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 over the Last 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!

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 the Art Business Academy. 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.

25 Comments

  1. I agree! I hear that same negative talk. The best sales of my career were the last decade. I’ve made my living at art shows but interesting, last year after March I did no more shows. I put effort into galleries and on line sales. My gross income was down, but net profit for the year was up! Even in the pandemic people are still buying.

  2. My last two gallery shows (2020 and 2019) were my most successful ever. The gallery who showed my work is a fledgling Chicago region gallery with no nearby galleries in a semi-rural area and has seen consistent sales with the price points rising since opening. The gallery director told me sales of higher priced work has increased since the pandemic began a year ago.

  3. Thanks for the insight. If you constantly strive for excellence that helps sales. You won’t get the customers who buy cheap art from China if you are a fine artist. You must go for the collectors who can afford original art or finely made prints of that art. Give great, personal customer service. We answer the phone and many times I have been asked if I am a recording! They are astounded that they will get every question patiently answered 3 times if necessary. People are used to being ignored or on hold forever. We treat every client with the attention they deserve. It makes a difference. The website instructs them to call or email. We don’t have a contact form. We do have an American flag in the upper left so they know where we are and that the art is Made in the USA.

  4. Jason,
    I believe some of this is human nature, we tend to project our individual circumstances onto the world around us. And, it makes us feel better to believe everyone is in the same situation – particularly when things are bad.
    Your data on sales are encouraging. As the pandemic has accelerated all trends, have you seen a shift toward online sales – or sales facilitated by virtual interactions (in lieu of gallery visits)? And, if so, how do those sales differ from regular in-person sales? Are they generally higher or lower value sales, or does a particular type or size of work sell better virtually?

    Thanks, as always, for the discussion.

  5. Your assessment is absolutely correct Jason! People have been calling me ‘out of the blue’ to see what I have for sale over the last year and some of them even bought 2 pieces at a time. Folks spend more time at home and want something on their walls that makes them feel good. They’ve also not spend money on eating out or traveling, so they have extra cash in their pockets for art. I also completely agree with the negative beliefs (that become a self-fulfilling prophecy) that many artists suffer from…many think that if you blame something outside yourself, at least it’s not your own fault when you fail! But the opposite is true, if you do what you love to do best and you do the best you can in both your art as well as marketing or promotion things will always ‘magically’ work out!! Thanks for everything you’re doing for artists…I hope you know how much all your helpful information and advice is appreciated!!

  6. Dear Jason, I am with the consensus here and your own positive attitude. Letting negative comments just drop away is important. There is always a reason one can be discouraged. But on the other side, consistent, pragmatic efforts in combination with one’s natural creativity is a winning combination. I find it beneficial to team up with gallery owners who have survived for many years. Like you, they find creative ways of approaching the public and offering them beauty to have and to hold! Thank goodness we live in a time and place where intelligent approaches to the market can end in good results.

  7. These we’re really encouraging posts to read especially for someone like myself, really at the beginning of a marketing campaign to get my work seen and sold. I am determined to build both an online business and a strong relationship with galleries. It is great to hear that both avenues are working, even in a pandemic.

  8. Some artist were complaining about sales even with good economy. My best year was 2010 , I sold 100 paintings that year. Every year is different but you need keep goin and produce better art that’s the secret.

  9. Dear Jason, Thank you for your refreshing letter of encouragement. No one ever said it would be easy. I have been seen as a romantic most of my life. I always will be yet, knowing what I know about how life works from my perspective I realize the importance to have a positive attitude and a pleasant disposition. I can’t force people to buy my art All I can do is be the most pleasant person I can be.

  10. Art is a business traditionally is tied closely to regional and national economies. Aside from a big drop during the Great Recession, a gallery owner I knew correctly guessed it was also a transition period from older collectors who aged out of the market to new collectors. Eventually a new set of customers emerged. During the pandemic my print sales dropped, but my orders for original art has flourished-opposite of some previous trends. I was not expecting that welcome development. I admit I was a doomsayer, and am glad for all artists to be proved wrong.

  11. Thank you for your upbeat approach. I am noticing that reaching the right segment of the population is key. Also, seeking out opportunities with a keen eye is also helpful.

  12. Rebeca
    2020 was a difficult year for me. I was involved in 2 digital on-line shows. I am sure it was just as hard for shows and galleries because we all had to learn how to handle this new selling experience. I went into them without a realistic idea of how complicated it would be and how weak I was. Some of the platform were not as reliable as I hoped, I should have been responsible for own education.
    I am going to concentrate on my website which needs help and focus on the collectors I have gathered . The digital show did to a great job of putting me in front of people that had not seen my work which as great.

