What is Art Marketing, and Why Bother?

By Aletta de Wal in Art Business Advice > Art Marketing Tips

All good conversations start with careful observation and perceptive listening.

If you leave those out, all you are doing is broadcasting—and that doesn’t build bridges between anyone. It’s what you see and hear that will help you choose the words you need to have a series of engaging conversations.

Why bring up conversations?

Because I define marketing (specifically art marketing) as a series of conversations designed to build a bridge between you, your art, and your audience.

These conversations take place in person, by telephone, on the Internet and via surface mail, and no matter what the medium is, they all require the same two things: careful observation, and perceptive listening.

Let’s break that explanation down into a few applicable steps.

When I make art, I observe the thoughts that run through my head about the art pieces I create. I keep a notebook in my studio beside my work and write down words that will help me explain both my process AND finished creation. That way I’m ready to answer the inevitable questions like, “How did you make this?” “What gave you the idea?” and “What does it mean?”

When someone looks at my art, they have thoughts and feelings about what they see, how they interpret my visual message and whether or not they like it enough to buy it. I can’t get inside people’s heads, so I ask them to tell me what they see, feel, and think about what I have created. I watch their facial expressions and listen carefully. As soon as I can, I write their words down in my notebook, for future reference. Their words help me when I need to create marketing messages for future buyers.

That’s how I approach art marketing, and trust me, it’s worth the effort. I do it this way because I’ve found that artists who market their art correctly end up with three very important things—credibility, visibility, and desirability.

1. Credibility

Credibility inspires belief and trust. Your audience has to believe that your art is worth collecting, and that your prices are fair. Trust is the glue of relationships, and relationships lead to sales.

You don’t build your credibility directly – other people do that for you. Your job is to inspire collectors to talk about the quality of your art, excite viewers to enthuse about meeting you at exhibits, and get the attention of influential arts writers and art professionals.

Credibility increases the reach of your reputation, expands the market for your art and influences the prices you will be paid.

How are you doing on credibility?

• Do you have market-based proof that your art is worth collecting?

• Does your art and your reputation have “street cred” with other artists, collectors, artist representatives, museum curators or gallery dealers?

• Do you offer a certificate of authenticity, warranties, and/or guarantees with your art?

2. Visibility

Visibility is required to gain the public’s attention. No one is going to discover you and all the amazing artwork in your studio unless they happen to stumble in. (This happened to me exactly once in my entire art career. One hot summer day I had my studio doors and windows open to get a cross breeze. A passerby on the way to another unit stopped to ask if she could come in to see my work.)

You’re in charge of building your own visibility in the real world and in cyberspace. Make a point to regularly exhibit your art at appealing events in your studio, galleries, museums and alternative spaces. When you’re there, start lots of conversations. You have to get the word out more than once in person, in print and online to be noticed.

Visibility attracts attention and relationships that lead to referrals, representation and purchases.

Are you and your art visible?

• Does your art have a recognizable and distinct signature style?

• Do you demonstrate natural talents, have an art school education, or training by modern masters?

• Does your public profile indicate to others that you are an artist in high demand?

3. Desirability

Desirability builds allure and appeal. . . and that’s very important because people buy art based on emotion. They purchase it with their disposable income (i.e., money not needed for basic living expenses or savings). This is the same money they would use for vacations and entertainment. To hand over this money to you, buyers have to feel good about the price of your work, and may feel a need justify their purchase.

You need to make your work more desirable than any other artwork on the market. You need to make YOU more interesting than other artists. Bear in mind that you will always be competing for that attention with your audience’s work, family, health and leisure pursuits, let alone with other artists and artwork.

How desirable are you and your work?

• Does your art stand out with a “wow” factor?

• Does your reputation confer status points to the purchaser?

• Is your art professionally presented and ready to display?

• Do you have that “IT” quality that makes people “have to have” your art?

• Does your art (and your reputation) have more perceived value than other art or artists?

When the right people see your work in the right places at the right time and in the right way, you may become credible and desirable.

As I wrote in How to use the “Art of Conversation” to Market Your Art:

You may have the best art in the world, but if you’re talking to the wrong people, you won’t have a business. Conversations with the right people at the right time, in the right place, about the right things can lead to relationships. . .

It’s those relationships, carefully nurtured, that lead to sales.


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