Creating Experiences and Telling Stories to Sell More Art

Several weeks ago, a couple walked into the gallery and headed straight for a wall of the artist Guilloume’s work. I greeted the couple and learned they had been following Guilloume for some time and had been in the gallery earlier in the week to see what we had. They were now considering one of the bronze reliefs for their home in British Columbia.

A grouping of Guilloume’s work at Xanadu Gallery

After some back and forth, they decided on a piece in the front window, and I set about writing up the sale.

By coincidence, Guilloume happened to be en route to the gallery from La Quinta, CA, that very day. He was just passing through and would only be in the gallery for a few minutes, but I mentioned this to the buyers, and told them how much I would like for them to meet him. While I wasn’t sure exactly what time he would be arriving, I told them that I could call them when he showed up. The wife provided me with her cell phone number and they left for lunch.

About an hour later, the artist walked through the front door. We started making arrangements for the artwork he was dropping off and picking up, and I called the clients to let them know he had arrived.

When they showed up a few minutes later, I introduced them to Guilloume, who greeted them warmly. There were friendly handshakes and the couple told Guilloume they were very excited to have bought their first piece.

Guilloume thanked them, and then asked in his Colombian accent, “Can I tell you something very special about that piece?”

The couple eagerly assented and listened carefully as he told them his story about the sculpture. This is a copy of the written version he has created, but it’s the basic outline of what he told them.

“Stealing His Heart” is my sculptural interpretation of a recent photo taken of my wife and me. When I first looked at the photo, I was struck by the fact that I found my wife to be every bit as appealing and mesmerizing as the day I met her—perhaps even more so. I reflected on our initial meeting in our native Colombia and how I was swept up in love as she instantly stole my heart. What is so amazing to me is the fact that I have never gotten my heart back from her—it remains stolen to this day!

I am not referring to that “crazy love” that one experiences in the early stages of courtship. This is a mere illusion of love that gushes forth as we mistakenly assign all of the attributes that we desire in a mate to our new lover—while at the same time, unconsciously overlooking those traits that are less appealing.

Although we certainly experienced “crazy love” at first, as most couples do, our love has endured because that infatuation was soon fortified by more enduring relationship builders like appreciation, understanding, and mutual growth.

Guilloume has a great way of telling the story in a manner that doesn’t feel forced or contrived, and it was clear at the end of the story that the clients were thrilled with their purchase.

Before leaving I had Guilloume autograph and personalize a copy of his coffee table book, which we shipped along with the piece.

After the piece arrived I received the following email from the client:

 

Jason, you may remember me and my wife. We were in your gallery on March 26 and purchased the above noted sculpture piece by Guilloume.

I just wanted to pass along a short [note] to say the piece arrived today in good condition and is already hung in a special place and we both think it looks great.

We would like to thank you for your assistance and for arranging our meeting with the artist. This meeting will undoubtedly evoke a special memory that we can reflect upon each time we look at the sculpture.

PS: The autographed coffee table book was very nice touch and is much appreciated. Perhaps you could pass along our thanks, as well, to Guilloume the next time you see him.

 

"Stealing His Heart" Installed in Client's Home
“Stealing His Heart” Installed in Client’s Home

Of course, it doesn’t always work out to provide this kind of experience for a collector, but whenever I have the chance, I will go out of my way to give collectors the opportunity to meet the artist.

This experience also demonstrates the value of telling stories about artwork. Guilloume writes narratives about most of his pieces. Not everyone cares about the stories, but it’s often the case that the story is the extra little push that encourages the collector to buy.Of course, it doesn’t always work out to provide this kind of experience for a collector, but whenever I have the chance, I will go out of my way to give collectors the opportunity to meet the artist.

In my book, How to Sell Art, I encourage artists to tell stories about the inspiration for the piece, the experience creating the particular work, or even a story about where the artist’s interest in the subject matter comes from.

