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 record year for sales. I anticipate our sales will be up by almost 20% over last year, and last year was up by almost that over the year before. 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

31 Comments

  1. I’ve been painting for approximately 10 years. Every year I sell a few small paintings and some original art cards. 2018 was my best year ever. I had an open studio and sold nine paintings ranging from 6×8 to 30×40 in addition to many original art cards. Since that event I have been contacted by three people who have looked at my website and purchased paintings. I believe I have finally created a series of work that speaks to people. I am so energized to continue painting and am actively looking for opportunities to display my artwork. So, in short I believe that art is selling – it’s a matter of creating art that speaks to people and finding the collectors.

  2. This is the best year of sales I’ve have since 2008 and agree with what you said about mid market prices which is where I am . I also believe that people that are buying art are looking at quality if they are spending money. The millennials are in a position now to be in the market.

  3. I’ve had exactly one sale of an original this year, and that was during a sale I did early in the year. The prints have been picking up slightly though. I’m wondering if I need to adjust my price for my originals…

  4. Yes the art market can change rather quickly. The art sales were up the first part of the year. The stock market was doing great.But Sales were slow this summer because of low tourism on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea volcano
    did impack our local economy.
    September was up again.and now sales are off drastically againsince October.
    I fully believe that the stock market and problems in Washington. People are concerned here because our economy is based on tourism.
    Will the difficulties continue into 2019? I believe it will. Another recession? Yes
    Art is not a necessity.

  5. I have noticed a gradual up tick in sales of my originals and in my framing business. Both of these businesses are the first to suffer and the last to recover from economic downturns and the recession. I managed to survive the Great Recession (not sure how I did it) so I am confident that I will do well when times are good. I think it wise to declare to anyone especially clients that your sales are good as if you claim bad sales you will more than likely run them off.

  6. Hey, Jason; thank you so much for the words of encouragement. I’m in the middle of that inner struggle you all know: how much do I need to tailor my artistic message so that it’s attractive to more people? That’s the short version, of course; the real thought pattern is more like a closed double helix.

    Those who want to support the vibrancy of art but don’t have the space or finances to do it can look into Patreon. You can sign up for as little as $1/month and support artists (including other media like music) in their efforts to simply keep working. Show them you believe.

    Art is not a necessity, and takes a back burner to many other hierarchical needs. But our souls still need to be fed, and in art there is hope. As the political and ecological situation worsens, look to the artists and poets to bring the message our hearts can understand. There will be a resurgence; it’s already begun.

  7. Dunno, some artists can get rich, some can make a living, some starve. Just depends on their art and their luck I guess.

    I can say none of the areas that interest me seem to be $$ makers. But it does not matter to me since I did not get into it for the $. The area of $ that concerns me is in how $ holds up the progress and taking on projects.

  8. Hi Jason, I am delighted to hear your sales have been good the last 2 years. I have found the same thing here in Canada. Sales had been sparse since 2000, and then in 2017 my sales doubled from 2016. (This was during the time I was taking your Art Business Academy course, so I attribute the increase to the hard work I did as part of the course. I finished ABA one year ago.) It looks like 2018 will be about 10% better than 2017, and this includes doubling the sales of my original watercolours compared to last year. I have had to cancel my spring 2019 watercolour workshops as I need to focus on painting to replenish my inventory. Yay!

    I have found the traditional summer art festivals are no longer worth attending. Instead, I have been focussing on building long term relationships with my 7 commercial galleries, clients, and prospective clients. I do this through a biweekly MailChimp email campaign, an annual Open Studio event, and daily art-related posts on my Facebook profile (not my business page). I had my first sale of a painting via Facebook in June and have sold a total of 10 paintings to my Facebook friends since then. Who knew!? Recently I have started posting on Instagram as well.

    My advice to artists struggling with sales in traditional venues is to explore new venues, including making engaging, educational, and interesting life-of-the-artist posts on social media. You don’t need to build a massive following, just connect with individual fans one at a time, keep showing your work in progress, your finished new work, and announce sold pieces, and eventually your fans will start acquiring your beautiful art.

  9. This is completely off the mark as far as your blog subject goes, but in a way it has a great deal to do with it. I have no idea how to set prices on my work, and have left it open. I’m not sure whether that is an invitation to inquiry or a put-off for most people. What’s your take on this, and just how do you determine how to set prices? Is there a formula you use?

    1. Barbara, take the Xanadu Business Academy course … step-by-step you will be tutored to develop your own plan and all the support materials you need for your specific goals. Jason Horejs personally gives you feed back on each lesson and guidance. I highly recommend it.

  10. Hi Jason, Having survived many ups and downs in sales over the years, my husband and I have noticed some positive changes. We have never really listened to any negativity – it doesn’t fit our life or our art.

