As a 25-year art industry veteran, I can’t deny that technology has made fine art enjoyment more accessible—and convenient—for a wider audience. 

This year, I didn’t even have to leave my house to enjoy The Armory Show’s ART Middle East event; I saw the photos on Facebook

The question naturally arises: as digital galleries and online art auctions grow in popularity, will there still be a place for fine art fairs like The Armory Show, Art Basel and Artexpo? Absolutely. In a world where so many of life’s pleasures are increasingly digitized, art fairs are more important than ever.

A few decades ago, there was a lot more legwork involved in art marketing. I managed the Martin Lawrence Galleries in the 80s, and we often created limited-edition serigraphs for artists like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Hiro Yamagata. 

The printing process itself was painstaking, and when we finished we’d print postcards and place advertisements in fine art magazines to promote these beautiful pieces. Then we’d pick up the phone or—if you can imagine it—jump on a plane to meet up with gallery owners! The relationships I built with gallery owners and collectors back then were incredible. They remain some of my good friends today.

Today, you can market a painting to thousands of buyers with a mere click of the mouse. E-mails have largely replaced the handshake in publisher-gallery interactions, and I can easily send 30,000 "e-vites" to Artexpo New York just by clicking the “send” button in my e-mail account. 

Nearly every artist I know has a website, online gallery or blog, or is talking about starting one. The online global fine art “community” online has grown in leaps and bounds, but let’s face it: we’re social creatures and we still need to gather face-to-face.

In an increasingly pixilated world, art fairs offer people a place to meet, interact and explore artwork up close. At art shows, you can smell the fresh paint on a new still life, see the texture of an Abstract Expressionist’s brushstrokes and feel the cool metal of a sculpture as you run your hand along it. Moreover, you can talk the artists and find out what inspires their work. Every work of art contains a story, and when you hear it firsthand from the artist, your relationship with the piece deepens.

People attend art shows to meet artists and connect with them beyond the canvas. It’s the same reason people still get in their cars and head out in droves to concerts and clubs to hear live music, when they can easily download the album from iTunes in seconds. They want to feel the bass pumping in their veins, press up close to the stage and go crazy with other fans. 

Sensory experience and mutual communion are powerful drivers! And just as there’s nothing like the thrill of discovering an amazing new band at a club, it’s an unbeatable high when you stumble on a vibrant new painting by an emerging contemporary artist at an art fair.

The other day, a tennis buddy invited me to his home for an acoustic house concert and potluck with about 35 friends. The musician was a fellow by the name of Brent Kirby. 

Over the course of the evening he shared songs from his new album, “Coming to Life.” Every song had a back-story, each one more compelling, moving or hilarious than the last. 

I’ve never spent a better evening, and I’ll never regret the money I spent buying his CDs at the end of the night. That kind of personal connection happens thousands of times a day at an art fair like Artexpo, as collectors encounter amazing new works and the artists who’ve created them.

Selling art is fundamentally built on real-life relationships, and the artist’s story will always be most powerfully told in person—not online. True, the new digital landscape has brought art to many new collectors; but when it comes to bringing collectors to new art, nothing rivals fine art fairs. No matter how dramatically the Internet has changed the fine art market, there will always be a place for the relationships and sensory experiences that are at the heart of art collecting.

Art Month is now in full swing this March at the piers in New York City. On the heels of another successful Armory Show, Artexpo New York 2012 will showcase the works of over 1,000 innovative artists from all around the world. We’re located at Pier 92 from March 22-25 this year, adjacent to The Architectural Digest at Pier 94. 

I encourage you to come out and feast your senses, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the artists, hear their stories and experience this extraordinary celebration of fine art—in person.

Eric Smith is CEO of Artexpo New York (March 25-27), the world’s largest fine art trade show for 32 years, providing trade buyers and weekend shoppers with access to thousands of innovative works from artists and publishers in a single venue. Over the decades, Artexpo has hosted many of the world’s most renowned artists, including Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Robert Rauschenberg, Keith Haring, Robert Indiana and Leroy Neiman. With over 25 years of experience, Mr. Smith is a leading expert on the art market and the latest trends and forecasts. He is frequently asked to lecture at industry trade shows and conferences and is regularly quoted by the media.