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.

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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

27 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article Jason. I read this kind of article once before but this time I really thought deeply about the first set of questions and realized how the answers assist me in what’s important to creating my art. I will share my finds in my selling of my art because I realize the importance even further

    Thank you once again Jason. Your insight is so valuable to us artists

  2. Jason, this article is spot on! In the past I had never attached a story to my work, however I now know the importance it can make! Last December one of the galleriy owners called and asked if I could tell her a bit about the landscape and where it was. Well, the client was standing there and I was able to tell her exactly where I was on Bald Head Island and the time of day and what had impressed me so that early evening. The woman immediately purchased the painting as a Christmas gift for her son and new daughter-in-law as they had recently married on our island.

    I am now trying to include a tiny description to accompany my paintings. The gallery here on the island also calls me to come meet any clients that are interested in my work and I drop whatever I’m doing to get there, even if I still have paint on me!
    Thanks for your blog!!

  3. Great article, Jason and I think a very important one. I work in photography/montage and as soon as I finish a piece, I always write a back story on how it was created that I post on my blog and facebook as well as providing a printout to a gallery showing the work to assist with marketing. I’ve always received very positive feedback from doing this and it has led to sales from time to time. I also find that during the process I sometimes discover meanings or story lines that even I wasn’t aware of when creating the piece! The montages usually contain many pieces of my photographs and I always dissect it for the viewer explaining where the photos were taken, any history on the subject matter that I find during research, how I created the composition, why I choose the title, and anything else I find that’s relevant. I agree with you Jason that I haven’t found this interferes with the viewer’s interpretation but adds to it. If you like, you can see a sample of what I do on my blog: http://darlenefosterartist.blogspot.com/

  4. Nice article. I don’t have many stories about preconception and such. I do street and doc photography. I never know what I will come across. My job is just to get the shot after I see a prospect.

    Google:

    captain of wall street 90014

    That is a lot of story for me. When I was just starting out I used to try to get into people homes to shoot them. No one lets me in nowadays.

    With candid work I never know what is really happening on the street. I’m just guessing. Usually I don’t talk to my subjects, I get them candid. I’m not very social.

  5. Great advice, story telling is something I have been doing with my work. It has really become part of my creation process. Sharing as you did with artist and client was a wonderful example of generosity and relationship building. Thank you once again for your thoughts.

  6. This hits home for us. Our work is based on high speed photography of hummingbirds and thus involves a very technical aspect. We usually try to connect on an emotional level, but the technical aspect, although difficult to grasp at first is often a welcome addition and one that ‘allows’ the prospective buyer to ‘splurge’ on one of our pieces. For a description of what we say about us and our work, please go here:
    https://focusfrogstore.com/pages/artists-statements

  7. Actually, yes, I have told stories about my paintings – you’ll find them on my blog on my website, Barbara Jackson Fine Art.com. I try to go with humor (or humour, if you’re Canadian) I’ve always loved writing and hove piles of it laying around the house, so this was an extension easily made. So far, though it has raised my visibility, it has yet to bring me a sale.

  8. What a great story. I do tell stories about my art to interested people, and I have wondered if it’s boring to them or I shouldn’t do it. But after reading this I decided to stop entertaining the negativity! I do digital art and call my collection The Inspirational Canvas. I do have a story behind every single piece that I have created. At a show if I see someone taking a bit of extra time with one piece, I’ll approach them and ask if they’d like to hear the story behind the art. They always say Yes, and I probably increase my sales by 50% or more by telling them the story and creating a more interesting situation for them about the art. It’s always something they can tell their friends an increases their understand about the art. Love all your posts. They help me out so much!

  9. I have kept art journals over the years, recording each piece of artwork that I have done. Along with the information about the art, is the story. It has been a good tool to use as well as nice to look back on. In an art show that I was in this summer, I wrote a few sentences to place by the painting and found it illuminates a quick synopsis for the viewer. Thanks for all of the great information in your blog Jason!

  10. I often slip a small note behind a piece of art, describing the inspiration, where it was painted, etc., especially if I have a funny anecdote. The trick is getting galleries to post it with the piece!

  11. Thank you for the post.

    I just want to say:
    That every art piece has a story.
    Every artist has a story.
    Mostly the stories are left untold.
    (The most memorable art history classes I taught were the ones where I told stories about the art, the artist, or the techniques. The Q and A’s were amazing from the students).

