You know that awful feeling of walking into a snooty art gallery and the staff vaguely lifts up their heads and gives you the once-over?
"We're the opposite of that," said Rebecca Wilson, chief curator for SaatchiArt.com.
What Wilson is describing speaks to the engine behind the online market for original art, which saw global sales rise 15% in 2016 to $3.75 billion — because when you're browsing online art galleries, no one cares how big your entourage is.
Thoughtfully curated, original art and limited- or open-edition prints showcased in online galleries such as SaatchiArt, Tappan, UGallery and Pure Photo are successfully bridging a gap between emerging artists and aspiring collectors by creating access to talent while sidestepping high-end, bricks-and-mortar galleries.
"I think our customer is someone who wasn't going to physical galleries," said Alex Farkas, gallery director for UGallery.com, "whether because of geography or a certain level of intimidation that can exist in the physical gallery realm."
"I had been buying art at flea markets, but I wasn't getting anything contemporary," said Henderson. "I felt like my house was full of vintage landscapes, seascapes and abstract paintings from the '60s… pretty, but it wasn't feeling modern enough."
She found photography and drawings online, and a contemporary art collector was born.
But you don't have to be a design expert to navigate the online art world.
Search filters usually include size, medium, style, subject, location, artist and price; and most sites offer a chance to read about each artist and browse curated, themed presentations aimed at assisting in the journey of discovery.
Some online galleries such as SaatchiArt and UGallery offer complimentary art advisory services by email and phone to provide a personal touch.
Original works of art are delivered with a signed certificate of authentication, and most galleries can provide a list of preferred vendors for installation or framing upon request.
Does this mean the end of wine and cheese gallery openings?
"No, not at all," said Chelsea Nassib, co-founder of Tappan. " I think it's a beautiful experience, and important for people to see work in person… I think that the online spaces are going to work hand in hand with the existing galleries moving forward."
In fact, UGallery recently partnered with Crate & Barrel to become the retailer's first provider of original art, and sales have exceeded expectations, Farkas said. He thinks part of the success can be attributed to social media.
"Whether it's Facebook or SnapChat… I think people want to be able to showcase something that's unique … and I think that's really driving a lot of interest in original art. Art has always been a way for us to express ourselves personally and to describe the world around us."
Los Angeles-based home style expert Emily Henderson, author of "Styled," shares a few of her favorite sites for browsing online art with price points to suit every budget. BYO wine and cheese: