Art Salesmanship (Is that a Dirty Word?) | Xanadu Gallery’s Art Marketing Minute

Salesmanship has a bit of a bad name in the art world. As a gallery owner, I know that many artists look at what I do with suspicion. They suspect that I use underhanded methods and pressure to compel the unwilling to buy art.

They think that the selling process somehow taints the purity of art.

I’m convinced that this disdain artists feel toward salesmanship stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about what the sales process is, and what’s really happening when I sell a piece of art.

To learn more, watch the video above. Prefer to read instead of watch? Click here!

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. I believe that people who buy art do so usually because they have fallen in love with the piece. Some buy on spec that your art will increase in value. I think that’s a bit foolish and mercenary. I do have art in my home that I have bought. But I bought it to beautify my home and because I loved the art.

  2. There is almost nothing more gratifying to me than selling a work of art to a client. In doing so, I know that I am playing that integral role in placing art in an environment where it will be admired and enjoyed for years to come. Most artists committed to their work, create with passion and purpose. Unfortunately
    artists are typically not great salespeople. There is a skill to selling art effectively. It is not about tricking the public in any way, but instead is more about educating the public, and helping them to visualize how a particular work of art will fit into their environment, and enhance their life. Being able to assist them in making a relaxed and timely decision is not deceptive at all. Art buyers generally establish relationships with certain art dealers, and with time come to respect the opinion of certain dealers. It is a relationship which is very different than with an artist and the client. At the same time, the artist always needs to be sure that the dealer has their best interest at heart.

    1. So well written Ray, I agree 100% with all of it.
      I never feel I’m tricking anyone when I’m selling my art. On the contrary it’s a mutually rewarding experience. And the more authentic it is the more we both are happy. Maybe that’s why a grown up man once cried holding one of my paintings before purchasing. It was, and still is, priceless!

  3. Outstanding marketing minute! I’m sure you are right about many artists’ feelings about selling their work, because I used to feel that way. Now I’m feeling my price points are a bit too low, considering the hard work that goes into each piece.

    I love selling my work and my client rapport can be fun and productive. My best client, who lives in the same city as I do, often surprises me by purchasing something “hot off the easel” that I might have done to explore a new subject. She also likes to involve me in deciding where my paintings will hang in her home. She even asks me to paint certain subjects (variations of paintings I’ve done) for specific locations. It’s all very fun and rewarding.

    My work is sold halfway across the country in a gallery in Santa Fe, so I miss the opportunity to establish a rapport with the other collectors of my work. I respect that some collectors prefer not to interact with the artist. I leave making the connection up to my dealer.

    I’ve painted in the gallery for a couple of days to try to generate that personal relationship with collectors. When I asked the sales persons in the gallery for advice on talking to potential buyers they gave me excellent advice. They said, “We don’t hard sell. We just let potential buyers tell us what they like and then do what we can to make them happy.”

  4. I guess selling my artistic works to folks who chance upon my booth is akin to selling my work to a gallery owner or curator. A personal “Glad to meet you” greeting, lots of eye contact while listening to my new friend’s story, telling my tales of adventure and art, and, a wistful sigh that my endeavor in art will no longer grace my own wall, but will go to live in a warm, loving home.
    I like my art. I enjoy the adventure of creation. I like sharing that heart-felt journey with anyone who stops in to look. And I am not ashamed to admit I like making an honest living sharing the interpretation of my experiences with someone who identifies with it, is pleased by my drawings, and is willing to purchase. Todays customer gives me the wherewithal to create and develop new ideas and themes, which helps me please old patrons and new customers.
    Thank you for this art moment, now back to the art room.

  5. Thank you Jason. I think if some artists were also purchasers of art then they wouldn’t have the attitude you refer to in your explanation of salesmanship. Yes, I prefer to work with galleries as I would rather be in the studio painting. I respect and admire their ability to help clients go home with a painting they will love and also enhance their lives. I know that’s the way I feel about my art purchases!! I also love to meet the clients whenever that is possible and enjoy sending them a note after they purchase one of my paintings. Of course that isn’t always possible as I understand why all galleries don’t share that info with their artists. I truly believe it’s important for galleries and artists to trust each other. I want my galleries to succeed and have no desire to take any sales away from them! Thanks again for your interesting blogs!! They are appreciated!!

