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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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and 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

29 Comments

  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!

      1. You could have some paintings leaning against the wall for extra choices not displayed. Maybe have one Empty easel or blank space on display wall…one that has a spotlight or possibly a light attached to the easel. That way, you can ask a person what colors they are attracted to for their home decor, then pull up one that fits their criteria that is immediately showcased in that spot or easel. It makes that one painting “special” and featured. High end galleries do this by having a special alcove that has perfect lighting and an easy chair from which to relax and view a piece in isolation.

  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 bodie..no one is any bodie”’

    1. I was in a gallery in Pasadena, CA for many years who had just the opposite effect from leaning and stacked art work. Clients would go through the stacked and leaning work as if they had discovered artwork in Grandmas attic…or they felt that it was artwork that had just arrived and they were the first to go through it before it was hung. Also, the gallery told me, “You would not believe how many smaller paintings we have sold from the bathroom” …that door was always left open when not in use, and visitors would casually glance that way and discover little jewels.

  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!

  9. I’m sorry I’m getting to this party a little late. Great video and very good points. Would this also apply to websites? How many is enough? I’ve been to some websites, and there are so many paintings (pages of them), that I can’t even get through them all and end up walking away from my computer because it’s overwhelming. Any thoughts would be appreciated since I’m getting ready to revamp my website.

  10. Absolutely true! I have tried to get a group of artists I share space with to understand this concept when getting ready for shows; less is definitely more. You can always have some extra work to pull out for a patron who is asking for something, but don’t make you space a “visual overload!” Visual overload is why I hate shopping in today’s world. Makes it impossible to come to a decision.

  11. Have I ever had choice overload? You bet! Every time I go food shopping. It wears me out. In fact, I’ve learned to dislike shopping in general in recent years. My brain just gets confused pretty quickly, and you’re right Jason, I often give up and walk away empty handed while thinking, “I’ll make a decision about this later”. Thank you for your thoughtful blogs.

  12. I have advice: consider how Wikipedia is structured. It goes on forever, but with consistent organizational structure throughout. All pages are limited to a single topic, with other topics as links, which are clear about what they link to, & one can choose to follow or ignore.

  13. I’ve always felt that clutter has been unhelpful for individual competition for sales. As a designer, I call this “choice fatigue” and my goal was to help my clients find their way to a satisfying conclusion with the smallest impact of choice fatigue. But, in my experience choice fatigue is only a problem when actual dollars are involved and there is intent on making an imminent purchase. Browsing with no intention of buying is never a problem because there is no pressure, and so can be a very enjoyable experience. Think yard sale. On the other hand, the internet (let alone a single website) is so crammed full of images of varying quality, any interested, first-time, art collector’s brain would explode. I try to curate and cull my work from my website, at the same time flagging work of which I am especially proud and setting that work aside for a visitor’s entrance page. If someone wants to dig deeper, they can always select my “portfolio” and dig around a bit. By the way, I don’t go to shows. I did when I was young but now it’s too much work. In those days, all my work was of a “type” and so it wasn’t a problem.

  14. Great observation. I can often feel the overload frustration when I go grocery shopping or clothes shopping in a department store. I left a gallery when my work became indistinguishable in a way too crowded venue. I will be much more cognizant of this in my next show.

  15. Your blog caught my attention today. I agree that having fewer choices leads to greater ease and motivation in making buying decisions. “Less is more” is a very practical truth.

    I recently restructured my website to present fewer works of art in each collection. (I had been told long ago to not post so many works – only the best ones – and I have finally followed that advice.)

    I like my simpler website better. Presenting fewer paintings helps me decide which paintings are the best, and I think that encourages the viewer to spend more time looking.

    Thank you for this blog! I appreciated the video, too.

  16. Excellent information! I have found that the more I trust myself, the more I am able to distill, simplify and present my work. At the same time, I am at the age where I hate having to shop to replace an older item because the gazillion choices mean I have to research everything before buying, so I usually procrastinate until I’m desperate. Shopping for art should be fun and enjoyable, (hence easy to look at, with a comfortable progression) as opposed to frustrating and painful (hence overwhelming and too much effort).

  17. This makes so much sense! It is like when you walk into a restaurant and there is no one there and they tell you to pick a seat. Everyone freezes and it takes 10 minutes to decide because of there being so many options. Great post!

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