Coronavirus, Stock Market Turmoil, and the Art Market

Prohibitions on public gatherings. Travel bans. Self-quarantines. Press-conferences. Stock market plunges.

As the Coronavirus has spread across the globe over the last several weeks, the rhythms of daily life have been upset, and concern and confusion are dominant.

Only time will tell the full extent of the pandemic and its impact in terms of lives lost, and economies shaken. While our focus should certainly be on our health and well-being, and the well-being of our family, friends and neighbors, it is only natural that in uncertain times we will also think about the impact these events will have on our livelihood.

For those of us in the art business, the near-term outlook is uncertain, at best. During times of confusion and economic turmoil, art-lovers and collectors are, understandably, focused elsewhere.

It is reasonable to assume that a dramatic slowdown in art sales is coming (and has, perhaps, already begun). The question is, how severe will the slowdown be, and how long will it last?

The other question we should all be asking is, how can we ride out these disruptions?

Lessons From the Past

I’ve worked in the art industry for almost thirty years now, having gotten my first job in a gallery in 1992. Those of us who have been in the business for a while are no strangers to sudden shocks to the art market.

My wife and I opened Xanadu Gallery on September 11th, 2001, right as the world was being thrown into pandemonium by shocking acts of terror.

Concurrent to 9-11, the dot-com bubble was in the midst of bursting. The Nasdaq Composite stock index had risen 400% between 1995 and its peak in 2000, and would fall 78% from that peak by the fall of 2002.

Talk about a baptism by fire!

We were fortunate to be able to build our business during those difficult times, especially considering how naive we were and how many mistakes we made along the way.

It seemed as if the art market had finally stabilized and was on track for stable growth when the recession of 2008 began.

The history of the economy is one of repeated cycles of boom and bust, but it seems as if we’ve seen more than our fair share of economic downturns.

What We’ve Learned

Things are Never Quite as Dire as One Imagines

During times of economic uncertainty and panic, it’s easy to get caught up in the “sky is falling” mentality. Each news cycle instills new worries, and the panic feeds on itself. It’s easy to imagine worst-case scenarios and to believe that an apocalypse is near.

We’ve learned through repeated experience that, while things may become dire, they almost never become as dire as one imagines they might, and that eventually things turn around.

Art Lovers Will Continue to Buy Art

Even in the depths of the recession that began in 2008, we continued to sell art, albeit at greatly reduced numbers. Art is such a fundamental, important part of people’s lives, that no matter what is going on in the world, art lovers will continue to seek out beautiful works of art to add to their collections.

Art can offer solace and comfort during difficult times.

Slowdowns are Times to Work Hard and Become Creative

As the art market slows, it’s natural to feel a sense of paralysis. What’s the point of continuing hard work when it seems unlikely to result in sales?

I distinctly remember asking this question in the middle of rearranging the art in the gallery during the spring of 2009, a time that should have been our high-season, but had been very slow. It felt a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Very few people had seen the gallery in the preceding weeks, and very few likely would in the following weeks.

What I learned during this period, however, is that the harder we worked, the more likely we were to see sales. The sales that did come were absolutely critical, and worth ever effort we put into them.

We also used the extra time we had to work on projects that would benefit us when the market returned. It was during this period that we rebuilt our website and instituted a more robust email marketing system. While these efforts didn’t result in immediate, dramatic increases in sales, they did lay the groundwork for the growth we’ve seen in the years since.

Artists should use slower times to build inventory and organize their businesses. It has also been my experience that there are opportunities for artists to establish and develop new representation and relationships during downturns (more on this in future posts).

Because of the nature of the current situation, where our collectors are unlikely to be able to travel to visit us, we are developing marketing efforts that will allow us to more extensively share art with our buyers even if they can’t physically visit the gallery. You will see those efforts begin rolling out next week.

Do What it Takes to Make it Through

The length and severity of the crisis will determine how difficult it will be to survive the challenges that are likely to come our way. During the Great Recession, we learned that by keeping communication open with our artists, with our landlord and our other creditors we were able to work together to maintain the viability of our business.

We’re All in This Together

Finally, I want to make sure to express that if you are feeling stressed and nervous about the situation, it’s okay and natural. It’s safe to say that everyone is feeling concerned to some level. It’s hard not to compulsively check the news to see the latest updates and to feel a growing sense of concern. If there’s one thing that history has shown, it’s that if we all work together, we can overcome any challenge that we face.

This situation is developing, and we’re hoping that everything turns out for the very best for all who are effected. Let’s all stay connected.

Have You Begun to See the Effects of the Current Crisis?

