06/12/2013 01:30 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Off the Wall Art

The great spiritual writer Thomas Merton once said, "Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."

We have all stood in front of that special image that sang to our soul. It has been said that the art we choose to hang on our walls is a visual representation of who we are and what we believe in. The resonance of art is deeply personal and what works for one person might do the opposite for another.

History of the Struggling Artist

Throughout history, the connection between a buyer and seller was limited by space and location. The consumption of art occurred in local art galleries and boutique shops, creating a narrow filter through which artists had to squeeze.

To succeed as an artist, one needed to be found by a curator and supported by a gallery. They had to pay large up-front costs in order to show their work, and pay out forty to fifty percent of each sale to the middlemen. This in turn, drove up the price of original art and limited sales to opulent buyers. Artists starved in their garrets not because they were bad, but because they couldn't connect with the people who knew they were good. Only a tiny minority of the people who seriously created artistic work ever found a market.

While independent artists struggled to make a name for themselves, big brand retailers like Walmart and Ikea entered the scene to sell factory-made wall art at an affordable price. Art became disposable as people filled their empty walls with mass-produced copies of Marilyn Monroe and saturated sunsets.

The Internet Revolution

The rise of the Internet has turned the art market on its head. It has armed independent artists with new tools to connect to their buyers and sell their work at the right price. For every artist or designer with an obsession with mermaids or puppies, there is a buyer to match them. The Internet has allowed them to find each other.

So far the Internet is having little impact on high-end art, and we will continue to see auction houses peddle masterpieces for fortunes. Rather, the Internet is bringing an end to mass-produced art and design sold by the yard. With micro-production replacing mass production and the Internet replacing mass marketing, it is now possible for people to access works that individually appeal to them.

This is just the beginning for independent art on the Internet. Every day, thousands of emerging artists are being discovered on virtual galleries and internet marketplaces. Some people still want to be told what they should be wearing or hanging on their walls but for most people, the expanded choices is ultimately liberating. The internet has helped people find meaning in art again and provided a new foundation for Thomas Merton's historic words.