair, tent at art on the rocks
John French displays at Art on the Rocks in Marquette, MI

You may be able to find that the artist in question shows in exhibits, art fairs, and galleries. Check the artist’s biography or “About” page. It should list some off the events they’ve been part of. You can usually verify this information for yourself. Art fair organizers often keep online lists of participating exhibitors well after the event has passed. Galleries have artist rosters posted on their websites (if they have a website).

I mentioned galleries. Let’s discuss that briefly.

Brick and Mortar Gallery vs Online Gallery

I will always encourage you to shop locally. If you have access to a local gallery with local artists, please spend your time and money there.

moonshine exterior

If you’re a new collector, just go out and see what you like. Don’t be intimidated because you don’t know much about art. A good gallery will help educate you. If a gallery is snobby with you, leave that negative place and spend your time and money elsewhere.

You may live in a place where the galleries are out of your price range. That’s understandable! Most people living in Santa Fe can’t buy art from many of the galleries there. There will be places where “almost famous” artist will sell at more affordable prices. Seek out smaller galleries, pop-up art shows, or art fairs.

That being said, there still may be reasons for you to shop online. So let’s get into it a little more.

Photographs of the Art Online

A professional art site will have good photos.

One time, a long time ago, a lady bought one of my paintings that she saw online. After she received the painting in the mail, she told me she was shocked, because it was so blue. She loved it anyway, so she kept it.

Why was she shocked? I looked at the photo she had seen, and sure enough, it had an orange tint to it. I hadn’t corrected the colors carefully enough before I posted it.

I got lucky. She could have asked for a refund.


That experience taught me to be more careful when photographing my work. I try to be sure the colors match, the photo is in focus, and there is no glare.

Even so, there may be slight variations between what you see on the screen, and what you get on your wall. This is why a return policy is important.

Return Policy

An online gallery, big or small, should have a fair return policy. If there isn’t one spelled out, ask for one.

What do I mean by “fair” return policy? If you, as a customer, order a painting, but it doesn’t look as good as the photo, you should have your money easily refunded.

On the flipside, if you buy a painting online, but decide you don’t want it after a week, that isn’t fair to the artist.

Payment Processing

Once you’ve found a piece that you love, how do you pay for it? It can be scary putting your credit card information out on the internet.

buy now

I have a PayPal button on my paintings, and I know many other artists do as well. PayPal is well known, has a good reputation, is easily used even without an account, and is safe for buyers and sellers. The seller never even sees your credit card number!

Not everyone will want to use PayPal. Artists should offer other payment options. I have a comment form attached to my online art posts. The form can be used to start a conversation about buying the painting. I can process a credit card payment via Square, or I’ll often accept a check. I try to make it easy for someone to purchase my work.

In closing…

Buying art online is generally safe. Beware of sellers with little or no presence in real life, or a seller who wants your credit card information, or one who seems pushy or sleazy. There are many good ones out there, and I’m sure you’ll be pleased.

Happy shopping!

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