Myths and Misconceptions of the Art World | Myth #1: Art Doesn’t Sell Anymore

There are many myths and misconceptions about the art business the are perpetuated by artists, gallerists and collectors. Over the next few posts, I’m going to share my thoughts on the validity of these myths. I originally wrote these posts for Fine Art Views Newsletter some time ago, but the concepts are still important and now seems like a good time to reshare them.

Let’s begin by looking at a fairly widespread idea among artists that art simply doesn’t sell anymore. I’ve stated this misconception in its extreme, and I know that most artists don’t believe that it has become completely impossible to sell art, but some version of this myth has found its way into the psyche of many artists.

Many feel that the art market is less vibrant than it used to be and that it’s harder to sell than it was in the past. They may feel that the Great Recession hasn’t ever ended for the art market and that efforts to sell art are in vain.

Some artists see the glut of cheap art being sold through mass retailers and flooding in from China as impossible to compete with.

Yet others are caught up in the news and don’t believe that anyone is paying attention to art in the midst of political upheaval, and international tensions.

Others still believe that millennials will never buy art . . .

You get the idea. If an artist wants to find reasons that artwork isn’t selling, there are plenty out there. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If an artist feels that efforts to expose, market and sell their work are futile, they are less likely to put forth the effort to pursue sales opportunities. If art isn’t being seen, it’s less likely to sell, which then confirms the perception that sales are slow.

I don’t mean to downplay the many real challenges artists have faced over the last decade. It’s undeniable that the art market was deeply impacted by the economic slowdown, and that sales were soft through the late 2000s and into the 2010s. The effects of the slowdown have been hard to shake off, and it’s almost certain that the recovery has come to the art market more slowly than it did to the rest of the economy.

Having said that, however, I believe that the art market today, is the healthiest it’s been since 2006. I base that belief on the strong and growing sales we’ve seen in our gallery, and from the strength of the market being reported to me from galleries and artists around the U.S.

Xanadu Gallery is on track to have another great year for sales. Sales have been climbing steadily over the last five years. More importantly, this year and last we saw a higher level of sales than we had seen even before the recession.

We’re also seeing sales across a broad range of price points, but especially strong are sales in the mid-market, which for us is art priced between $2,000-$8,000. That price range had seen the greatest impact during the recession, and the resurgence in sale there indicates to me that the recovery is reaching a broader range of buyers.

While I know that the economy can change very quickly, I’m very bullish about prospects for the market in the near-term, and we’re investing in marketing to take advantage of the strong market.

I would also suggest that we are in a position to benefit from the current strong market because we didn’t allow the hard years to discourage us from giving our sales efforts and marketing everything we had.

So what does this mean for you?

I believe that it’s critical for artists to approach the market with the right attitude. If you are hard-working, pragmatic, organized and positive, you will find opportunities to sell your work. As you sell and build your confidence you will build momentum that can help sustain you through dips in the market.

When I hear artists or gallery owners complaining about the state of the market, I turn and walk the other direction. Other than finding company, (and we all know how much misery loves company), I just don’t see benefit in dwelling on the negative. If the last ten years have proved anything, it’s that the art market is resilient and that even during the worst of times, art is such an important part of people’s lives that they will continue to collect. The fact that any of us are still in business is proof of that!

How strong have your sales been this year?

Have you experienced an uptick in sales over the last year? To what do you attribute the strength of your sales? How do you react when you hear other artists complaining about the art market or the economy?

Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below. And stay tuned as I tackle other myths and misperceptions in upcoming posts!

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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

20 Comments

  1. I am quite new to the art-selling market, but I can say that my marketing in two public spaces (a gallery that takes a 50% commission, and a restaurant which takes a 10% commission) and word of mouth, internet outreach, instagram, facebook, and painting in public has begun to bear fruit. 2019 has seen my art income nearly triple over 2018, as I get better at the DOING and the marketing of my artwork. I don’t expect much yet, except hope for continued growth. I’m seeing what approaches work for selling my art, mostly in the $300-$1500 range. Things are looking good, though I won’t be counting on this for my primary income for quite a while yet. I just need to keep working on those two fronts: Getting ever better at what I make, and getting ever better at how I reach people who might be interested in buying it.

