Choice Overload | Cramming in too Much Art Hurts your Sales

I recently watched a TED talk that reinforced my opinion of the importance of limiting the amount of art you try to display when you are trying to generate sales.

I have long maintained that it’s a bad idea to try and show too much art at once. Whether the art is being shown in a gallery, or at a weekend art festival, I believe it’s better to show a limited number of pieces instead of trying to cram everything you can into your space.

I believe that having too much art in one space hurts you in several ways. First, it makes your display look crowded and unprofessional. Most art needs some space to breathe.  Your display will look better if each piece has its own visual space.

Many galleries and artists feel like they are more likely to make a sale if they offer a wide range of work. This is a kind of shotgun approach. The more you show, the thinking goes, the more likely you are to have something that will appeal. I would argue that the problem with this approach is that you may have a better chance at having the right piece in front of someone if there’s a wide range of work, but the problem is the person won’t be able to properly see the art.

Another critical problem with this approach is that offering people too many choices often makes it impossible for them to make a decision. The TED talk I watched gave me some scientific backing to this opinion. Sheena Iyengar, a prominent Psycho-economist (whatever that is!?) has done research that shows that when customers are faced with too many options, they freeze up. It’s well worth watching her talk at TED and thinking about how it applies to the art business. Iyengar’s insights about “choice overload” show that when people are confronted with too many options, they choose not to choose.

You will see in the video below that having a broad range of choice can attract visitors, but it discourages buyers. Think about that for a minute. Have you ever been at a show where you had great attendance, but didn’t make the sales you would have expected?

 

Have You Experienced Choice Overload?

Have you ever experienced the choice overload Iyengar refers to, either as a consumer or when trying to sell your art. What are your thoughts about decreasing the amount of art you show customers to boost sales? Share your insights in the comments below.

 

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

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

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

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

33 Comments

  1. Interesting! I used to teach young children, and what I observed supports this notion that too many choices can overwhelm and inhibit making a choice. If I filled the shelves, tables, and floors with games, blocks, art materials, and books, the children tended to run around and create chaos. If I put just a few games, books, and other materials out, the children would settle down and focus on their preferred activity. What a difference!

  2. Hi Jason, I agree. wonder what amount of “empty” space should one allow around a piece of art that is 11×14 or 12×16?

  3. I hadn’t thought about that concept in relationship to art. Now i know why i don’t purchase art Craft shows that have too many choices of a product. too many different scents of a bath bomb etc.

  4. I agree with your idea of leaving space between art pieces. I have a talented artist friend who crams her booth at the art shows so that each piece of her art is virtually touching. I noticed that people walking by seldom stop to try and look. She rarely sells any of those wonderful pieces. Many years ago I suggested she spread out the pieces, but her idea was that if she left out a piece, that might be the one that sells.

  5. Jason, I absolutely think less is better but I find it extremely difficult to discipline myself . In some galleries it is completely up to the owner but not all. In the galleries where the owner themselves crowd their work it is difficult to not crowd yours if you have the okay to hang your own work

  6. This was helpful. I’ve been struggling with how to set up the categories in my art portfolio on website. I’ll need to rewatch that Ted Talk a few times but it’s the advice I’m looking for. I also found it helpful to watch someone try to navigate around my site. It became immediately obvious where they got confused, lost or overwhelmed.
    Thank you!

  7. Two things I’m naturally not inclined to, and that look at many things and scratch my head. I always like to keep things simple/elegant. So you are right. Cramming too much art hurts the sale. Example, When I walk into a store, I will look around and pick the clothing/anything that attracts my eye at first sight and I’m done. If I take my mother to the store, I will end up waiting hours, & she ,after looking many many things, would still be confused and finally ask my opinion. Our daily habit, such as this simple can fit for art choices as well. It is always good as an artist, not to confuse the client by offering to many choices. I don’t believe that there is a perfect choice. Less is better than more. Thanks again for the article Jason!

