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!

Starving to Successful

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In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

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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 reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

11 Comments

  1. Yep, you are hitting close to my sentiments (though I have many) on the topic of sales. I vent on my blog about these feelings, and then I waffle about whether to take down the posts – am I going to upset or offend potential buyers? Will other artists commiserate and take comfort in knowing others have these conflicted thoughts? Will accepting money take away the value of someone “getting” my work or negate the message the buyer receives (which is, if you ask me, the reason I do what I do.)

    All these horribly complex thought processes can take a sliver of a second to cycle, or weeks, or months. We who have them should bookmark this blog post as a reference when those thoughts challenge us.

  2. Hi Jason,

    My gallerists are my most important partners. In fact you, evidently, just met a couple of them – Dan and Nancy Morrow from The Gallery at Ten Oaks. Currently I am only in three galleries. Two of them are like family to me and we have a clear understanding and a mutual respect for each other’s skills and roles in the marketing process. This is something I learned how to develop from your course. The third is further away, recently changed hands and I am struggling to build a relationship where we both operate from a position of trust and understanding. As an artist who understands her limitations with regards to selling my chosen path is to work with galleries. To this end I plan to participate in a large regional art fair next year with the hope of securing wider representation. I also want to tell you that your course was one of two amazing online classes I took (the other was more for technique) that really boosted me to the next level and I tell all my artist friends who wonder how I did it all about it. Thank you so much! There are a lot of classes out there but you really delivered!
    Find me on Instagram Penny_Forrest_artist

  3. Thank you Jason for another wonderful art marketing moment! I totally agree with you and know how much many of my art purchases have meant to me over the years. After picking up my brushes again about 13 years ago I concentrated on still life. I love that genre and then I began to do pet portraits also. Well, the emotion and joy I received from the clients of the portraits was so amazing. About five years ago I also started plein aire and studio coastal scenes. The feedback I have received from these clients has been overwhelming at times as they have a very moving emotional attachment to these places. It has fueled my desire to produce better and better work and I continue to take selective workshops. I love my galleries and the work they do for me and anything I can do to help them is a pleasure.
    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge with this community!

  4. As an established Artist based in Brighton on the south coast of the UK, I used to feel just like the Artist you describe Jason… Now, having followed your advice & achieving success with it, I know my Artwork deserves the many thousands of dollars my wonderful collectors pay for it…

  5. Salesmanship == education. Is the person who writes the auction catalog for Christies a salesperson an educator or both? We are currently studying Frida Kahlo and the Mexican art movement. A person can look at some of that abstract and surrealist art without an understanding of the history or the personality behind who painted it and go, “Meh. I don’t get it.” However, when in-depth research is done, it completely changes the face of the painting. As an example, we’ve studied ancient Aztec culture, their gods, symbols, and belief system. We studied the Spanish conquest and the Mexican Revolution. We studied the establishment of Mexico city, the lake on which it was built, and the Aztec relics that are being unearthed as a result of modern renovations. We studied the Mexican muralists and artistic process. And, of course, we’ve studied Frida’s life in-depth as well as the lives of other Mexican artists and their art processes. Now, when you look at the symbols in Frida’s paintings, you understand her reverence for Mexico’s zeitgeist, the land, agrarian culture, traditional dress, and her connections to the Aztec beliefs of duality, fertility, and the power of the cosmos. You see how it relates to Frida’s struggles in her personal life. It makes a very interesting story. The education and understanding evokes many emotions. And regardless of whether one is in alignment with the artist’s views, it creates a connection and an empathy that turns one into a fan. You go back and look at that same painting with understanding and wish you could afford one.

    Art can’t help but be about layers of history, and artists generally have a complex set of motivations behind their work. That’s why those biographies are so important. Learning history evokes emotion and wisdom. As long as the salesmanship is authentic, the sales person is an important educator and facilitator of art and history preservation. We NEED the sales people. Done the right way, it increases the purity of the art.

  6. I don’t think that professional artists who have to rely on sales for their livelihood feel this way about sales. In fact, I think they can grow quite concerned if they feel the Gallery isn’t doing enough to facilitate sales. I don’t mean facilitation in a “hoodwinking” sense, but in a sense of information sharing and engagement with the potential collector.

  7. I enjoyed this talk, a good thing to think about. I am also really enjoying your book. Thank you for taking the time to help artists, few people do.
    Susan Geddes

  8. I think you have definitely hit a few nails on the head here Jason. It has taken many years for me and my husband to really comprehend that people actually want to buy our things (particularly if the piece didn’t take a huge amount of blood, sweat and tears and in fact was quite simple and pleasurable to produce) and that they then get great pleasure in seeing the piece everyday. It is still a lovely surprise when someone tells us this – and I think we are almost at the stage of believing it now 😀 (in fact a lady has contacted us today about possibly purchasing something for her husband for Christmas. He bought something of Bill’s a few years ago and she told us that he still proudly shows it off to his friends.) Selling our own work is often not the artist’s best talent – that is best done by someone else, like a gallery 🙂.

  9. I hate to admit it, but Jason pretty much nailed it in his latest Minute. Yes, I confess, when I pick up a rock from the beach and make it into something people want to own, it is still a rock to me. Even after hundreds of hours of labour, it is difficult for me to escape that sense. It is also difficult to escape my prejudice that fine art can be bought only with so-called ‘excess wealth’. But the reality is that it is no longer JUST a rock, and potential clients’ desire to own it is just as legitimate (more, actually) as my prejudice about its ‘real’ value.

  10. That’s me. I go through the “People bought my art! What’s wrong with them/what’s wrong with my art?” I also buy artwork and it is exactly as you described. I love it every time I look at it, so I should know better.

  11. I’m an ambivalent artist because I came to the scene in the era of disdain for commercialism. I also enjoyed a brief but intense reputation as a pioneer Pop sculptor in Canada. This meant I received national exposure at all the major art galleries across Canada, but they never bought my work. I was a woman in a man’s field in the 60’s and early 70’s. I thought this was normal. I honestly believed I wasn’t good or commercial enough. Today, at 78 years of age, I’m still working at my Art but again in a new cutting edge medium, iPad painting. I am good, but don’t sell much. I haven’t got the energy anymore to hustle. At my age, I’m either not seen as serious because of my medium, or/and my age. I sure could use a few sales because my pension doesn’t stretch very far. I cannot handle the rudeness and rejection very well so I avoid the risk. I keep creating but never exposing. Not a very good formula for success.

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