    Since May of 2018 our sales have taken off like a rocket. Not only are we selling originals, we’re selling our prints on canvas that are framed and ready for hanging. It is gratifying to know that this is happening even though we do not show our work in a gallery.

    The galleries went out of business all except for one or two in our area, and those two filled up fast with the exiting of those galleries. We were left with the option of finding other avenues to sell our work.

    We have ventured out to the outdoor art festivals and have found that to be a great market for our prints. We also have shown at the largest art show in Boise, ID at Zions Bank for the last five years. We always seem to sell there.

    We do show our work at a local jewelry store right here in Mountain Home, ID. It has been a great venue for us. They had approached us. Also, a store front on E-bay approached us. Both places have sold our original art at a pace that is gratifying. We have been located through a local web-site called Idaho Artists. They sell two, three or four pieces at a time. We have never lowered our prices either.

    Our work is realistic and the nay-sayers have told us that our “kind of art” will never sell. Only abstract and impressionism sells they say. We have proven that to be wrong. We have been told there is no market for us because people want cheap art they can get with their furniture sets at the local furniture store, and we have proven them to be wrong also.

    We are gratified that our work is saleable and not of the cookie cutter variety. We love art of all kinds, but are only satisfied when we know we’ve done the best we can with what we know and have.

    There is room for all kinds of art in this world and someone will like what we artists do, all we have to do is get our art out to the public so they can learn to know us. Social media, is one way, donations to organizations is another. Keep in touch with your buyers and contacts.

    We are looking forward to 2019 to be a record setting year. Thank you for your very informative newsletter. My husband and I are great fans of yours. Robert & Virgia West

  11. While I am an optimistic person, I am also a realist. The art market is influenced by such things as the economy, the stock market, political uncertainty, etc. My gallery sits in a resort oriented town with many other galleries. Personally I had a wonderful year this past season, and consider myself blessed. Many of my fellow gallery owners however were not so fortunate and attributed it to the political air. It is during difficult times that you need to focus on the client with a different approach. I like to convey to the client that the painting which they are interested in is temporarily in my gallery and that it is a buying opportunity for them. I don’t say it in those words; however I casually get my point across to them. I also mention that I have a payment plan which can assist in making their purchase more comfortable if that is so desired. Keep the client’s mind off the price of the artwork and keep them focused on how much they love it. It is rare that art sells itself, so it does require a very positive and optimistic attitude on your part. Use visualization techniques to visualize the public coming into your gallery, shop, show display etc and taking out their credit card or checkbook to purchase your artwork. This helps to create an optimistic and positive atmosphere in which sales are more likely to happen. Ups and downs in the market are normal. The last few years has particularly been difficult for New York galleries. Many galleries could not brace the storm and prior to the president’s election were closing left and right. Last year was much better for them, and overall they experienced a comeback of sorts. I predict the near future to be a challenging one for the art market. The stock market is currently at a low, much of the public questions the stability of our president and his policies, and a nasty campaign is ahead of us. Believe in yourself, stay committed to art, and implement a positive, relaxed sales approach; reminding the public that “now is the time to buy”. Couple this with an optimistic attitude and you will prevail.

  12. Thanks Jason…. this is a great article and a topic that will, no doubt, be revisited.

    Perhaps I can offer a different perspective…

    I think we have two (2) challenges as artists in this regard. First, we often forget that the “art world” is a business. Like all businesses or industries, it continues to evolve and go through cycles (ups and downs). This is particularly true as technology continues to impact what we do and consume every year. Second, once we decide to put our work out into the market place (decide to sell our work) we move from artist to business owner. Most successful businesses, large and small, refortify during the down time and reap rewards during the up time. Refortifying can mean producing more work, taking classes, polishing our skills and most importantly expanding our contacts. Siting around and bemoaning the situation is not productive. We have to able to wear both hats.

    For my part, along with being a photographer, I have spent more than 20 years in sales in the commercial construction industry. During that time, I have seen sales people with a lot of talent fail because they refused to watch trends and understand the business cycle. Furthermore, they would engage in the blame or excuse game and stopped seeing the possibilities. The successful sales people (which are all a type of business owner) understood the business cycles, saw them as opportunities, built their “book” of business during the downtime and wrote (sold) a lot business during the up time. Waiting for things to “get better” never works…it is we as talented business owners that get better/smarter at what we do. Getting better means improving our art skills, business acumen and always seeing what is possible. After all, isn’t that what we as artists or budding artists hope to do for others??

    All the best in the new year!

    1. That’s a very realistic, no nonsense view of what is going on and what is possible. It’s also inspiring to know that we have more control on our art sales but we can’t just sit around and hope. I always feel better about our business after reading Jason’s blogs, and your comments this morning have had the same effect. Thanks!