  8. Right on, Jason. The gallery where I show recently had a Christmas show where all the small paintings were hung in tight groupings. Their sides were practically touching each other. Each grouping was arranged by artist. It made the gallery look ‘cute’, but sales were abysmal. When I saw what had been done, I immediately removed half of my paintings from my groupings. It was almost too late, but my paintings did start to sell. Too many choices leaves people unable to choose.

  9. yep totally agree! I participated in a large outdoor art show about 10 years ago, and I made the mistake of filling my booth with everything I had. Lots of people stopped, looked, gave me wonderful feedback, but only 1 sale the whole weekend. I have learned now to show a body of work at a time, that’s all.

  10. WOW, thank you Jason. Now I know what it wrong with me. I have been painting a series in one style for 15 years to satisfy my clients. I have decided that is enough. I have reached a time in my life where I MUST try other mediums and creative endevours…….to satisfy my inner child. There lies the problem: I am totally overwhelmed as there are too many choices. There is a storm going on in my creative mind and it will not settle down. After reading your article I now realize that I must pick one and settle into that choice for a while.

  11. I just finished up my blog for Fine Art Views and talked about this study, but didn’t know where I had read about it. Serendipitously, you have mentioned it here. I’ll give the editor the link.. I guess thoughts go in spurts.

  12. I want to provide enough pieces representative of my work to include landscape, western, portrait, etc. I will have general size and proportionate price differences. I try to bring one large accent painting. But given the choice to include more or not I pare the choices down to my better work, and new work.
    Part of the interaction between an interested patron talking about a painting is addressing their hesitation. If they like my style and are content with the price, sometimes subject matter is the deal breaker. Most of us have our inventory on our website, iPad, or smart phone. If a buyer expresses an interest in something I didn’t bring, show them. Several times I have made a post-show appointment to see a piece and it sold.
    As to appropriate spacing around a painting consider simple composition; your painting is your positive space and your walls are your negative space. If unsure, increase the space. Just as important, don’t hang your work hodgepodge up and down. You want order. My guideline has always been to make the top of each painting level with the ones around it surrounding my booth.

  13. I’ve actually had people at shows TELL me, point blank, that they couldn’t choose from amongst my pieces. So yes, I think you’re on to something here. Clearly I need to make some changes.

  14. So true – At the beginning of my career I was an assistant to a Japanese sculptor – Hideo Furuta. He worked mainly at public art commissions carved in granite. He always said ‘Don’t give public too many choices – just leads to confusion’. He would only ever offer one design. When I left his quarry and started out on my own, my first major commission was in the Shetlands, I offered them two ideas to choose from, which could fulfil the commission… they chose both. We raised some more money and pulled it off, but since then, I stick to one main idea!

    1. Somewhat … my personal feeling is a show and website have related, but dissimilar functions. At shows you have an art patron in front of you who likes your work. You sell.
      However someone arrives at your website they are exploring your work with a possibility of a sale. As such, you must present a pleasing, easy to navigate website that doesn’t try the patience of the viewer. I’ve looked at some and abandoned them out of frustration.
      Equally, a bloated website is time consuming. You need to grab a casual visitor immediately, which may demand retiring your early or less competent work. I archived sold works. Neither have I posted everything I’ve ever painted … it didn’t make the cut.
      The goal is engagement that pushes the viewer to direct contact.

  15. I have certainly experienced ‘Choice Overload’ when looking to buy stuff… but nevertheless, against most common advice, I paint in many different styles… I am very often told that my eclectic Artwork makes me very exciting…

    1. That’s something I have been struggling with. I carve and paint; the painting and drawing style is more distinctive and I can carve in many styles. That makes selecting pieces for a show or the website difficult. My website separates the categories of carving but for shows I am wondering what to do.

      I am considering marketing my art separately with some galleries getting only my contemporary and abstract works and others will only see my traditional work. This is easier as a Native American because there are groups of collectors looking traditional subjects and styles and another, newer group of collectors who want Native American artists who do abstract.

      It is hard to take that leap of faith and only show a small portion of your work.