  6. Great video, Jason. Thank you. I think many of us have conflicting feelings about most sales and purchases. In part, that is because each transaction is asymmetrical. When I buy a quart of milk at the corner store, I think the milk is worth more than the money it costs me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t buy it. On the other hand, the shop keeper thinks that the money is worth more than the milk. Otherwise, he wouldn’t sell it. The same asymmetry holds true for buying a car or a piece of art.

    Of course, buying art is much more emotional on both sides of the transaction. Yet in a good sale, each party feels that they are getting more value than they are giving up. Is one of us wrong? Is one of us tricking the other? I don’t think so. Just as with the simple example of buying a quart of milk, each party in the sale can end up with more of what they value than they started with. It can be a great win-win situation.

  7. Thanks Jason, I’ve had 3 art works sell because when a client showed interest in a piece I gave them a greeting card with that image on it and days later they called to purchase. The card kept their want in front of them until they made a decision.

  8. what do you do when you have a strong emotional attachment to a work? when you want to retain a link to that work,(forgive the comparison)when it feels like you are giving it up for adoption?

  9. What helped me most in accepting the role of sales in my own life as a sculptor is to think of tranactions as exchanges of equal value. As long as the conditions of an exchange allow that equality of value to emerge, I can relax, get into it, trust in the process, and help make it happen.

  10. I think “distain” may be an accurate description of how some artists purport to feel about the art of selling and galleries in particular, but its real description is fear…fear of relating to buyers, fear of that deep pool of inadequacy if they choose someone else’s work, fear of the public…etc., etc. I’ve always seen “distain” as a form of fakery. I’ve been both an artist and a gallery owner, sometimes simultaneously, and when a happy client walked out carrying a painting with a huge smile on his or her face, it made my heart sing in ways that had nothing to do with the rent.

  11. I love your point of view, Jason. It comes in the nick of time for me, because I’m doing a small local art fair on Thursday! I will try to adopt your attitude if anyone expresses interest in my work.

  12. Your point of view is really helpful! It is easy to feel weird about being paid for something one loves to do. The following quote from you really resonates! Thank you!

    “When a sale is made, the client walks away from the transaction with a wonderful piece of artwork she will enjoy for a lifetime – all I walk away with is money; money that will be spent and forgotten before the month is out. It’s clear that if anyone is coming out ahead, it’s my client. The client is going to enjoy experiencing the art on a daily basis. The art is going to transform their ordinary house into a place of beauty. Art has a tremendous impact on people’s lives.

    By looking at a sale in this light, I don’t see what I’m doing as a scam, quite the opposite: I see it as my duty to do everything I can to help my client achieve a happy outcome. If I fail, the customer walks away with her money, but misses out on the enjoyment she would have derived from owning the artwork, and that’s a lifetime of missed enjoyment.”

  13. I had a few of unexpected experiences of a person *falling in love* with one of my paintings. In all cases, they enjoy the painting daily now. I see the gallerist as an intermediate between the collector and the artists, listening carefully to the collector’s interest to help the match.

    When I get a commission, I start by questionning the interest of the person – I ask for a picture of the wall and the room where it will go. I ask for the subject they are looking for and try to understand their passion. The pictures also help confirm the size of the canvas and the price. If they don’t provide a picture, I find inspiration pictures to run by them. I don’t paint to reproduce a picture but it helps understand what they like and inspire my creation. I often share the intended color palette for confirmation. As I progress on the artwork and before finalizing them, I share pics and videos. It’s a bit like an ultrasound of a baby on its way 😉 To date, all my art collectors have returned for more.

  14. I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve purchased art work and I’ve thankfully sold a few of my own. What you say is true. Every day I get to see a piece we purchased some years ago, and on an adjoining wall, one of my pieces I could never bring myself to sell. The inner warmth we get from spending a few minutes in “conversation” with the pieces is beyond price.