 

A patron’s initial response to your work is going to be raw and emotional. At a basic level, he will apprehend immediately whether or not he likes the work. If he does like the work, your job is to reinforce the positive connection, and to build the interest into an overwhelming, irresistible desire to buy.

Capturing the customer’s attention and imagination will imbue a sense of ownership in the piece, and nothing will engage the mind so well as a good story. Take him on a brief journey to unfold your interest in the subject matter, to elucidate the creation process, and to share your wonder at the miraculous result. Let your enthusiasm be contagious.

Here is a persuasive first step: If the piece of art is a landscape, talk about the setting in nature where the painting was created. The information satisfying the following questions will provide the fodder for your story:

  •  What drew you to the area?
  •  Had you been there before?
  •  How did you get there?
  •  Was the setting what you expected?
  •  How long did you stay?
  •  What most surprised you about the landscape of the area?
  •  What aspects of the landscape were you most interested in capturing in your painting?
  •  What most excites you about the painting?
  •  What response did you hope to elicit through the painting?

Similarly, if you have created a figurative sculpture, you could address the following interrogatories to create a narrative:

  •  Which gestures were you interested in capturing?
  •  What did you have to do to get the model to convey those gestures?
  •  What was the most difficult or challenging aspect of capturing the gestures?
  •  What most excites you about the piece you have created?
  •  To what should the viewer pay special attention?

What if you are an abstract painter? How much story can you extract from an abstract painting? Answer these questions and see where the story takes you:

  •  How much did you know about the piece before you began?
  •  What emotion was primarily driving the composition?
  •  What struggles did you face as you worked on the piece, and how did you overcome them?
  •  What surprised you about the way the piece came to-gether?
  •  What aspect or detail of the work most excites you?
  •  How does this piece fit into the narrative of the other pieces you are creating? Does it say something new? Does it build on a theme?

You get the idea. Asking yourself these kinds of questions in advance, and sharing the answers in an improvised narrative at the appropriate time, will help the client begin to engage more fully with your work. The personal touch of the creator is arguably the most efficacious tool, after the paint brush, in effectuating a sale.

Some would argue that your story might get in the way of the client formulating his own interpretation regarding the work, and that you might actually hinder his connecting to the piece. Is it possible to share too much information? Can the collector feel bombarded with all the relevant detail? I have never found this to be the case. A customer is going to bring his own story and exposition to the piece, no matter what you do; your chronicle only adds panache to the experience.

Has Telling Stories Helped you Sell Your Art?

Have you tried telling stories about your work? How have stories impacted your ability to sell your art? How do you tell your stories? Share your experiences and thoughts 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

16 Comments

  1. I have had the story get in the way of a sale, mostly because I got a question in isolation by text message from the gallery manager. The painting was of gothic spires. The question I received was where the spires where, rather than why did I paint them. I made the mistake of answering the where and adding what was important was the feeling the customers felt in the painting. I wasn’t there to tell them that I loved how the light played across the spires and was mesmerized by how the tiniest of detail in the spires were visible even though they loomed hundreds of feet above my head.
    The manager told me later that people had just returned from Paris (which so happened to be shortly after Notre Dam burnt down. I wish I had known that when first asked the question because I would have shared what I just relayed about why I did the painting. Hopefully the where question would have gone away since the spired were from the National Cathedral in DC. No sale this time, but lesson learned.

  2. Very valuable insights in this piece. As an artist in Santa Fe who worked previously in galleries, I have long thought that stories sell art. That’s sounds crass. Stories create personal experiences and relationships that are valuable, totally, all by themselves. Selling art is a byproduct and, I’ll admit, kinda nice!

  3. I always have a story for each piece, where I was, what was happening, the inspiration that led me to paint that particular piece and the colors I used. I think of myself as a visual story teller.

  4. Wonderful article, Jason! You express in a very real, impactful way the importance of storytelling, what it means to the human heart, and how it affects collectors and their decisions.

