Home > Uncategorized, Visual Culture > Factory Paintings Passed Off as Original Art: eBay, Etsy.com, etc.

Factory Paintings Passed Off as Original Art: eBay, Etsy.com, etc.

July 5, 2010

The worst offender for misrepresenting art and handcrafts for sale is Etsy.com:

I thought about listing some of my paintings on etsy.com; their rates are low and the system looks straightforward and easy to use.  So here are three reasons why I backed out of creating an account.

1. Handmade, my ass.  A huge number of the listings are for giclee prints or other forms of mechanical reproduction.  I entered the word “painting” into their search under the category of “handmade” and started counting; more than half of the sales listings were for mechanical reproductions with the words “original” and / or “painting” in the listing.  If I listed my real paintings on this site, they are going to be in an ocean of reproductions because etsy.com clearly does not limit their listings to “handmade” work as their sales pitch page indicates under what can be sold on the site.

2. TOO MANY LISTINGS.  Related to the point above, because etsy.com is not policing listings to be -or at least appear to be- handmade items, the number of listings that come up for a search is massive.  I had 189,188 listings appear for “painting” in their search.  I guess you can start compounding nouns to find something more specific, like “floral painting” or “landscape painting” but what if someone just wants to see what sort of things there are and isn’t looking for a particular kind of painting?  Good luck getting through even a percentage of 189,188 listings.

3. Total bullshit factory paintings.  The photos from an etsy.com seller shown above are, I am fully certain, factory paintings.  This “studio” is a sham.  These images will look really, really familiar if you look at a few pages of listings for paintings on eBay.com.  In China (and sometimes in Mexico), a factory floor of people paid a low wage are churning these paintings out en masse.

This is also the origin of those oddball oil paintings you may see peddlers hawking on street corners or the side of the road, at the edge of a parking lot or nearby a gas station.  The ones online are more often Chinese (abstract-y and colorful) and the ones on the street are more often Mexican (wood framed oil paintings of landscapes or flowers).  Factory paintings have a series of patterns that the factory site follows, you look at them long enough you will see the subtle variations on repeated compositions.  In the factory, there is usually a division of labor whereby one person paints the sky or background, another person paints the tree or bird, a third person paints the people, etc.  You get the idea.   I always wonder who gets to sign it, but it’s probably not a real name anyway.

The going rate for factory work for a 24” x 36” is around $199 to $299 USD; sometimes you can get larger works for this rate.  These are what I love to call “couch paintings”: they’re big, colorful, and buyers desire that the painting should match the couch because they’re going over the couch.  Sure, it’s a painting, but I shudder at the idea of considering it “art”.  Factory paintings are made by hand, by a team, for pennies; the ideas of personal expression that relate to being an artist are not present in these works.

I have a lot of cute little paintings I framed that are small, were studies for larger works, or were undergrad assignments.  They are nice enough, and it would be nice to unload them for low rates; a good deal for me and a nice original work for the buyer.  I had a lot of interest in listing on etsy.com, but the reasonable listing fees are negated by the points above.

What is scaring the pants off of artists even more than the factory generated schlock shown above is that Chinese factory artists and artists working on their own are doing stunning looking knock-offs of the great masters in the Western cannon, and for cheap.  Now artists have to convince people to buy our original work in a market where buyers can elect to buy a really good looking knock-off of a Vermeer, Van Gogh, Monet, Klimt, Sargent and many more.  If you’ve looked longingly at it on a museum wall, there is probably a great knock-off of that work available.  Why get something original from me when you can have a fabulous imitation of a well known, well esteemed painting?  People like the cultural capital from displaying posters or prints of well known works, owning it as an oil painting on canvas is the next step up.

I wonder if this is why the Museum of the Art Institute in Chicago does not list the size of the work on the display cards in the museum anymore; all of that data has been removed.  Is it perhaps to avoid Gerhardt Richter and other artists’ works on display from being readily reproduced?  Maybe I will feel I know if I see his Eis series of canvases on eBay.  Maybe people will want a huge, horrid canvas ripping off an Edward Weston photograph, like the nude above, more than a work someone had to think about.  If this crap takes over a substantial amount of the art market, then real artists are in more financial trouble than usual, because the general public may think this crap is art.

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