    I’m not sure how many artists have the difficulty I have in telling my stories.
    I almost always say way too much and most of what I say is hard for someone else to connect with.
    I should be better at this but I’m not. Still working at it.

  12. Jason, you rock! I can’t tell you how much I have learned from the emails I get from you. You are so very generous and insightful with your knowledge. I don’t know anyone in the art business who provides the kind of information you do. Thank you so very much!

  13. Jason,
    You say above: “whenever I have the chance, I will go out of my way to give collectors the opportunity to meet the artist.” Yet in previous blogs you have made it clear that you will not give the artist the client’s contact information so that the artist can send them a personal thank-you note or otherwise develop a personal relationship. Isn’t that contradictory?

    1. Great question Cynthia. It’s not contradictory at all – the difference is that when I’m making the introduction at a show or a lunch I’m very much a part of the relationship, which wouldn’t necessarily be the case if I just turn the contact information over to the artist.

  14. I have one particular series that I always tell the story and I know the people totally get it and it leads to sales. And I know story telling must work because I tell myself stories about some things as insignificant as how the water is splashing on rocks in a stream to create the groves and colors of the whole scene. This makes it a much better painting.
    Thanks for your continuing inspiration.

  15. My collectors are always interested about where my inspiration for my paintings comes from. I usually tell them in a conversation encouraging the collector to interject with questions which works very well for me…

  16. My collectors are always interested about where my inspiration for my paintings comes from. I usually tell them in a conversation encouraging the collector to interject with questions which works very well for me.

  17. A big part of my story is how art helped me overcome years of alcohol and other addictions. When I started painting, I knew right away I’d found my passion. Within months of creating my first painting at age 31, I got sober and have been now for over 6 years. Within 3 years of starting to paint, art became my full time career. Now my art is in collections in 26 countries, and I’m blessed that I get to do something I love every day, and that people around the world seem to love it too!

  18. I had a client last year who wish to purchase a set of (two) coordinating works. She had already made up her mind when she had approached me, and then I immediately started to explain why the pieces were given that particular name. She was more than enthralled to listen to my story. We chatted for a while and upon leaving she said how much more she now loved and felt connected to the art.

  19. Thank you Jason for the very insightful article. I also love to tell the story of my paintings, and try to meet the purchaser when possible.

  20. My paintings always have a story, this is why I paint them. It comes naturally to me to tell the story. Though the structured approach to it outlined here is a good to have, so thank you, Jason.

  21. Not all of my paintings have stories, but many do. And they vary, from a breakthrough piece, to mood of the moment to my imagination at work.
    Collectors especially enjoy when the description reverberates with them, they feel a personal connection to me, or to the piece if it triggers a memory or emotion. They often relate back to my their appreciation for that verbalization, which gave the piece more meaning to them, and with that, more value.
    You could say that my 2-D works gain a 4th dimension.
    Storytelling must be genuine, from the heart and soul. It comes through. Thank you Jason.

  22. God! This brings back an awful memory…

    Back when my sister was starting out as an artist and had her first solo show, she knew she was going to be swamped during the cocktail party so asked me to take care of anyone seriously interested in her pieces. I knew them intimately, knew their inspiration and the stories behind them and had seen her painting/making them -some were collages.

    There was one very lovely collage of two sitting women happily talking amid a fantastical landscape that included a growling wolf, crows, and various other threatening animals. There was a very dark story behind it -it was inspired by the sudden death of the child of an acquaintance, and depicted my sister’s daily fears that as she was going about her life and routine, her children were out there in the world, going about their lives and might not return home that night. Dangers threatened whenever they left her watchful eye.

    Well, after selling some three of my sister’s pictures, I was on a high! A good looking couple had been standing in front of this collage for quite some time, and I approached them. We chatted for a while about the show, the art… and then they asked be in a very interested and sincere fashion to tell them the story behind this particular piece… and I told them… They look horrified and walked away, and needless to say that lovely piece was not sold.

    What this taught me is: only share stories that are positive. If they are not -and there is a lot of tortured artwork out there- pretend you don’t know!!! Or gloss over it very lightly and change the subject.

    Lesson learned the hard way!

  23. Thanks for writing about this topic! I have stories to share about all of my paintings, and I love sharing them with clients and collectors. The story adds another layer of value that makes each artwork even more special. Oftentimes the story, once shared, explains the title of a piece as in Guilloeme’s work.

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