  2. My sales were better than ever this year, selling fewer pieces but at higher prices. I attribute it to my own efforts to improve the quality of my work and confidence to show and sell it, though I plan to approach many galleries in 2020. I also feel that the current booming economy, increased employment opportunities and pride in our country has given people hope for a higher quality of life, which includes the luxury of art.

  3. I know a few artists that are having banner years yet for me it has been the slowest in sales and the galleries tell me and agree that it is the downturn in this marketspace for all the reasons you stated. I keep asking if it’s my price point (between $3k-$10k) or my work quality ? and it really does get in your head as they all say my work receives such positive comments and feel my work is priced right if not a little low lol. I spoke to two artist friends recently that have work in several larger galleries that too are experiencing slow sales and the antidote often stated is that collectors fear an upcoming recession. I just remember reading years ago that during the down turns get in the studio and produce more work. Trying to stay positive!

  4. Last year was my best sales year by far, and 2019 will surpass 2018. I’m in eight galleries and they all appear to be doing well.

    In my region of the USA (North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee) art sales are strong. Western North Carolina is especially strong as well as the market surrounding Nashville TN.

  5. This has been my best year yet. 46% revenue increase, sold fewer items but at higher price point ($750 – $3200 range) mostly watercolors on paper, unframed.
    Attribute it to improved quality (taking targeted workshops and painting daily), self promotion plus better economy. Kathy

  6. My sales were the highest ever this year!

    A problem I see: Quite a few artists I know get caught up with the idea that their art is so fabulous that everyone will love it and they end up marketing to the wrong audience. Even though their art might be truly stunning, this is a formula for disappointment.

    I believe being an artist today has to go hand-in-hand with marketing know-how whether you work with a gallery or on your own. Perhaps this is the bit that has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.

    For instance I know not everyone will like my art – but there are some (My ideal customer) that will love it. Once I figured out who my ideal customer was, I learned how to talk to (via my website, social media, and newsletters) and market to them and because of this my sales have soared.

  7. I think it helps that I’m in a community of artists, Western Avenue Studios and Lofts in Lowell Massachusetts. Some might think that so many artists on one site leads to heavy competition but we’re all doing different things so we just draw people to the area which is good for everyone. Even more important I have hustle. I hang in coffee shops, restaurants, libraries and office spaces sometimes without having to pay any commission. The benefit of this can be sales or it simply draws attention to where my studio is located. Then I hear from people later on. You have to get out there to bring the traffic to your door. I’m on social media and I have a website and I post photographs from my studio situation and process photos of paintings.

  8. For those artists complaining that art does not sell anymore, I think it wise to consider the art in question. As a gallery dealer for many years, I have watched what is being produced by the majority of artists change over time. Young artists today tend to lean towards work which is lacking in marketability and substance. What people comment on in a gallery, and what they are willing to purchase and live with are typically two very different things. Controversial art is not very marketable, and if a young artist is hoping to be the next Basquiat, or such, then they are setting themself up for disappointment. The typical art client is looking for something which they connect with personally, and something which they feel will enhance their home or work environment. They are also concerned if their friends and family will like a particular piece of art as well. The successful artist is usually keenly aware of who their buyer is, and what it is that they like about their work. Understanding what elements in your work actually deter the public from purchasing your work is important to your success. It is natural that art sells slower during election years, stock market slow downs, recessions, wars, etc however; good art always endures and finds it’s market.

