According to Artnet the art market has experienced double digit growth for the past few years. Yet only a small percentage of artists can support themselves solely from their creative practice. Instead, most supplement their income by teaching art or pursuing a job in an unrelated field.
From an artist perspective the competition is fierce. Art buyers have an abundance of choices to find a favorite piece. . . whether from physical and online galleries or artists’ personal websites and social media groups, there are always plenty of artists eager to display and sell their works.
So how can artists break through the clutter, make their voice heard and build an audience for their works?
Selling art is a business, and each artist is a brand. Successful artists accept this reality and work relentlessly to build a strong and differentiated artist brand that capture art buyers’ attention.
The following business-inspired strategies will help any artist (willing to invest their time and effort) to sell more art.
1. Develop a focused and cohesive portfolio
In a market where tastes and preferences vary greatly, a common approach artists take is to build a diversified portfolio encompassing many styles, themes and subjects in an effort to appeal to as many art buyers as possible.
Unfortunately, this all-inclusive approach does nothing to build your distinctive artist brand and make your art more recognizable.
The key to success in a highly competitive market (which art is) is focus and consistency. Narrow your focus to a particular subject, theme, medium, process, and even artwork size—anything that will set you and your art apart from the crowd.
Being focused shouldn’t stop you from experimenting and evolving as an artist. But your work should share a subtle connection that ties them all together under a unified and consistent portfolio. Ideally you will reach a point in your career where anybody who sees a number of your works will instantly recognize you as the artist behind them.
When seeking gallery representation, this is a good strategy too, since artists with a cohesive portfolio are much easier to promote.
2. Don’t let your art “speak for itself”
Original art is a lifestyle purchase, not a necessity. People buy art that reflects who they are, what they believe in—art that reminds them of something or someone. In order to to successful as an artist, your art has to have enough emotional appeal to turn the viewer into a buyer.
Many artists prefer to let their art “speak for itself.” While this strategy might work if you’re dealing with experienced art connoisseurs, or your family and close friends, in most cases you will have to explain why your art is worth investing in.
The first step to creating a solid connection with potential buyers is creating an artist bio that provides the reader with an understanding of your artistic background and career achievements. From a buyer’s perspective the biography is more important than the artist statement, as it allows for an objective introduction to your work, and justify (at least to some extent) its price.
Two other powerful tools that will contribute to building your unique brand is finding evocative titles for each of your artwork, and sharing stories for each piece to help the buyer appreciate them more.
3. Distribute your artwork carefully
Technology has eliminated many of limitations of displaying and selling art. Seeking physical gallery representation is no longer a necessity; artists can sell their art directly or via the many digital platforms available.
But keep in mind, from a branding perspective the channels you choose to associate your art with can help build your brand or work against it.
Would your perception of Rolex watches change if they were sold at Walmart? I am sure it would. Just because a particular website or gallery is willing to accept your work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be selective.
Some important questions you need to answer include:
What kind of buyer do I want to attract?
How “commercial” do I want my art to be? Do I want to sell reproductions of my works of focus exclusively on selling originals?
What other art/artists do I want to be associated with?
How will my art be promoted?
Most gallery owners (myself included) are not interested in artists who flog their art to every gallery in town and all over the Internet. Art is not (or should not be) a commodity, and selling an original piece requires important investments to promote it, hence a certain degree of loyalty is expected.
4. Have a consistent pricing strategy
Art is very subjective in nature, and establishing how much a particular artwork is worth is very difficult, especially for an inexperienced buyer. So for the artist, keeping a realistic, consistent and transparent pricing strategy eliminates confusion and builds loyalty for your works.
Setting realistic prices for your works has to take into account a multitude of factors: your sales history, your reputation, and (very importantly) any comparable works by artists with similar background and exposure.
Modern art buyers are more sophisticated than ever, and will most likely perform the necessary research before investing in a particular piece. One mistake artists make is pricing particular pieces substantially higher than others, based solely on the emotional factors involved in creating them. From a buyer perspective, these huge price variations are hard to justify.
At the opposite end, some artists are willing to offer deep discounts on their art in hopes of a quick sale. This strategy also sends red flags about the true value of your work.
As a general rule try to keep prices within a specific range you find comfortable justifying based on your reputation, past sales and the characteristics of each piece.
The four strategies above should provide you with a solid foundation on which to build a loyal customer base. Put them into practice today and watch for your sales to increase.
Dragos Baicoianu is the owner of BrushTreasures.com, a selective online gallery specialized in original paintings by North American and international artists.