But is it ART?

By Andrea Karim on 26 January 2007 31 comments

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? Thank you.

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."

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" or "contemporary," 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 and 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 than the grand "art" found at Costco or Target, so how can you beat that?

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31 discussions

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Guest's picture

I'm glad you wrote on this, I have a friend who is going to put up some oil paints on eBay. Good to hear what you look for an the like. They were worried no one would buy, but this just tells me there is something for everyone!

Andrea Karim's picture

It can take a while to establish yourself as a reputable art seller. The thing that often makes up my mind for me is not the art itself but the cost of shipping it. Take the Mr. T portrait I linked to - there's no reason for that to cost $70 to ship it to the U.S. Yes, overseas shipping is expensive, but that is bloody ridiculous.

Anyway, yes - there IS something for everyone. My sister recently purchased an oil painting of a panda bear that is both oddly cute and nightmare-inducing. To each their own.

Will Chen's picture

I bought these two paintings a couple of years ago for mother's day:


tuxedo cat picture


cat house form ebay

OK, we really love cats at the Chen household.  :) 

Guest's picture

You are a brilliant shopper!  Thanks for the tip.  Found your site thru lifehacker... looks interesting.

Guest's picture

Great advice :) I'm loving the idea just thinking of this ^^ Lifehacker once again linked to a great blog :)

Guest's picture

My apartment is also decorated with Ebay stuff, though not all paintings. I've got drive-in theater posters, bowling stuff and LOTS of old paint-by-number paintings. Nothing cost me more than about 40 bucks, and most was in the range of 12-20 bucks.

Guest's picture

And if you like Swinton, try Gus Fink:


Guest's picture

Great article. I've also bought some great paintings on eBay that would have cost me at least 10x more in an art gallery here.

Guest's picture

You don't neded to buy ebay stuff...with my website i gave away my art because i think that free art = free artist...

painting, photgraphy...just choose and i'll send you the artwork for free

Guest's picture

i wld like to see your art work

Guest's picture

I saw on your website a painting : "http://bobig.fr/portfolio/feuilles/"

I was wondering if you still have it or one like it?

Do you also paint cityscapes? In color?

I would love to have one or two of your paintings.

Guest's picture

i found a great artist on ebay by the name of steve keene. his goal is to make art available like music is, so he does hundreds of paintings every week and sells them for ridiculously low prices. you don't know what you're getting, but for $20 you can get one fairly big painting (20x26 I think). he also sent me 5 extra paintings for free.



Guest's picture

98% of the art on eBay is total junk. Any good art is totally underbid. An artist is crazy to waste his time and talent to make $20 or less on a painting. The time to paint, the materials, the time to administer the sale is hours and hours. That is humiliating to make below minimum wage.

Guest's picture

98% of art on ebay is great in my mind ebay is one of the best places to find and buy a real nice piece.selling my art cheap or otherwise helps me to be more prolific, I prefer my art to be on someone's wall rather then in my attic.

Will Chen's picture
Will Chen

"An artist is crazy to waste his time and talent to make $20 or less on a painting.... That is humiliating to make below minimum wage."

Maybe to some people the act of creating art and sharing that art with other people are inherently valuable experiences that are beyond the measure of pure monetary value.




Guest's picture

Etsy.com is also a really great place to find terrific art.  There are a lot of very talented and creative people.

Lynn Truong's picture

agreed. etsy is great.  i keep away from that site though because once i start browsing i want to buy everything.

Guest's picture

I think there is great value especially for the artists who contribute and sell in this way.  The artist gets more exposure while refining his/her techniques and still is able to pay for materials through selling the art itself.  I did a post about this on the 23rd on Artist Hideout.  I'd love to see more people promoting these artists and helping them get their start.

Guest's picture

You can also buy original prints from Deviant Art (www.deviantart.com)

Guest's picture

Yep, I agree, there are many great places for buying both original art and prints online from really great working artists.  Deviant Art is good, but Imagekind (http://www.imagekind.com) has better quality prints and more variety.

Guest's picture

Another place is Deviantart.com (the name is somewhat of a misnomer, as everything from Thomas Kincaide wannabes and aspiring Warhols to Professional red carpet and fetish photographers have accounts there).

I am admittedly somewhat biased, since I am an admin there, but I started as a casual user, who started using the print system to archive my mixed media work, and ended up becoming a fixture.

The print quality is quite high, and even lets you buy on canvas (which is more costly, but an obvious step up in terms of quality). 

Andrea Karim's picture

Apparently a lot of Deviant admins read this article.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Great article, Andrea!

I never would have thought of E-Bay. We buy a lot of stuff when we are traveling internationally, but this is really a great idea. I'm definitely filing it for when we tear down this place and put up our larger actual home. We'll have lots of space to fill and we love art!

Thanks again for the tip! 


Guest's picture

Another idea: research local artists in your area who are early in their career (students, etc) whose art is well-thought of, but doesn't yet command the prices of others around them. In this way, you can enjoy a good price, be a true patron of your local art community, and who knows-maybe your art will appreciate in value in time!
Happy hunting!

Kay Singleton, Colorado oil painter


Guest's picture

My wife & I are both artists that sell on Ebay. It isn't quite as glamorous as having your work sold by some art gallery and the fact that Ebay shoppers are usually looking for a bargain means you're not going to get rich selling your work there but the great advantage is the exposure. Nothing is more valuable to an artist than getting your art seen. If your work is good then eventually things will happen. In the mean time selling your art for less than it's really worth is better than having a room full of stuff you couldn't sell because you wanted to hold out for more money. Most artists that I've known have more ego than talent. If you think you're too good to sell on Ebay that just means less competition for us who do sell there.

Guest's picture

Loved reading your blog :-) I am an artist who also sells on ebay :-) I had my work in galleries, but I had to have much higher prices. Gallery prices for my work ranged from $175 to $375- and those were low prices. LOL. Seriously. On ebay I sold originals for .99 cents. Talking about a crazy difference. But I continue to sell on ebay, I'm addicted I guess-lol.

Guest's picture

I have about 10 pieces of original art I've purchased off eBay, I love each and every one of them and couldn't care less that no one I know has heard of the artists.

I now have a relationship with one of the artists; I've even commissioned a piece from him.

I think it's an absolutely fantastic place to get original art - I could never possibly hang a print on my wall again.

Guest's picture

I'm 22 and I mainly draw and paint. I took Art 1, Art 2, skipped Art 3, and jumped ahead to Advanced Placement Art when I was in High School. I haven't started college art yet, but am looking to make some money selling on ebay and giving my artwork a good home. I haven't yet posted any on ebay, but I saw this site and am surprised there are more people here that buy original work.

If you are interested in watercolors, charcoals, pencil, mixed media- fantasy and realism- let me know. My email is vampyrslayeress@yahoo.com

Guest's picture

I'm a long time collector of outsider art and Ebay is one of the best places to find some of the best art from newer emerging artists.
Recently I started collecting work from the artist Justin Aerni. He has a huge body of solid work for such a young guy. I was blown away by his stuff. His store is here
--> http://stores.ebay.com/AERNI-STUDIOS

Guest's picture
Guest's picture

I've known john Swinton for over 30 years..unfortunately I didn't realize what an amazing artist he is until about 10 years ago .. I now have 20 of his pieces and love them all..I also give them away to friends on special,occasions ..how John produces as much as he does I don't know but I'm glad he does..