Have you begun to see the effects of the spread of the Coronavirus and the downturn in the stock market on your sales? Have you seen shows and festivals you were planning on attending cancelled? What are you doing to cope? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

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

54 Comments

  1. I am so grateful my life doesn’t depend on art sales. I get to paint because I like to. It will be a great time to increase my inventory for our coop and upcoming art shows. This to shall pass and nothing but good will come down the road. A time for every season. My thoughts are with those I’ll and effected by this event

    1. I totally agree! Glad my life will not depend on art. My life’s true passion making art pushes me forward to create art. My desire is to keep focus on where I want to be after this passes! Remember how you came though tough time in your past and use that knowledge to grow stronger through this season! Speedy return to a new normal.

  2. Two live concerts, a gallery opening, my life drawing class and my colored pencil class have cancelled. I’m afraid to go to the UPS store to ship sold paintings. BUT I have a solo show in January and February, so I am gleefully making art… without interruption… toward that end. I’m in the Chicago area, where winter has not been as cold as it SHOULD be, so viruses are thriving here this season. Adversity brings out some of the best qualities and creative ideas in artists. I believe if we don’t die, we’ll have really cool art to show when things calm down.

  3. I have sold two paintings in the last ten days. Are they the last for awhile? I don’t know, but I too, believe there is a lot of catch up work (website clean-up, contact lists, inventory building, etc.) to be done to ensure I will be prepared for the good /normal times ahead. Thanks Jason for your positive thoughts on the subject.

  4. In Texas, we have had festivals (Bayou City (Houston), Woodlands, San Antonio , Main St Fort Worth all postponed. Only one has put forth tentative dates at this time. As far as sales, I just had a big sale to a regular collector (their 5th piece) and while it was not the largest, it was also not the smallest – it was “just right”.

    My regularly scheduled quarterly newsletter is going out to my collectors next week. In it, I am planning on sharing news about the festivals AND provide links to the website festival lists of Artists. I will specifically suggest specific artists whom I know. My hope is if each artist takes this approach, collectively, we can by contacting our own sets of collectors, create a virtual show network.

    1. You are so right about using a time like this effectively, Jason. During the recession, we used the time to rethink sculptor Kevin Caron’s business and adjusted the Website accordingly, among other housekeeping. Kevin just kept making art, which sold well as we emerged from the downtime, and had a terrific 2012. This, too, shall pass.

  5. I think its hard to tell about sales as Jan and Feb are usually slow and then the virus hit. A marketing trainer of mine once said that the best times to sell were holidays and after all isolation is time off, even if it is enforced. The people in quarantine and self isolating will be at home, on the internet and probably looking for something to cheer themselves up. Others will be home due to cancelled events or fear of contracting the virus. I predict that those that keep marketing their work may see an increase in sales.

    I am self isolating because I saw this coming and have enough food, medications, art supplies etc. on hand for 6 months. I will let my buyers know that shipping may be slower due to logistics and only go out to visit my elderly Mum in care and mail art. Mums care facility may soon stop visits, so then I will have plenty of time to build stock.

  6. Thank you for your measured remarks. I have had one exhibition reception and one major show cancelled already And today the school where I teach k-8th grade art announced they will go online for the next week and then extend Spring break after that. Can’t teach papier-mâché online to elementary school students! Waiting to see if my other community classes are cancelled as well, but your advice is solid: more painting, get back to the blog and pay attention to my social media and website presence, there’s no shortage of work to be done.
    Best of luck to all of us!

    1. I’ll bet you could figure out a way to teach papier-cache online after all. What about a little video you just do with a phone and a selfie-stick? Could be creative and fun. As an example, one of my art organizations is closed physically but sending out a project a day through their website. 🙂

  7. Who knows? Maybe with all the time spent in quarantine, self or imposed, art lovers will spend more time online to assuage their boredom and discover new artists’ websites and new artists on Instagram! It just might work out for good….

  8. I supplement my art career renting a Tiny House that I beautifully designed and decorated and I just got my first cancellation with another possible cancellation this month. Gulp! That’s about 1,000. Gone. POOF! The other thing is I’m dragging my feet in paying for a show in July, in New Mexico, where i was accepted to show my art. It’s a huge opportunity but I fear if I am being naïve about the corona virus, I may rather have the money on hand. I’m not sure what to do?

  9. Your article was very timely, Jason. Thanks for the reminder that disasters, downturns and trends are temporary.

    Yes, I have been directly affected. The biggest art show of the year for me is a three-day event in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah that was just canceled and changed to become an online event.