    1. Thanks for the info. Do you have any examples of things to avoid? I’m a young artist trying to break out of the art school ideas of creating cutting edge art, to make something a bit more appealing to buyers while still holding on to my unique voice. It’s a line I’m struggling to walk. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

  9. I will admit it. I subscribed to several of the negative notions you discuss. After a while I developed a better understanding what actually happened between 2008 and 2018. The depth of damage to the economy was deep- across the board. As we often bemoan, art is the first item to be cut from discretionary spending, and the last to return. However something bigger was going on. The buyers who propelled art sales for decades had aged out of the market. The economic downturn enforced this event, and held back those interested in owning art.. As the recession slowly faded, a new generation of buyers have come on the scene, and art sales are improving. What i saw was the buyers who purchased art before me were older than me. Now they are younger. Good.

  10. Ten years ago the economy had a big downturn and art sales dropped along with shrinking sales of just about everything. Artists complained about the hardships this was causing, and those complaints still linger on even though times have changed and art sales have rebounded and right now are at a new high. However the lingering fear of future downturns still exists in the minds of many artists.

    Perhaps the bottom line is for us all to be aware that there will always be downturns in the economy during which art sales will decrease. The economy will always have up and down patterns, this is just the way it works. And those that study it will tell you that for the future there is no question if there will be future downturns, but rather it is a question of when will these happen.

    Perhaps the only strategy is for the artist is to be more active in promoting and selling during highs in the economy when sales are abundant and squirrel away some of this money to help sustain them when the economy next goes south.

  11. I know each region can have its own different issues, too. I live near Pittsburgh, PA and a major art group – The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Media – recently announced it was closing its theaters and galleries. For photography, what artists are seeing (don’t know if this is only local or if it’s national) are big prints on metallic paper and on glass and the subjects are social and political. These don’t seem like things someone would buy to hang in their living room (think poverty and social justice). If galleries hang work that has an overt message, does that sell? I’d have to wonder if that’s why some think the market is bad. Or is this a trend only in western PA? Do people buy landscape photography? I haven’t been making a huge effort to sell my photos lately because life has intervened and I just can’t find the time.

  12. I was represented by galleries for many years and my sales were mediocre. My best gallery decided to close up and start selling her own work at art fairs. We had a long talk about it and I decided to do the same. I only apply to shows within driving range of my home and I do my own sales (I like talking to people). I can’t keep up with the sales – I have to do 1 painting per week in order to keep up. I hear a lot of chatter among the art fair crowd about low sales, but my experience has been great so far. The art fairs are also a great place for getting commission work. Been doing this for 3 years now and I am committed to keep doing the art fairs.

  13. While I’m not new to the art market, I am fairly new to having a more focused effort put into the venues through which I sell my art – and like several artists who have already commented, I am finishing my best year by far in art sales. I’m sure the art market – like most markets – is constantly evolving, but I’m excited that it’s still going strong, and always in new and different ways.

  14. My art sales for 2019 were the best for me ever in my career because of one collector who was brought to my studio by the curator who represents my wok. My price range is $2,500-$20,000.00
    (Neither of my websites are up to date)

  15. Just for the record, as I saw a number of artists here who are producing art in the 2K-20K range, my prices are much more modest, with the most typical sales in the $400-$600 range. Obviously, I have to hustle and produce a lot of work, and I do. I would categorize my sales this year as average for my 21 years in this business, but better than last year. The major part of my sales comes from my own marketing efforts (the two big home gallery sales events that I mount each year) and most of the rest is from galleries. The galleries have always sold consistently and well, and I keep meaning to add more to the 3 who already represent me. I enjoyed the comment from the artist who has seen a shift in the age of buyers, with some aging out and younger buyers finally coming in to the art market to the point where now he is selling to buyers younger than he is. I found this most useful, making me wonder if my audience is aging out and what I can do about that. More galleries may be the answer.

  16. My sales have been down over the last two years mostly because I have not had the same time or energy to put into it. My pop got cancer and after a long battle passed away. I am now trying to get back into the swing of things. My goals for the next six months are to change my website host and revamp the whole thing, start a monthly newsletter, and get on more social media sites. I also am hoping to jury into the best gallery in my town and to find better art fairs.

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