    My latest sale was just what you said. I wanted the collector to have the piece because she could not stop thinking about it. I was all set to ask, “What will it take for you to have this?” when she said. I couldn’t sleep last night. I have to have it. As she went to write the check, I quoted her a discounted price. As we talked about it, i told her it was important to me that the piece had a “good home”.

    Even 5 years ago, I would never have thought like this.
    Thank you, Jason, for your insistence on keeping both sides of the transaction in our view.

  15. If an artist feels he/she is not creating masterpieces then by all means feel guilty about the work you or your representative sells. But lets get real. If as an artist you believe your work is on par with whoever is selling at the top of the pyramid (both dead and living) then the sky should be limit for your sale price.

  16. I sincerely enjoy selling my artwork! I look at it like I am helping them to make their lives more beautiful. I was actually sad when I sold my first piece as it felt as if a piece of me was leaving and I do believe that is true with every piece of art that I make. I put my heart and soul into my work so they actually are getting a piece of me but I now realize that I am helping the world become a more beautiful place. I have had people contemplating purchasing a piece and they said “well, I really like it.” My response to them was” then this piece is not for you as you need to LOVE it.” It never fails that the person that loves it shows up to purchase it.

  17. Over 50 years in the business both as an artist and as a dealer i have seen more artists sabotage themselves by considering salesmanship to be a scam than i can count. In my experience a good sales person is the 3rd leg in the transaction, without them the stool cannot stand. Those who acheive the best results are very good at finding the clients needs and then meeting them despite the clients own objections to fullfilling that desired result. Many clients settle for second best or nothing rather than face their own fears and insecurities, the salesman is there to help them overcome those. People will virtually never buy what they do not really want no matter how effective the sales pitch. [exception being the client who buys for investment considering the art as a monetary tool only with little to no consideration for aesthetics ] Personally i will not go into a business relationship with a gallery whose owner or staff does not know how to sell professionally.

  18. I hate the selling process. I would much rather be painting or teaching painting. The standing around at art shows is terrible for me so I usually take my paints and demo. That at least gives me something to talk to people about and I have no problem doing that, I am just not good at standing around tooting my own horn so to speak.

  19. The selling process for me is not a pleasant or easy one. And when I find myself at that point, some place in my mind wish someone else would be doing the sale for me.

  20. Hmmm, this causes me to think, since selling is just plain scary to this introvert. Plus, I agree with Kathy, it kinda felt like tooting my own horn, which is culturally anathema to me.

    In the past, I’ve sold shoes, picture framing and personal electronics. In these varied jobs, I’ve used the same technique…I teach. What do you need/want? How does it work for you? What to look for in making the selection, the pros and cons. I wasn’t trying to make the sale, I making sure that the buyer was making an informed decision…the way I would want to decide as a buyer myself.

    I hadn’t believed that would work as well in selling art since buying art is so subjective. Apparently it does. Need to really think about that.

  21. For 30 + years, I was a professional sales rep for 3 large industries – a regional printing supply company, then a national wireless company, and finally in a large local car dealership, before I retired and started concentrating on producing my art. I think that the selling process for art is no different than anything else.

    First, you have to understand that selling has always been portrayed as a negative. Alfred Hitchock would tell his TV audience that they were about to be “rudely interupted by our sponsors”. Musicals like “The Music Man” portrayed salesmen as shiftless liars. And those are just 2 of many examples of entertainment giving sales a bad rap. Then, sadly, most people have personal experience making a purchase that was unsatisfactory. Ofter, the dissatisfied buyer blames the seller, whether justifiable or not.

    So, I found it quite funny that customers were suspicious of car salespeople, when many times, the customers themselves were total liars! They would lie about their credit…or they’d lie about how much they owed on their trade-in, or they’d lie about their income, or whether their car had ever been in an accident.

    Perhaps people find what they expect to see (an untrustworthy salesman), because they exhibit those same tendencies themselves.

    So when stuff like that happens, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY!

    As artists, we need to have pride in our talents! Very few people can create art. And those who can’t, are often amazed by those of us who can.

    And we also need to understand that many people couldn’t care less about art (again, you can’t take it personally)…while others care deeply.

    So the trick is to explore the different ways to market yourself. Hopefully you’ll encounter art lovers, and connect with them. Which I think is the crux of the matter.

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