    While I sell original paintings at the event, my biggest revenue is from greeting card, poster and framed print sales. That won’t happen online. Dang it. Oh well, the way I see it – I am super prepared for next year. Lol.

  10. Jason,
    This is such a great, timely article … and you and I seem to be in a similar, creative, positive mindset. We have the opportunity to postpone vs. forgo income, take the time to work on whatever will help when this crisis passes … and provide the world with respite and hope in the meantime. I am plotting all sorts of ways to bring as much of that one-on-one magic that comes from art shows to an online presence. I’d love to know what you see as the best approach is to doing that … or to brainstorm with you and others.

    I’ll also be seeking out representation. Looking forward to hearing your comments about that relative to timing.

    Thank you for providing artists with the benefit of your experience!

  11. I have a lot of work to do before I approach galleries and being mostly inside for a while will keep me focused.
    Luckily I do not need to sell my work for a living and my current career-building efforts are more long-term. I’ll use the coming months to build inventory, research pricing, and develop a list of possible galleries to approach, both brick and mortar and online.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. Just today… the only art show I’m in for this year has been cancelled. Of course I’m a little bummed out, but I get it. I’m looking forward to more time to oil paint. 🙂 Art is just something I absolutely love to do. It’s theraputic in a way. And… I’ll have time to finally really focus on my email newsletter too. 🙂

  13. My art business has not been impacted by Coronavirus yet but many of the artists in my art guild have with the cancellation of some of their best shows and exhibitions. I think we’ve all been living off the highs of great sales these past few years so it’s a hard blow when you make your living in the arts. Lucky most of us already have a good social media following but when the economy starts tanking, so do sales, it’s definitely not the easiest place to be but miracles happen every day!!

  14. That was a great positive account of the situation Jason.
    They always make it more dramatic than things are” the media “
    great time for getting some work done, it will pass as things do.
    By the way over 16000 people died of normal flu between November 2019 and February 2020 with 280000 in hospital, nobody talks about that, anyway as being an artist love to be alone in my studio, I can hold that out for a very long time, happy painting all!

  15. This is a very timely and measured response to a situation which is fluctuating. I am holing up and working away on a new series for a possible show at the end of the year. I have been hoping to direct a play as well, but we’ll have to see how that “plays ” out.

    1. I think it’s great that you are looking to do creative things outside of your regular genre. It will keep the creative juices flowing and when you get back to your regular art form you will be able to do it refreshed.

  16. This has been the slowest week we’ve had in a long long time at the gallery, and we just opened a show! Previous to that we had two really great months that I’m very thankful for now. If there was no CV news, I’d just assume it was another one of those feast and famine patterns we see from time to time. But like you said in your great post, we make sure the place looks great for those people that are still coming in, and we’ll focus even more on our online communication during this time. And, as an artist, I’ll finally get these looming commissions done!!

  17. Here in the South, where there are multiple festivals and shows every weekend starting in March, artists here are being devastated at the huge number of events being cancelled. For those who do art as a hobby it’s not so bad. For those who depend on these shows for their livelihood, it’s devastating.

    Not only are artists losing out on sales, we are also out of the $50 to $700 cost of booth spaces we paid for – up to a year in advance for the larger shows. We are being told these fees are non-refundable. One show organizer in Naples FL told an artist she would refund her booth fee if the artist signed a statement that they would never apply to the show again. Trust me – the artist community will remember such cold-heartedness.

    I’ve offered our local artists space on my online art gallery – first month free, then seriously reduced rates until this ridiculousness is over. Artists NEED a place to sell their art when their venues are taken from them. If we can’t help each other, what good are we?

    I don’t know how long the hysteria will last, but for the duration it has all but stopped art sales here in the regular venues.

  18. Just yesterday a 2-Day workshop I was schedule to give later this month was cancelled. They plan to reschedule once the pandemic resolves, but I was disappointed since I had everything read to go. Today I was asked if I wanted to hold a class tomorrow or cancel it. I suggested it was a small enough class with plenty of space for us to keep our distance so I requested we hold it.

    On a brighter note, I was accepted into the Northwest Watercolor Society’s Waterworks Unchained show which was intended to be in a gallery in the Seattle area. Before shipping our art they emailed to let us know not to ship art but that it would now be an online exhibit with a smaller commission to them. Sounds like a great idea and a positive to me. With it being online it is possible more people will see the show than if in the museum only. Seems like a win. This is clearly better than the Georgia Watercolor Society exhibit where the hosting Museum has decided to close for the balance of March, so few will get to see that exhibit. I’m hoping they too decide to go to an online exhibit.
    It seems like thinking outside the box and finding other ways is the best way forward.
    The other good news is as events get cancelled I have more time to create in my home studio, which always make me happy.

