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.
At one time, I had the misfortune of belonging to a gallery which, as time passed, changed from a lovely, serene space to a jam-packed muddle of too much art in too little space. Very disheartening as sales declined and the owner wasn’t interested in discussions about “less is more,”
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Just as in print media, under-paragraphing leads to nearly unreadable blocks, nay, pages of text.
WHITE SPACE IS YOUR FRIEND !!!
I totally agree, but I haven’t always followed this good advice. Unfortunately it’s so enticing to display much because sometimes it feels as if there are so few opportunities to show my work. Instead I probably ought to ask myself is this showing my painting to its best advantage? After all a serious buyer will be interested to see my portfolio, etc.
Brilliant video. Have a show coming up so plenty to think about as its in a small gallery but I have it to myself! Thank you
Very enlightening! In teaching, we used to call it experiential overload: that point where your students eyes begin to glass over. Though each person has a limited capacity of absorption; each are equally individual in their ability to absorb information. The mind begins to blend and even confuse data when it’s overwhelmed. I’m proceeding from here to my webstore … to edit. LOL
Wow – thank you Gerald for connecting the dots! Now I know why I stayed engaged and able to absorb new info in some classes, and my eyes glazed over in others (specifically when I was reading electrical engineering text books!). Probably related to how much information is simply enhancing prior knowledge and how much is entirely new. Excited to implement this – to minimize experiential overload for my customers – in my website!
I think this advice applies to websites, as well. The temptation is to put all my available paintings on my new website, but as you mentioned, I’m sure that would have a negative, overwhelming effect. I wonder what the ideal number of paintings is to display on a website.
Me, too. Shutdowns during the pandemic called me to create an online shop and in the process, feeling afraid, worrying about surviving, I put everything but the kitchen sink online. I’m going to do some cleaning of my online shop. Grateful for your comment!
yes, it’s been on my mind for years that I’ve got too much on my website – wanting to show many past, sold ;paintings, I’ve got many older images on my site but have recently talked myself into completely reworking my website and minimizing! Hard as it is to do, I now agree with presenting a more limited display of work.
How about categorising them into sections so people have to view them separately – i.e. I to years? That way you can just keep this years work on view immediately or even simplify that further with grouping work into a latest series. It’s something I haven’t at done but feel I should do, especially after this blog.
Perfect timing for this bit of advise. I’ll be doing my first art fairs this summer and have been thinking about what to actually display in the small space a booth has. This will be fun!
Jason – I have a somewhat related quesitons. How much work do you think should be shown on the artist’s own website. I like to inclue at least some of the art at galleries that represent me and work in exhibitions, plus some of what is in my inventory. This there a too much syndrome to think about here are well?
Since I’m in the process of building a new website this topic is timely for me.
We have a bit more latitude on a website – you want to give visitors a comprehensive view of your currently available work, but we would want all of that work to be consistent. In other words, it doesn’t need to be everything you’ve ever created. Also important to organize the site so that artwork is grouped into smaller segments (by subject, for example) so that the client isn’t seeing everything at once – no endless scroll on art websites!
Thanks. I feel like I’m heading in the right directions then on the new site. I appreciate getting your opinion.
I design our website and I am the art director. I read a book years ago on website design called “Don’t Make Me Think!” The advice was to design the site so that anyone can find their way around it. Great book. People find our site friendly even though there are over 2,000 pictures on it can find their way around it. April, it is a good idea to ask people their opinion of your site. You don’t have to take every suggestion but a few will make sense to you and you can implement them. Our site is all custom work ordered and pre-paid. We are making another this year for pre-made fine art pieces including a shopping cart. The artist I work with has so many styles that it is constant challenge to present them in a meaningful way. GOOD LUCK!
Judy, I just put a hold on that book at my library. I look forward to reading it and applying it to my artist website. Thanks!
“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.”
Absolutely true! Many galleries displaying packed art look like common souvenir stores for tourists instead of the way art museums done for art lovers and explorers
Appreciated very much for your sharing your wisdom and aesthetic vision
I love this! Totally agree. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate hearing her detailed analysis because I tend to operate by feeling/sensing. A lot of my work reflects the complexity of shapes in nature— awesome, overwhelming, abstract, beauty— so I try to keep displays of these paintings very spacious— fewer pieces, lots of open wall space around each one. It creates contrast, gives the viewer’s eye some resting space and also exudes an overall feeling of peace and calm. I like to believe that spaciousness allows viewers to actually “see” and interact with each painting. Salon style displays that fill walls ceiling to floor are overwhelming for me, personally. I don’t know if my more spacious displays are affecting sales, but people do comment about feeling more peaceful in my studio and that makes me happy!
While reading through this blog, I checked in on your website and loved it. It loaded fast, presented your various subjects clearly and in comfortable organization, and was a pleasure to look at.Also love your work.
I don’t have a real website yet – just a chronological blog with an endless scroll. You are an inspiration!
As a teacher of young children, I can confirm that this is also true when giving kids choices. When I set out a multitude of games and other materials, many children would wander around the classroom never really engaging in one activity. When I limited the choices and reduced the selection of materials, they were more likely to gravitate towards one and become more focused on the activity.
Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed that. Time to put it into practice.
I completely agree. At my first art booth, I had 2 days to show my art. I crammed as much as I could the first day, but a rain forecast on day 2 forced me to cut back my inventory significantly. I sold 3 pieces on day 1 but 15+ on day 2. I later learnt that a visitor from day 1 didn’t even “see” a collection of pieces that he would have been interested in. I must also say I had reduced the prices a bit on second day, so I’m sure that played a part, but get the point of showing a curated collection and not just all-you-can-fit.
Definitely… whether it is goods in a store, or too much food on the plate. I freeze up and “choose not to choose”. Also I feel a little sick by the overload.
so I agree with this advice! also, saving back keeps what’s on display feeling much fresher and newer!
I’ve been to art shows where maybe 3 or 4 of an artist’s work is hanging in a booth. It’s such a relief to really LOOK at the work instead of my eyes wandering all over.
I show in a large gallery where you can easily hang sixty five paintings but the dealer says fifty is quite enough which is excellent advice. This gives the paintings breathing space and the public quite enough work to look at.
This is great advice and coming from experience as a commercial photographer, organization is key.
When I was a full-time photographer, I had a plethora of topics that I freelanced. So, it was essential to keep track of these specific categories, both on computer and back-up CD’s. Here’s an example of how I split these topics into three groups:
1.PEOPLE- family, newborn, weddings, engagement/romantic, headshots and models.
2. PLACES- landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, travel and destinations.
3. THINGS- still life, animals, horses, advertisements, real estate and jewelers.
My photography website was also organized in this way so that guests’ and/or customers could easily navigate through a sea of photography options.
This may seem like an overkill. However, the point is, I only displayed FIVE of my very best images/category because the overall goal was to show case the range of my skills and secure more jobs. This made all the difference and my photography was a great success during that time in my career.
Now that I focus mainly on equestrian portraiture and fine-art, I feel relieved, to say the least, that the list of topics is much shorter and simplified. I can confidently say, LESS is MORE! (-:
Jason this is super helpful. Thanks for the video. Question: do you think this goes for gallery proposals too? Is there a “template” for how many images should be sent to a potential gallery?
I have found, and Ms. Lyengar’s Ted Talk seems to verify that “Less is more.” At Art Markets and venues having only 5 or 6 of my most striking, large original artworks draws people in, and conversations begin.
Not being as prolific as Jason has recommended, I have made giclee print reproductions of much of my production since 2008. The giclee reproductions are quite saleable. Each of my four print bins hold different aspects of my artwork. In conversation and discussion with the folks who focus in on one or another of the exhibited pieces, I am able then to direct attention to other choices in that category of my portfolio.
Exhibiting only a few original artworks (The Cut), also focuses attention (Concretize) with the vivid, striking works. Having topic specific print bins (Categorize), helps show more of specific parts of my portfolio (Condition choices, few to many).
Oddly enough, this arrangement has facilitated the sale of some of my larger more expensive works. By engaging in conversation with people as they pause to take in the visuals of the 4 or 5 exhibited works, it gives me the opportunity of discovering what that individual might be interested in, and offering choices in that specific area. So while prolific print sales is an obvious low cost goal, the bigger sales are more in reach because people are drawn when they have the opportunity to express themselves, and I have the opportunity to put on my sales hat.
I’ve heard this many times before, but I don’t entirely agree. I would say that, no no matter how many choices one has, our tastes are far more limited.
I’ve never walked into a grocery or clothing store, with hundreds to thousands of choices, and walked out with nothing…from choice-overload. First, there’s only so many things I even like. Second, I probably had some idea what I was looking for. Lastly, only so many things are even in my budget.
Also, when it comes to art, there’s a gazillion reasons one might be purchasing, perhaps for completely different decor schemes, or as gifts, etc.
If too many choices hurts sells, artists on social media platforms would never sell anything at all. The choices are endless, on a platform, and a single account may have have tens or hundreds of photos.
In testimony, I had a follower want to buy my digital abstracts as files. She narrowed it down to a decision between 10 different works. Her initial indecision turned into her simply buying all 10! I’m so very glad I had so many options available.
