But is it ART?
What would you say if I told you that I filled my entire living room with completely original works of art for less than $300? We're not talking kid's stuff - no crayon drawings, no attempts at self-expression. Art by real and struggling artists, both schooled and self-taught?
You'd tell me that I am truly a brilliant shopper, right?
The other day, my mum and I were wandering through Costco Homestore, after having returned something (a couch - bless Costco and their liberal returns policy). We were gazing at the wide range of home accessories - vases, mermaid sculptures, large mirrors, and finally, row upon row of "art." Paintings, mostly, or reproductions of paintings. Whether or not we recognized the artist or the painting (yes, there were the usual ubiquitous Van Gogh sunflowers) seemed irrelevant. The art, to put a technical term on it, was meh.
Mum commented, "I know everyone wants to find a nice big piece of art to hang in their home, to make it feel original. But it feels like you would really take a risk buying art at Costco - Lord knows how many other people are buying the same painting to make their home feel 'original'."
"Mum," I said, "That's why I buy all of mine on eBay."
My mother doesn't touch computers, so she sort of nodded in a condescending way, and continued looking at insipid copies of watercolor masterpieces, shaking her head in dismay.
So I didn't convert her then and there. But I mean it when I say that eBay can be the greatest place to find original art.
Like many public sites, where content is generated by users, you have to do some wading to find the good stuff. If I try to find a date on craigslist (and I have done so in the past), I have to spend some time sifting through the "hi howr u my nam john luk 4 good time call me hahahaha lol" before I find the literate guy with all his teeth. Such is a case with buying art on eBay. In fact, when I do a query for eBay art, I go to the Art section, then select Paintings, then Original, and THEN go do a boolean string in the search box to weed out the stuff I'm not interested in, such as "nude," and perhaps "queer," which for some reason are rarely of high quality and all seem to be drawn by the same guy with a set of charcoal pencils.
Not that I don't like nudes, and I've bought a few, but there are some truly unfortunate renderings of the naked body out there, and I try to avoid assaulting my eyes with truly amateur, and immature, work. I might also remove terms like "Picasso," "contemporary," and "Jesus" and then sort the results by distance or price. You'll still end up with a shocking number of fraudulent-seeming options, but you can sort of scroll through and ignore. Also, there are a lot of dumb people selling on eBay who thing that "original" means "handmade." So you'll still find lots of repros of DaVinci.
Even after I do my search, I still have to skip forward to roughly page 17 of the results before I find something that I like.
The thing is, there are lots of really good artists who start selling on eBay because it's simply easier than trying to go out and work with a gallery. Or maybe their work is too "out there" or not prolific enough for some galleries. Whatever. It's a winning situation for you, because YOU can get great art for a steal, and the artist gets exposure and positive feedback, both crucial to eBay success.
My favorite artist, hands down, is a guy named John Swinton. John is a Canadian who sells his original creations, and I've bought three of them, two watercolor/mixed media on paper, and one portrait in oils. Not only do I love his work, but it is frequently commented on by people visiting my home. The fantastic thing about John, in addition to be a fast and reasonable shipper, is that he is truly selling original work. No repros from mainland China. His prices start low, and if you're lucky, you can get out with a painting + shipping for under $30. You won't find THAT at Costco.
Some other great finds on eBay include scrolls of Chinese and Korean calligraphy (read the fine print to make sure that they are original and not posters) and antique botanical prints from European science manuals. I've completely decorated my townhouse with eBay art, and it's all incredibly unique. AND, it's cheaper that the grand "art" found at Costco or Target, so how can you beat that?