  5. All my paintings have stories behind them. When you relate those to a potential client, they feel as though they are receiving intimate knowledge of the creative process and it means that they can relate the story to family and friends when it is hanging in their home. I have found that it always helps with sales much more than just explaining your painting technique.

  6. Perfect timing! The website upgrade after many false starts looks like it will succeed this time.
    i needed an image for the homepage, something to fix the strange name and attach it to me.
    I chose the pastel I did some years ago of “Carpenter Hill”- the hill in the name CarpenterHill Studios. it has not been shown often and it is a seminal work that set me on my “retirement career”.
    But, here’s the thing. Besides the actual hill, I had an actual vantage point because I grew up across the valley from the hill that was home to 4 generations of my dad’s family. The pastel is a recollection of the times I would spend at the top of the “upper pasture”, just sitting and looking at the saddleback hill.
    So, the little story I wrote about the pastel will perhaps serve as a story that lets visitors to the website spend a bit of time.
    I’m not especially good at the story part but I know it is what people need sometimes.

  7. I often write the stories of my inspiration and those are then included in a letter of Authenticity that I create for my larger sculptures. I find that it completes the project for me. Sometimes things become more. I will write a poem about the piece, either the inspiration or the story the piece tells. As I work in stone I spend a long time with each piece. In one case, a friend wanted a certain piece but the expense and transport did not fit at this time. I was moved to write a poem. When I read it to her she asked if I could incorporate it into a sketch for her. this turned into a wonderful painting. I have made prints they have been well received.

  8. The more I tell stories about my art, the more I learn from my listeners. They tell me stories too ~ and often this inspires me to paint new works. Storytelling is indeed a magical gift for us all! Thank you for reminding me Jason!

  9. I totally agree about stories many times helping the relationship between the artist and the client, and also the client and the painting. I do keep back a few feet when people are viewing my work in the gallery setting at show openings, etc.. I don’t approach until I have seen them “really” look for a moment. They see something, so I tell them I am the artist and I would love to hear what they are seeing. It almost always leads to me telling a story about the painting.

    I also tape on the back of my pieces a typed 3″ x 3″ paper (approx. size), with the title of the painting, size, and my name and website. I include a short paragraph about the inspiration, or a story, associated with the painting. I create a sheet of paper for the gallery with all these stories and info for their desk. It helps the sales people know more and talk knowledgeably about the pieces.

  10. The other side of this coin is respecting the viewer’s interaction with the piece. My painting is abstract, so the audience response to it is fully as valid as any lead up or intention I had as I created the piece. I am careful to elicit the reaction they are having, and try to come to some level of understanding of their insight, before I give them input that might lead them in their interactions with the piece.

    The stories I share are more to do with my thoughts on abstract art, perhaps technique I used, the pleasure I find in creating, et cetera. I seldom name pieces, as this is also leading. I want to foster the audience in coming to connect with the art by their individual path.

  11. Superb advice, and very true. Stories are like an open door, providing a wonderful connection between artists and collectors. When I am displaying my fine art photography of vintage cars and trucks at art festivals, I have often enjoyed how the stories being shared have come from the viewers first, as they recall memories of riding in or driving a similar car or truck, which opens the door for me to share my story about how I discovered that particular vehicle, and reimagined it with my photography.

  12. Stories are everything to me. Every piece has a story, and sharing them with customers/potential collectors forms powerful connections. I love the “story starters” you provided, too.

  13. I truly believe that stories create a relationship between the art and the viewer, and quite possibly the future owner of the piece of work.
    As a new gallery owner, I find myself begging artists to provide me with a story so that the gallery visitors can become engaged and be able to participate in the art experience. I have found, in the last month, the length of time we have been open, the gallery hoppers, become buyers after coming for the first time, seeing, listening to stories, leave, come back, and then with luck from the Fates, they purchase. The story is an integral part of their purchase, because with that, they have a story to tell to their friends about the beautiful piece they purchased.

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