  16. Oh, yes, visual chaos makes a big difference. So, whenever I am displaying, I do my best (if I have control), to space my photos apart from each other and to make sure they visually flow together. Creating a display is just like composing an image – you want to make sure the eye flows easily from one piece to another and that the pieces go together well. Having one or more pieces that don’t seem to fit with the others causes a jarring to the eye. If the eye stops, the brain stops and the sales stop.

  17. Jason, sometime in 2017, I read a post you wrote with similar content. I looked around my studio/gallery and immediately started decluttering, giving breathing space to the work and creating a more gallery-like feel. I have since had two successful events (one billed as an “open studio,” the other as a “happy hour.” In preparing for these two events, I disciplined myself to “park” the work that either didn’t fit or was not my best so my guests could better focus on and enjoy the work on display. It worked beautifully. Thank you so much for both the original advice and this great reminder.

  18. Last year I held two pop-up art shows, each focused on a different series of recent paintings. One show featured only 8″ x 8″ paintings, the second featured 12″ x 12″ images. In both shows, I centered each painting in a space at least 24 inches wide. This gave viewers room to stand before a painting without feeling crowded by other people. The shows were both quite successful in terms of sales.

    This year I plan to hold another show to display my newest 24″ x 24″ works, and I will adjust the sizes between paintings proportionately. Of course, if someone asks about other work, I can always show it to them on my cellphone from my website. I did sell one painting this way, so I know it also works!

  19. Thanks for the reminder. Last year, I had a client in my studio / showroom trying to decide between 2 pieces from a series I had on hand. Then I stick my foot in my mouth. I can still hear my voice going “I have 2 others from the series”. With that said, I did not make that sale that day. Months later, I happen to see the same person and I told her, I have one left from the series in my studio. Without pressuring her, she agree to purchase it rigth there and then without knowing which one was available. The fact was the other 3 pieces were place in storage the week before to make room.

  20. Hi Jason,
    Would you think the same theory would apply to an artist’s website?
    Should we only show the best 10 pieces instead of overloading each page with everything we have?
    Very interesting concept…Thank you for sharing.

  21. Hello,
    That’s a very important topic. In my university in Belarus I learned how to present an art work in a separate special study course. The eye must focus on the work as long as possible. For this, the work needs a frame and an empty space around itself.
    Helen Shulkin

  22. When I was a pet and family photographer I would take a ton of images and narrow it down to 15 images. I photographed a family of five and they had already told me that they wanted a large canvas to go behind the couch. For this family I had groups of children, of the parents and singles of everyone. I offered 25 images. They loved most of them but were so overwhelmed that they weren’t going to get anything. I convensed them to get a 4×6 of the children, themselves and the family to help them make their decision. They never called me back to buy the canvas. I never showed more than 15 again.

  23. Just started to participate in outdoor fairs last summer and made this “rookie” mistake–and though I got lots of positive comments, I sold NOTHING. Now I know! However, does this apply to the work that is not displayed on your tent walls, but also to pieces that people can go through in bins (all originals)? Reading comments above, I know I also have to greatly edit what I have available on the various art sites (including Xanadu) that I have my work available on. Thoughts regarding bins at fairs?

  24. I definitely have to agree. It’s like going to a restaurant, when the menu is a huge essay with tons of choice you spend forever mulling over your decision. But if it has a few select picks of their best dishes, you quickly choose and buy without hesitation. Less is more.

    Great blog here by the way, I’m a long time reader but first time commenting.

  25. Ské;no Jason. I just received your book, read all in one sitting. It confirmed that a lot of what we’ve been doing is right but it also gave us a lot of powerful insights and ideas we hadn’t really thought of yet. I am happy to say that my lack of a distinctive style issue has been resolved; I have found an innovation that will allow me to carve in the different styles and still make my pieces identifiable as a Josy Thomas piece.

    I am back in the studio making the changes to existing pieces. I think this will really help me stabd out and make galleries stand up and take notice. I’ll keep you posted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *