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.


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  1. Very important. I’ve watched this TED a couple of times and have tested it myself in a super market. There is warfare over shelf-space and it is hugely serious on the part of the suppliers. Have you seen the snack cracker aisle lately. Nabisco’s “Triskit” product has way too many “variations”. [I know my decision-masking is impaired by cracker flavors so “original wins almost every time.)

    It’s the same I’m guessing, with galleries. An “open call” show is like that grocery store shelf- what is jostled next to you can either make you (rare) or break you (common). You have to count on someone like Jason to be thoughtful and careful (not universal and maybe rarer than we assume.

    About our own presentation- Edit for clarity of theme or medium. Edit for visibility for each piece which means empty real estate around each piece. (Hard to do when you are buying space at an art fair.) You are helping the collector to make a decision, (And there is always your website for the rest of the portfolio).

  2. This was extremely powerful, thought provoking and helpful. I’m grateful I chose to watch it! Thank you, Jason.

    It helped me think more carefully about the way I present my art work and in the future, I’m going to follow her four principles to make it easier for my clients to choose to buy my art.

  3. Very good read. I’m hosting my first-ever pop-up art show this weekend. It’s just a one-day show, and trying to decide to show everything I have ready (about 20 pieces) or to edit down some for greater impact. I think I just have to see how everything works in the space and then go from there. Since I do colorfield abstracts, I’m hesitant to not show everything since I get a log of “that color won’t work in my house” so the last thing I want is to not have the full variety on hand in case I have something that would suit the buyer.

    1. Can I suggest that “on hand” doesn’t have to mean “on display”? This is where you will have to be sensitive to the potential customers as they look at your pieces. Engage them and try to find out their needs. Or better yet, greet them as they come into your area and let them know that you have more color choices available if they don’t see any they like. With less pieces on display, they can focus on the structure and composition of your work. Choosing a color comes next!

  4. Really agree with this article. With too much to choose from hard to make a decision. When a gallery overloads the walls and starts to stack on the floor I suspect that this inhibits the sales. Reminds me of the line in a The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan,,,,,,,”When everybody is some one is any bodie”’

  5. Thanks for this article – perfect timing! I have a solo show coming up in a large library exhibit space. This article and the TED talk helped me plan to group the displays in such a way as to take advantage of these concepts to make it a more successful experience for the viewers. I can leave more space between paintings (cut), group them by subject (categorize) and arrange the groupings from the entrance to the back (condition) from less to more complexity.

  6. I think you have to be really clear about what your objective is at a show. For example, when we did ArtExpo NY last year, our main objective was to get more galleries and to get more information from illustrators, interior designers, etc on what they would be interested in and why. We got a new gallery out of the show for our pastels and our still lifes, made a really good connection with the owner of Art World News who is doing some advertising for us, got us into a really nice gallery in Connecticut, and is giving us the benefit of his 40+ years in the business, and found out through him and some other licensing people that our water color children’s illustrations would be most likely to work as licensed images. We only made one sale, but making sales wasn’t our objective. It ended up being a huge success because we got out of it exactly what he were shooting for.

  7. Wow. Yes and yes. I learned that the hard way. At a show I placed 2 similar pieces near each other. One lady who was interested couldn’t make up her mine whether she like the red or yellow background. At the end of the day, no sale. Another mistake, I made was showcased an original as well as limited edition prints along side each other. Everyone who like the original end up purchasing a limited-edition. Today, in my space, I only showcase 15 pieces at a time.

    1. I bought an original piece of art and later the artist provided prints at the same gallery for the Christmas market. I was glad I bought the original, but if prints had been on display I probably would have bought the print. He did have prints at the show, but not prints of the originals on display.
      Wise artist.

  8. Thank you so much for this important information. I’m planning another Open studio tour and sale and this is super helpful . This concept applies to about everything in life!

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