I think it depends on how it is shown & if the work is cohesive. My work is small & I often create pairs or mini series 3/4 works. By grouping them that way I often sell the duet/series. I also present in color families creating a vignette of several pieces in different sizes & allowing space before moving into the next vignette. Think of the way museums present a major show where each room or wall has a “theme”.
Most recent example is the Monet show at the AIC. One room his caricatures, another his water lilies. My presentation strategy works as a suggestive sale of more than one piece even though I price all my work separately.
I understand completely about too many pieces in the ArtFest booth – have done that, and it didn’t work!
Question: what about on my website? would it be better if fewer images?
I always get overwhelmed when there are a ton of choices. It’s sort of like going into the ice cream shop and being confronted with 31 flavors. Way to hard to focus. Same with shops that have merchandise crammed into a rack or shelf, and you can’t see any of them individually.
I agree with you Jason.
I feel differently about this – but with a caveat – I don’t think “less is more” (the Bauhaus school of thought) – but if you go with a large selection of work, then you must attempt to organize it correctly, and you must make sure the quality level of ALL the works are high – if, just to offer variety, you put everything on the wall, and it includes some works that shouldn’t really be displayed at all, this can be very detrimental.
But in the end, it’s really all luck – there is no way of knowing, unless you know exactly who will be looking at the work, and how they think. People are very different – some people get overwhelmed if they have to choose between just 2 things, others thrive on being able to choose from a very large selection of works, and very much appreciate having that option.
Also people vary very widely about what they can strongly like, or what triggers their becoming emotionally attached to a work, which is certain to produce a sale. Something you may think is not really that interesting is another person’s “swoon over” piece.
I once made a sale of one of my works because I got distracted by an annoying sales call. The work in question was up on one of my online sites, and I had noticed, when looking at my portfolio, that I had multiple times, upon seeing it on the site, thought it was really an inferior work. So I was taking it down, when the phone rang, and I got upset with the caller and his attitude. So I never completed the action of removing that particular image – and, out of 700 works up on that site at the time, someone chose that very day to buy a large print of this “inferior work” and what’s more it wasn’t just to hang on their wall – it was to display prominently in the lobby of the building of a very large and prominent stock brokerage firm, where it would be seen by literally thousands of people a month for the 3 months it was gong to be displayed there, before it then went into this company’s permanent collection . So, so much about the correctness of my surety that this was an “inferior” work!
Excellent advice. Probably the worst art overload was a cooperative gallery that had art covering the walls. What made it worse was that there was no discrimination in the quality of the work.
In art school students would apply for commissions that were typically at a church, synagogue or office. Since there were committees reviewing the, and decision making was even more difficult, students were advised to submit no more than three designs. Otherwise it took a lot longer because the committees couldn’t make up their minds and agree on a design.
Hi agree 💯 with this. I was part owner of a gallery for a couple years, that in itself having issues of too many opinions, and even though I was in charge of the fine art wall displays, another partner was continuing to bring in so many new artists with no limits on pieces. Obviously, this became overwhelming and so many beautiful artworks (including my own), became a blur in the plethora of art. I left the gallery, but have seen it since and it’s more like a consignment store. Wall to wall art, no theme, No esthetics, it hurt my brain looking at it.
On the flip side, I was just in Scottsdale and enjoyed a few of the galleries there. The spaces were airy and inviting. Each piece was easy to view and ponder on. The cool part was, they sell art! You can see why, a viewer can focus on a piece and imagine it in their own space. Makes sense!
Thanks Jason for another great article.
I have noticed this is especially true with non-objective work. When engaging someone or even a group of people about my work which is about feeling rather than identifying recognizable imagery. The space is very important. Great post as usual.
Great article and topic on choice overload. I have been guilty of this in the past. I’m thinking of my artist newsletter where I’ve offered too many choices. I get zero sales. I recently (like many others here) was thinking about my artist website and the concept you bring up about limiting the choices. My previous websites always included every single painting I had in stock. Now, I’m considering offering limited options. The other thing I’ve thought about is the white space around the images. I think this is part of limiting the distractions of nearby images that could lead to overload if they are too closely spaced. I’ve ordered the book, “Don’t Make Me Think,” that Judy Cutler above mentioned that applies to web design. I think this will help as I create my site. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
There use to be salon shows. I imagine there still are. Last one I saw advertised was about ten years ago happening in New York, New York. Had a friend who was hung at the show. The gallery looked like a collage where one art was almost bumped-up against the next from near the floor to the ceiling. Total messs with some high-price peices. Extreme example of too-much is visually overwhelming. More realistic and not about art: a jewerly store that has 1,000 wedding sets. Note that the salemen are taught (in my time anyhow) to narrow the search by a few questions. If not the customers is overwhelmed and the more than likely to walk.