  13. Although earning a living through my art is not my goal, I was heartened to see that 2018 sales were about 30% over 2017. Studio events are my primary sales avenues, with social media next. I’m on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn (the latter a holdover from my business days), with Facebook being the best for sales. And while I haven’t sold through the IG or LI, they have been effective in bringing in guests to my studio events, which is an important first step in making the sale. No one will buy your work if they never see it.

  14. I set a goal for 2018 to at least cover my expenses which I had never done before. I did that and then some so 2018 was my best year to date. But you are only as good as your last sale so I will need to set new goals for 2019 and just continue to reach out to different venues and to paint. Let’s hope the economy continues in a positive direction and even if it doesn’t I will continue to paint because it’s what I do.

  15. Hi Jason,
    I totally agree that a positive to sales is the best and not giving time to any negative thoughts. My art sales in the past have surpassed my biggest goals. Personally I have sold over 25 larger originals. So in my perspective original unique art is selling. Cookie cutter art and art that appears to compete with the imports don’t seem to be selling. We live in a highly art infused area so there is, at anytime a huge amount of art available. I work hard to be unique and I have also ventured into other areas for payment as well as cash. I accept crypto currency ( the millennials like that) and i also have been involved with trade exchanges and traded art.

  16. I can make the comment that yes, millennials do buy art! I see them in our co-op gallery a lot and although like many others, they will be drawn to items at a lower price point such as cards or soap or pottery, some do purchase original art . Many will buy small pieces, but we alert them to our layaway program if they are longing for a certain larger work . That’s how I bought my first artwork when I was a student .

  17. Jason,
    The prophecy is indeed self-fulfilling. The Christmas season was fast approaching; I created CUSTOM Christmas Cards for a series of Restaurants here in Mesilla and they were very well received. I need to start earlier next year – like July! They all have my contact info on the back along with the local business’s. Each time they send one, someone new learns about “a local artist” and get’s the opportunity to see what I am up to next. Nov. 10th I held a Holiday Open House here at my home. 120- 140 people now know where to look for art. AND perhaps the most exciting was the sale through your ArtSala program which I use. I had someone contact me about a purchase; it is under their tree for Christmas. Hard work pays off. Your advice and business strategy works. But you can’t wait for it to come to you, you must pursue it. Life and Art Sales are what you make it!

  18. It’s been worse. It’s been better. Painting has been my only income since 2001. Inventory was way down (16 pieces) in 2018 after a strong 2017 and I’m still trying to catch up. I am factoring in that low inventory number, more competition and people buying at a lower price point to my slump of 2018.

  19. My art sales are picking up due to the impact of the Art Business Academy. The Academy offered me a systemized way to restructure my art business when I moved accross country. In the Academy, I tackled some sales and marketing strategies that helped me to catch up to current consumer expectations. For example, buyers today expect to see high-quality photos with succint descriptive text online of things they may buy. Also, social media interaction now plays a key role in consumer spending. And, in today’s market, an artist must shift from a passive to a more active sales/marketing role by reaching out to potential buyers and art sales venues. In the Academy, Jason Horejs walked me through the process in a way that I could do that. I’m experiencing sales as a direct result of changes I made via the Art Business Academy. There’s enough material covered in the Academy to keep me growing for a very long time!

  20. This is my best year with an 86% increase in sales year-to-date through November (over my best year) – both gallery and website sales have seen substantial increases.

    I think that a refining of the galleries that show my photography has had a positive impact but overall people seem more willing to spend their money on art.

  21. Great blog topic, Jason. I like to say it’s all about “stirring up the air” in any economic climate. I just did that myself in a rather big way – moving cross country to San Diego. Not for everybody, of course, but I find that when I’m in new circumstances I reach out more than ever meeting new friends, new acquaintances and new buyers. Certainly you can stay right where you are and make that same effort. I’m sure Jason’s Art Academy would do that as well. As Newton says, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” It’s true for people too; we have to be that force. I’ve already got two new acquaintances talking about commissioning my work and a new network of fabulous friends that is expanding exponentially. Yes, it takes a lot of energy but that, balanced with productive studio time, pays off in many ways.

  22. Dear Jason,
    I am an artist, and i follow your blog regularly. Currently I have a question. This coming Jan 17, I am giving a talk to our garden club about “‘How to create your personal art collection” .Most of our members are upper middle class, have a design sense and are sensitive to design, decorating and sometimes Art but there seems to be a renitence when it comes to actually purchasing Art.

    I am open to any suggestions you might have to making my talk entertaining, informative, and helpful to folks who lack confidence to make art purchasing decisions.
    Sincerely,
    Eleanor Dixon stecker

  23. I agree with you on the state of the art market. My sales are up 40% this year. I have been selling a variety of pieces, small to large originals in the $200-$2000 range, commission pieces have been a consistent, revenue producer, and I have a couple of popular limited edition prints that sell in the $300-$450 range, that I have sold a lot of. Overall, a very good year, got some good shows lined up for spring, looking forward to growing and selling even more.

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