    1. Way to go, April. You are always over-prepared and ready for anything, so I know you’ll weather all of this just fine. I’m sorry your workshop was cancelled, but we’ll all just be creating more and spending more time updating or renovating “the back room”–our websites, business record-keeping, and marketing efforts.

  19. I’ve have serial events canceled. I’m organizing a virtual pop up market for artists and makers. If it goes alright, I’ll keep doing them. If not, I tried and it wasn’t a big gamble. I think I’ll be getting a jump start on my new website sooner rather than later in the year. But I think I’ll be transitioning off of etsy later than I wanted to.

  20. One of the real advantages of getting older is the experience it brings. Thank you Jason, and all fellow artists for sharing your perspective. Such a good idea to take stock and have a plan for the quiet times that are sometimes foisted upon us, and getting to work on things that often we don’t have (allow) enough time for.

  21. Hello from Europe. I’m writing from Switzerland, where the spirit of discipline and compliance with safety regulations is very high. Together with so many other events, most exhibition openings have been cancelled and it’s impossible to predict when public life will get back to normal.

    However, I think Jason has made a great point by reminding us of the many instances in recent (as well as not so recent) history, when we thought the sky was falling on our heads. Yet, here we are and here we’ll be later on again.

    My last solo show finished two weeks ago, with good sales and a commission. I have two more shows coming up in fall and until a few days ago, I was worried I don’t have enough time in the studio to finish everything I would like to for those shows, because I’m teaching too many hours a week. Now, I can’t tell if the exhibitions are going to take place at all, but I was glad to receive news that my school will stay closed from today on. My first thought was: Yeah! Studio time! Need to stock art supplies!
    And now this post by Jason and all the replies made me smile. It seems that artists have this in common: we tend to welcome any circumstance which gives us an excuse to lock ourselves in the studio and work. Well, for how long, that we’ll have to see. But I think people will be thrilled to go to openings and buy art to celebrate return to normality, when it happens. I’m personally planning to get ready for that moment.

    Best wishes to all and take care.

  22. In tumultuous times we need healing. Art is one of those venues bringing joy to the spirit and the soul. If we can focus on that we can use our creativity toward that end.

  23. Thank you for the post, Jason. In Austria as in next Monday everything except locations providing essential supplies (groceries, pharmacies, post, banks) will be closed. I checked today how many canvas I have – I think I still have to catch a possibility to replenish my materials for creating more art.
    Luckily I’m not living from art, yet this year I’m focused on pushing it forward. I’ve just created a website and discussed a couple of projects, including showing my paintings in a cafe. Cafe option does not make sense now (cafe and restaurants have already lost the majority of their visitors and according to State regulations can be opened till 3pm only).
    Last Tuesday I’ve been at a Vernissage at one gallery – due to the virus instead of 79-100 visitors the gallery had around 10-15 at the end. My visit to the gallery was also on purpose of discussing a possibility of an exhibition – at the end we’ve talked with the gallerist about how to make it happen, but now seems it’s not the right time to engage into such projects.
    On a positive side, as I should work from home now, I will have more flexibility to switch between work and hobby/art when I’ve got the right mood/inspiration. Working from an office didn’t allow me to do so.
    I believe this crisis with the virus makes everyone to slow down, get closer to inner self, reconsider priorities and do eventually what the heart calls for. I items to use this time for working on my site, creating an art page in Facebook and Instagram, trying to get more from digital capabilities. Just like you suggest 🙂

  24. I have friends who are immune compromised so I understand the depth and focus of concern. What I don’t get is the panic. If we each take appropriate measures to forestall infection there does not need to be catastrophe. In any case there will be and end and therefore it is wise and responsible to look forward to that and also prepare accordingly. Thus, while my sudden spate of Zazzle sales has slowed, I am determined to continue using my art to create more product designs and to continue marketing and finding /connecting to new markets. At the same time, I am still planning on continuing my studio practice with an eye to future sales and showings of my paintings.

    (I’m also thinking of offering a free roll of TP to everyone who buys a painting. LOL)

    1. Like your sense of humor, Patricia. Jason, thank you, everything will work out, we all need to take heed to do the best we can to stay healthy, keep in touch with families and friends. Prayers for those that are ill, prayers for the families of the deceased. As artists it is our job to create, create, create.

