Hand it Over! The Delicate Balance of Transferring Ownership of your Artwork

By Niki Hilsabeck in Art Business Advice > Motivation

NOTE: Today’s article isn’t about the technical transaction of selling. It’s not about how to sell your artwork, either. Instead, it’s about transferring ownership of your artwork, or letting go of your art so someone else can enjoy it.

Have you ever had a favorite song, only to find out it was written to mean something entirely different from the way you understood it?

How did it feel when that happened? Do you still have a deep connection to the song, or do you now have a little nagging doubt that the song was more about the artist than it was about you?

Maybe as a visual artist, this has happened to you too. If someone completely misunderstands your artwork, does it make you sputter? Laugh? Feel the need to correct the person? (I once had a lady swear I had painted a “secret” dog into my painting, and I wanted to pull it out of the frame right there and smudge it up to make sure she stopped seeing any trace of a hidden animal).

Whether it’s musical, visual, or experiential art, there’s always a delicate connection being forged between the artist and the recipient – and for me, at least, it helps to be aware of that balance when sharing my work with others.

Try being a “matchmaker” for your art

A few weeks ago, I was at an unusually pleasant art event. The weather was great, nothing got damaged in transit, and people came out to buy. As I sat in my beach chair and painted, I had a little epiphany. For me, selling my art isn’t so much about selling—it’s more about matchmaking, or kind of like finding a “forever home” for it.

In the process of finding the human match for one of my works, I have to stand back and let go of the piece. It may have deep meaning to me, but I’ve found that each piece has a unique value to its buyer—a value that is often quite different from the one it had for me.

At this particular event, I sold one of my favorite pastel paintings of ocean water. . . it depicts sunlight sparkling on the waves on a cloudy winter afternoon here in Southern California.

The buyer liked it because it reminded him of the water he loves to look at from his vacation home, which is nowhere near California. I love the beach here in winter because it is cool and empty, and that’s what inspired this particular pastel. However, if I told the buyer that, he would probably have lost his own connection to the piece.

So instead, I waited patiently while he absorbed the piece on his own. I was thrilled to send it home with him, and enjoyed hearing what the piece meant to him, since it would now be his.

If you struggle with sales, perhaps this will help:

I don’t push people to buy my artwork, although I would certainly enjoy the additional sales that might bring. The truth is that I’m a lousy salesperson—I don’t like being hounded by salespeople when I’m shopping, so I can’t bear to do the same thing to people visiting my booth.

I wait to talk about my paintings until someone has a question. Most of the questions I get are technical: how did I paint it? What medium(s) did I use? Where is the location? Did I use a photograph?

I rarely get asked what actually inspired the piece, or how I feel about the subject. If they don’t ask, I don’t share (I can always unload all those feelings on my blog!) They’re trying to process their individual feelings about the piece, and I prefer to let people work that out on their own.

Here’s a good example of why I keep those thoughts to myself: another piece I said goodbye to that weekend was a soft, sweet silhouette of a black cat. The buyer had her own black cat, and there was instant chemistry when she saw the piece.

We shared our common weakness for cats in general, but I didn’t tell her that I’d had several black cats over my lifetime, and just had to say a painful goodbye to the last one a few months ago. I wanted her to take the piece home and love it as her own, connected to it by her love for her own cat—not to look at it and think of the artist feeling sad about saying goodbye to it.

Every great artwork deserves a home

It can be tempting to fill that awkward silence with a potential buyer and share all of the emotion and inspiration that goes into your work. (Some people actually do a great job at this, and sell well in the process! I’m just not one of those.) For my own comfort level, I wait to see if the viewer has a connection, first. And if they do, I don’t want to intrude on that bond by interjecting my own feelings about the piece.

In fact, at that point, my artwork has already begun the transfer of ownership. I’ll always have the enjoyable memory of creating it (the best part!) and the rights to any copies of it. But now it’s becoming part of someone else’s story, a part about which I will likely know nothing.

It can be strange to think that your artwork leaves your hands and is no longer really your own—maybe even bittersweet—but knowing it went to a good home to be loved and enjoyed can take away most of the sting. And hey. . . making a sale is great, too!


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