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.

Grouping of Guilloume's Work on Display at Xanadu Gallery
Grouping of Guilloume’s Work on Display 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.

Starving to Successful

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of 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 will always remember my very first gallery show. Being a very introverted person, I was dreading opening night. The anxiety I was anticipating was palpable. The night arrives and patrons begin to wander in. As requested by the gallery owner, I stood near my work, ready to answer questions. From the very first query, much to my astonishment, stories just flowed from my usually very quiet mouth. My passion for my work couldn’t be contained. The folks talking with me seemed to be fully engaged in what I was saying. Again, astonishing! It almost felt like an out of body experience as I stood there thinking, “who the heck is this very articulate artist?” Life changing.

  2. Another great blog Jason, yes, without question the “story” behind the art is important, and if the opportunity presents itself I love the meet the buyers. I had a similar experience with a painting recently, “Marina Morning”, a couple had been looking at my work in the gallery, they had several pieces identified that they were considering. I had just had a two person show and had a piece that was not quite ready to make the show, I finished it up, brought it in to the gallery unframed. The couple came back in, trying to decide, then saw the newest piece and they were sold, then I got the opportunity to meet them and discuss the piece, I am convinced the discussion and meeting me sealed the deal. To top it off, they came back and bought a second piece. To this day, I believe higher sales would occur if buyers could meet the artists each and every time, it is opportunity to engage, show your enthusiasm and why the piece works, the story behind it is always of interest to the buyer. As the artist, I NEVER decline such an opportunity and will go out of my way to meet the clients, ALWAYS!!!

  3. This is a great story and a great blog. By now, you perhaps know that I tend to use 100 words where 5 will do. I have this fear that my story-telling might actually get in the way. I have endured my wife’s pinches and kicks, endured the glazed eyes of listeners (I’m getting a bit better at closing down), and am sure I have suffered sales loss in the midst of my exuberance to relate “my story” and “the story”.
    I practice “elevator” stories quite a bit but when it’s time to be “on”, all that practice seems to go out the window.
    I’m just offering another side to the story, but must say, your outline will be a great help especially when I limit it to 75 words or less perhaps.

  4. Yes I do think that people love hearing where and how I came to create a particular image. My experience also is that collectors often want to tell me stories of why they were drawn to the piece. I think that the shared appreciation between artist and viewer is a big factor in the appeal.

  5. Definately the story behind what inspired the work helps draw in the audience
    I had a very successful solo show followed by a group show in Italy and I have no doubt my artists statement was a big factor

  6. I agree Jason, about the story and I usually do that. On a related matter, I was showing a potential buyer my work and she came back twice to a particular piece saying she really liked it. I didn’t know how to close the sale and didn’t achieve it. I thought afterwards that when she said she liked it I should have said, well, would you like to buy it?
    Do you think this is an appropriate way of handling it?

  7. I always find that my collectors love it when I tell them stories about the creation of my artworks… The more I do it, the more confident I feel about it & the better I get at telling stories. Collectors feel they are getting so much more when we as artists are willing to engage with them & be enthusiastic about our art…

  8. Great info – great story. I’m a photographer & I always let my clients know that it’s not just a photo that’s being taken of them, a scene, an object, etc… but it’s the story behind the photo. As artists we are not just selling our piece – but telling a story. Hence, I don’t call myself a photographer….. I call myself a Visual Storyteller.

  9. Stories definitely add value. Some Plein Air painters affix their initial sketch and even notes to the back of their finished painting. I read about one artist who puts a bit of the sand from his beach scenes or leaves from a mountain painting into a small baggy and affixes it to the back of his painting, with brief notes about the area painted. It’s a nice touch.

  10. Just curious… what is your policy of shipping out to other countries/overseas? In this article, the couple was able to come to you and purchased the work. I’ve known in the past you have shipped work out (just to see how it looks in the “new space”) so it got me thinking…
    Have you ever had anyone interested in a piece say, from Hawaii? Or anywhere overseas? I’m sure shipping would be expensive just to have it shipped there (and possibly) back again! Or should I guess that you only ship to the land-states?

    1. We don’t offer approval shipments outside the continental US for exactly the logistical reasons you mention. Clients understand the reasons. Clients who live overseas have to be sure they love the work, and we do sell quite a bit out of the country.

  11. As both a writer and an artist – as well as someone who teaches creative writing – I love this post. Stories are the way we share just about everything in our lives and in our cultures. I’m having my first gallery show in October and when writing my artist’s statement began it with the story of how I came to be an artist beginning with a paint set my grandmother gave me when I was nine years old. Stories! Yes! Thanks for writing this one…

  12. Thank you Jason, I really appreciated this article and I especially liked the excerpt from you book that includes questions to ask and answer about each piece that I create. The few times that I have been able to talk about a painting with a customer have been very rewarding experiences for both of us.

  13. Oh yes I tell stories all the time sometimes I even make up short paragraph stories as titles luckily I have a good sense of humor and always bring humor to my stories much like the old show “fractured fairytales” on the bullwinkle show. LOve that idea!

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