If you're having trouble selling your art online, or if you are not able to get the prices you are seeking, you need to spend more time thinking about your audience.
Who is going to buy your art? Why are they going to buy it?
When I ask my undergraduate students why they think collectors choose to buy art, they often guess that it serves primarily decorative purposes. They imagine that most buyers look at a big empty spot above their couch and think "I really should put something about 5' wide up there" before going to etsy to fill the gap. This guess may be true in some cases, but it ignores so many of the reasons that people care about and buy original art. After all, there are many cheaper and less labour-intensive ways to decorate your home than building an art collection.
Below, I have just a few tips to get you thinking about selling your art in ways that are sensitive to how collectors want to use the art that they buy from you. This is just a teaser, and if you’re interested in this topic you can put yourself on the list linked below to get updates and receive early, discounted access to my upcoming online course.
Tell Your Story, Sell Your Art: Revealing the valuable brand inside the art you already make.
To get right to the heart of the matter, art's primary purpose is not decoration. Art is an extremely valuable social product. It has a tremendous influence on relationships between people. It communicates and shapes people's identities—not just the identity of the artist, but others who interact with it. It shapes and transmits culture.
This social view of art is shared by many scholars working in the arts, but I don't think it has been adequately translated into something useful for working artists who are trying to make a living. My goal with this post is to bring these insights to you in a way that will help you to cultivate and work with buyers.
Buyers want: art that reflects their values, personality, and aspirations. When someone buys your art and displays it in their home, office, boardroom, or cabin, it becomes a marker and shaper of that person’s identity. Having your painting above my desk when I meet with clients will influence what those clients think of me. It might even help set the tone for our entire business relationship. People want to buy art that communicates something about who they are or, perhaps even more commonly, who they want to become.
Therefore artists who want to cultivate buyers should: connect with buyers deeply, at the level of their values. You should be able to understand and articulate the values and personality expressed in your work. This will help you to define your niche and attract the buyers who are most likely to be interested in your work. It helps to talk about your work in relation to an important cause or idea. For example, a buyer is likely to be more interested in an artist who talks about how their work relates to environmental conservation than an artist who talks about what materials were used in the creation of a piece. The cause and its underlying values are more important and much more likely to resonate.
Buyers want: to be knowledgable about what they buy, share their knowledge with others, and be acknowledged for their good taste. Art is a wonderful vehicle for conversation—not just between the artist and buyer but between the buyer and his/her circle. Buyers want to be able to explain why the art they have purchased is valuable while expertly pointing out the special visual details or approaches they see in the piece. Just like wine connoisseurs, art connoisseurs want to develop their expertise and showcase their good taste.
Therefore artists who want to cultivate buyers should: teach their customers what to look for and explain interesting parts of their process. Tell your customers what you were trying to achieve with a particular piece. Reveal the design choices you’ve made and explain why you’ve made them. If you have been influenced by other artists, tell your customers who those artists are so that they can contextualize your work. You don’t want to assume ignorance on the part of your buyers; you just want to slow them down, help them see the the value,and validate their taste by showing your own expertise and thoughtfulness.
Buyers want: a good story about you, the artist. Many of the most famous artists in history are fascinating (in part) because of their personas. These artists presented a particular, identifiable character to the world, which today we might call a “brand.”
Many art collectors are interested in artists who present a strong persona that is either relatable or inspiring in some way. Of course, we must keep in mind the idea of values alignment introduced above: the artist needs to be “interesting” in the right kind of way to resonate.
Therefore artists who want to cultivate buyers should: decide which (if any) elements of their lives and personalities they want to share with the public, then make that information accessible. You don’t have to be outrageous like Pablo Picasso or a tragic and heroic figure like Frida Kahlo to be interesting. You also don’t have to tell your whole life story to be fascinating (think of Banksy!). You should, however, find a way of projecting a persona to potential buyers. It should express something of the “real you” and provide context for your work. Ideally, your story will help others understand your art. Keeping in mind that your persona should resonate and/or inspire, the image you project should be at the very least compelling enough that potential buyers would consider themselves lucky to have you as a special dinner guest.
Buyers want: to support artists and make a good investment. That means that they want to buy art that is going to appreciate in value over time. Buyers can make a determination about whether an artist’s work is a good investment in a couple of different ways. The most obvious approach is to look for a proven track-record. Years of experience in increasingly more prestigious galleries, awards, publications, credentials, membership in Artists’ Associations, and increasing prices over time are all good signs. Another approach is to look for an artist with potential. An artist who is new to the art world but is skillful, energetic, and innovative may well be on the rise. Buyers want to support artists who they think will make it big. They will get a thrill from discovering your talent before everyone else does!
Therefore artists who want to cultivate buyers should: talk about their future plans, communicate their artistic goals, and show their professional growth. If you want to sell your work, you should convince potential buyers that you are a horse worth backing. Market yourself according to your career phase. And if you’re both experienced and innovative you should let that show!
The difficult news is that artists have to work hard to make the most of the social value that art holds! The good news is that we can teach you how to do it. To learn more, you can register for updates and early, discounted access for my new course.
"Tell Your Story, Sell Your Art: Revealing the Valuable Brand Inside the Art You Already Make."
Or, to get started right away with one-on-one advice from Dr. Jamie Kemp, sign up for a free consultation here: