The evolution of the internet has afforded artists an opportunity for exposure that was once primarily the domain of those fortunate enough to have gallery representation. Today, many artists, whether they are working digitally or with traditional media, use web sites as their primary means of displaying and selling their work. In addition to the commercial advantages afforded by the internet, the graphic nature of the both the computer interface and the web itself have opened up a whole new market to artists and designers.
Launched on August 7, 2000, by co-founders Angelo Sotira, Scott Jarkoff and Matt Stephens, deviantART is an international online art community devoted to providing its members a relatively unrestricted creative environment while simultaneously enforcing a non-flaming, non-ripping and non-discriminatory atmosphere. In the parlance of the site, artists are known as deviants and the works they create are deviations. As of this writing, the site is home to more than eleven million pieces of art and the community consists of over 1 million members worldwide. Sotira, a dot-com prodigy since his teens, currently runs deviantART full-time; the site earns revenue through the print services it offers to its members, a subscription program, and advertising.
As is befitting an online art community, the front page of deviantART is heavy on graphics and short on text. The menus provide some clues as to the wealth of material found within. There is a chat facility available to registered members, an events calendar and a large number of forums (posting is open only to registered members). Thumbnails on the front page point the visitor to the most recently submitted art works, recently submitted prints for sale, and the art work currently drawing the most traffic. In addition, members can use a feature called deviantWATCH, which enables one to follow the progress of favorite artists through a notification system that keeps the user informed of new art works, journal entries and other site-related activities.
A free login membership to the site allows one to submit art, comment on the submitted art of other members and participate in the forums. Services provided to artists include a prints service, which allows members to sell prints directly from the site, and discounted advertising. A paid subscription to the site (at $4.95 a month) buys freedom from banner ads and pop-ups, a message center, large gallery thumbnails, a visitor’s log on one’s own user page, special journal features, and other features.
Joe Tower, a digital artist who has been a member of DeviantART since May of 2004, saw the online community as a unique opportunity to share his work and get some critical feedback and support from fellow artists. When asked to describe the impact DeviantART has had on his development as an artist, Tower offered the following:
All of the feedback I have received has made me appreciate my work in a different light. I am already very critical of my work. The positive feedback has made me evolve and know that people understand what I am doing. To have people relate and identify to my work lets me know I am conveying the intent of the pieces. The messages are coming across. The negative feedback has forced me to overcome creative barriers and hone my skill. I take every negative criticism and try to think from their perspective. The negative helps as much as the positive. I feel I have been able to develop a “style” through my participation in the DeviantART community. Every user I have come across has added a little bit to my creative thought process.
Although Tower is not currently selling his work through DeviantART, he plans to do so in the near future and heartily recommends the site to any aspiring artist.
The sheer amount of work shown here is mind-boggling – there are thousands of works to view in every category. A visitor to the site could while away hours just browsing through the many galleries. While the quality of the work varies greatly, as is befitting a site which welcomes everyone with open arms, much of it is quite good, some of it is stunning, and nearly all of it is interesting in some aspect.
In its earliest incarnation, the site was primarily a static image gallery devoted to digital art. It now includes, in addition to the digital art galleries, sections devoted to crafts, traditional art (drawing, painting, mixed media, etc.), photography, poetry and prose, flash exhibits, design work and downloadable art such as wallpaper, application skins and cell phone art. As might be expected of a site that attracts a sizeable number of young artists, there is an abundance of digital art. In addition to the art galleries, there is a section called Resources in which members post a variety of things that other artists might find useful, from application add-ins like fonts and textures to how-tos and tutorials.
Of the services provided to artists, the most valuable is probably the prints service, in which artists pay a fee of $24.95 for a lifetime prints account. They are then able to submit artwork which is printed and sold through the site. The artist sets the selling price and receives 50 percent of the profit above the base price of the print. According to the site, there are over 1,000 artists currently using the printing program, and over 10,000 works of art for sale. While more experienced or established artists would likely prefer to have more control over the final product, this is an excellent source of exposure and income for young or newly emerging artists, and enables one to enter the waters of self-promotion and commerce without taking on the financial costs and time commitment associated with setting up one’s own web site.
On June 17, deviantART will turn its virtual community into a real one for two days at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, at the first annual deviantART Summit. In addition to galleries featuring the wide variety of art found on the web site, there will be seminars, panels and instructional sessions on topics ranging from business tips to artistic applications. This unprecedented collision of the virtual and the physical is designed to introduce the artists to the business world and vice versa. CEO and co-founder Sotira has said of the summit, “Our vision is to allow every artist in the world the opportunity to reach people’s living rooms, whether it’s a poster on the wall, a computer screen or a cell phone.” Further details can be found here.
deviantART would appear to be a wonderful resource for any artist who is looking for some feedback from fellow artists, a sense of community, and an inexpensive way to sell prints. A major value of the internet certainly lies in making such communities available to a far-flung group of people who might otherwise be toiling away in isolation, uncertain of whether or not they would ever have the opportunity to share their work with a wider audience.