  13. I totally agree. This past year was one of my best. I was pleasantly surprised. I’m wondering about a couple of other variables that might have also influenced art sales. One, we had a lot of people sitting at home much more (and will continue in many cases) than “normal” and may have developed a desire to improve there their surroundings. Another variable, there are many people who saved a good bit of money due to a big cut in spending on other items (trips, going out to eat, etc.). Most of my sales were from my larger, more expensive pieces.

  14. It’s truly amazing how good the art market was here (Tucson) in 2020. There were ample online sales for most of my colleagues and some galleries. I moved across country in 2020, so I’m playing catch-up, but I meet with a group of professional artists once a week and sales have been good for most of them. It’s all so exciting!

  15. I agree, personally I have seen an uptick in sales in 2020, pandemic and all. It could be coincidence, but it could also be the result of the increased amount of time I have put into marketing. It’s hard, but not impossible.

    1. Truth in the argument that cheaply made decor is in and millennial buyers are easily bored and fickle in their decorating. To claim the art industry is ‘fine’ depends on your market, location, buyer’s financial status and age. The pandemic lends itself to short term trends. Hard to break Into now if you weren’t already established.

  16. Thank you for the uplifting thoughts. Glad to hear there is a sweet spot between $2 – 8k. That opens a huge market for artists.

  17. Hi Jason, Love that positive energy! My 2020 was only slightly down, perhaps because of gallery discounts due to COVID. But I have to say that my best years ever came from abundant sales in Scottsdale some years ago. I’m still pinching myself that after all these years, I’m still getting paid to have so much FUN! – Chuck

  18. I’ve always created art for the fun of it.
    I can’t remember a time in my life when I did not create art in one way or another. (Painting, Pottery, Stain Glass and even String Art etc.) Even now in my later years I spend 5-6 hours a day in my studio painting. I guess I’m lucky because I don’t really paint for money so don’t notice a down turn in the art market. I would think if someone saw a painting and just had to have it and had the disposable income to afford it they would buy it. I know I would.

  19. It would be interesting to see some empirical evidence to back up your hypothesis. I wonder if there is any out there.

  20. Thanks so much for this Jason. I am sitting in my pop up art gallery, (determined) trusting that sales will follow. But more importantly knowing that arts will always transcend the politics of the moment. Art is where everyone is equal and I adore it for that.

  21. I’ve always attributed low sales to my own efforts or skill, or lack thereof. My art=my responsibility. Period! As I’ve sought to improve my work and improve my online presence, my artwork has seen slow but steady progress. I also paint in two genre’s; indoor murals (my bread-and-butter) and fine art oil paintings (my life’s passion). So when the pandemic first hit, murals came to a screeching halt. Instead of decrying the loss of income, I concentrated on improving my skills with oils. This resulted in two things. My work improved dramatically enough that I gained the confidence to apply for membership in one national and one international artists’ group. And in achieving that, I realized I could leverage it to bring my passion into the spotlight online through my blog and newsletter, which in turn resulted in more sales. When Michigan opened up for indoor contractors, I was immediately in high demand because a lot of other muralists held back. So in 2020 I ended up with more mural commissions in the second half of the year than in both prior years combined. Now, during the typical slow season for murals, I’m getting more painting commissions. The moral of that story?….. have at least one other selling opportunity in place, and just keep swimming!

  22. I have had great results in just the last 3 months. I have sold 3 paintings and 2 collages. I also had my banner design chosen in a competition and earned $1,000 for that. So this has been a fantasy experience after the severe drought starting in the Great Depression. I continued to market and do all the things that all the classes told me to do that I took to find the magic marketing source.

    And I have to admit I had many conversations with other artists about how people just didn’t buy art anymore for exactly all the reasons you mentioned in this article. But I persevered because there is nothing that keeps my spirit up and my mind active like creating paintings that voice my inner message. It finally started to pay off. Not by social media but by personal contacts that had previously viewed or purchased a small piece of my art at an art opening or at one of my exhibitions.

    I just hope it continues because I have many paintings sitting here that have never even been seen. Being a fine artist is really so much work today. Some mentors even suggested that artists reduce their prices by 40-50%. I struggled with that but decided to stick it out for awhile longer. Let’s hope that this trend to buy original art continues because it really feels great when someone purchases your art for the affirmation that you have reached a like mind and spirit.

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