  25. My most important show of the year was coming up in 2 weekends. I hadn’t been to it in 11 years and was very excited to be going back. I received word late last night that it was cancelled. It’s crazy, but I feel strangely at peace about it even though I’m disappointed. I had just ordered a banner with my logo and new business cards that are gorgeous. My hubby has been turning up the heat tweaking my website and making it much better. Still more to do there, but regardless, all these things will be in place whenever the situation does turn around. I plan to continue painting and building up my inventory to a level I’ve never had it before!

  26. Those who panic are those who will lose. There are always ups and downs to which the art business is not totally immune. it is all perception. some of the largest and best sales i have ever done were in supposed down times when people supposedly were occupied otherwise. once did a show in uk which spent very large sums on and then the world soccer final came up on the same day! the place was almost completely empty! then 2 couples came in who hated soccer and loved art. they had just sold their company to the bank of scotland for a truly vast sum. so they purchased whatever they wanted.
    i have had similar experiences more often than i can count over 45 years in the art business. just plow through and enjoy the process.

  27. Thanks Jason for all of these insightful posts. I often learn a lot from them, so I thought I should make a small contribution by leaving a comment.

    At ViVO Contemporary in Santa Fe on Canyon Road, we are going to cancel the next couple of in-gallery events that draw large crowds. We are still staying open normal hours.

    Ironically, we did have an opening reception last night and had the most sales at an opening than we’ve had since I have been a member of the gallery. Also, my personal online art sales have been outstanding this week. Go figure.

  28. Thank you Jason. The world has been moving so quickly and the quiet time will give us a much needed rest. It’s a great opportunity for reflection.

  29. I love your faith in what you do. “Art is such a fundamental, important part of people’s lives,”. Yes, this is a time for doing all those things I have been putting off, like bonfires….. Clearing space for more of better!

  30. Jason thank you for your leadership, your positivity and wise words are greatly appreciated! Wishing even greater success for you and your family as a result of your caring, thoughtful guidance to those who follow you.

  31. I love that very wise and positive viewpoint which brings solace for everyone. As I am striving going through some steps in building infrastructure for my art business, I believe it is ideal time to work on it as well as keeping my creation. I believe it’s also a matter of attitude in life that makes good ending. Thank you for sharing that Jason and to everyone’s good feedback.

  32. Thanks for a timely and uplifting article. We can all take this time to reflect and gather our creative thoughts and paint. The sun will come out tomorrow and we will be ok. This is a temporary set back. Best wishes to those with poor health or compromised immune systems. Stay safe at home.

  33. I am wondering at this time when the CDC is recommending less than 10 people gather and at that be 6 feet apart from each other, should a gallery remain open? We have a gallery in rural New Mexico and I have noticed that we are getting traffic from Albuquerque and Santa Fe from people who just want to get away from the craziness. I get that, but what are my responsibilities? Spray them down as they come through the door? Or should I close until this blows over?

  34. Thank you Jason for your positive encouragement in this difficult time. Personally I am agreed that in some point arts business is still positive, only it might take a bit different turn.

  35. This morn. I was awoken by an earthquake. What I know from my years on this earth is that expectations don’t work. Life is unpredictable. Even though we all are stressed by this time in the world, it is a time of transition, a wake up call. Be thankful for this time to do art and make the most of it.

  36. This situation has arrived so suddenly, it’s impossible to judge it’s effects on society’s need to buy art. We can only attempt to stay cool headed and keep on with our life’s work, our health and that of our families permitting.

  37. All the shops I sell my greeting card versions of my paintings are closed, and I am not sure how many will still be around when this is over, and so far one show I do every year has been cancelled. Goes without saying that this will hurt sales. But the way I see it, I had no accounts or inventory when I first moved to Portland in 2007. Even if ALL of them vanish I can start over, and all the hard work and learning curve is now behind me. Whatever it might take to restart will be no different than if I moved away from the west coast, which I am considering anyway.

  38. Thank you Jason, it’s great staying connected with other artists, we are all going through the tough times now. Thanks for all the great ideas to stay positive during the Coronavirus and continue to create my art business and create new art. Staying at home has its benefits.

  39. Thanks Jason. I was lucky enough to participate in your call and program with ArtMba recently and have been implementing your strategies. So helpful! I’ve been working like a mad-woman on my online presence and cataloguing my work. Also getting more bold about making sales.

    Ironically I have had the best month of my entire career as an artist–I have 5 sales in the past week, 2 of them in the 4 figures, which is a first for me.

    I’m convinced so much of this is about mindset. This is sanctioned down time when we can re-structure and re-organize. People who still have strong finances WANT to help artists right now. We just need to stay positive and let them do that for us…

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