Artist Survey results
What is the secret to success in the art business? How do artists successfully market their work? What characteristics do successful artists share? These are some of the questions we recently set out to answer in a survey to artists from around the nation.
Here are the questions we asked:
1. What is your primary art form?
2. In how many physical galleries is your work shown?
3. What is the approx. total retail value of art you sold through the physical galleries that represent you in the last 12 months?
4. What is the approx. total retail value of art you sold at art fairs, shows outside of galleries and art festivals in the last 12 months?
5. What is the approx. total retail value of art you sold online, either on your personal website or through online galleries, in the last 12 months?
6. Approximately how many individual pieces of original art did you create in the last 12 Months?
7. What do you consider the greatest factor in success you have experienced in selling your artwork?
8. What do you consider the most valuable art educational experience in your career?
9. How many hours, on average, do you spend in the studio, creating artwork, per week?
10. How do you price your work?
11. Approximately how much money did you spend on producing your own marketing materials in the last 12 months? This can include website costs, brochures, cards, etc.
12. What has been the most effective way for you to approach galleries for representation?
Artists are a difficult group to pin down, and to a certain extent, averages don’t mean much – after all, who would want to be an “average artist”? The results, however, have been enlightening, if not all that surprising. The truth is, there is a secret to success in the art business – it’s the same secret to every other business – hard work, persistence and a little luck.
Though the results below are not scientific, they match anecdotal evidence I have gathered through the past 17 years in working with hundreds of artists. Please also note that the results are not listed in the same orders as the questions, and we have not yet analyzed all of the results, so a number of questions asked above are without results below. Look for future analysis on this data. The focus of this post is production and sales venues. Future posts will cover issues including education, best approaches to galleries, etc.
The Basics (participation information)
These charts indicate the over-all breadth of the survey. You can see that the survey skews toward painters, toward non-gallery-represented artists, and toward artists selling less than $10,000 worth of art per year. In other words, the survey reflects what I expect is the general breakdown of artists in the general population. For the results below, I have filtered the responses to those artists selling $40,000+ per annum.
Amount of Art Created
I have long maintained a key to success for an artist is consistent creative output. Put simply, if you do not have a large body of work out in the marketplace you will find it exceedingly difficult to succeed in the art business. The survey results bear this out.
When asked how many original pieces they were creating in a given year, artists who are generating $40,000 or more in sales responded that they are indeed producing. I have divided the production averages by discipline.
As of publication I didn’t have a large enough sampling of Photographers or Jewelers to count production. When I filter for artists selling $80,000 + the numbers are even more dramatic.
Production cannot always be directly tied to sales, but an over-all corollary seems to exist. The more work an artist is creating, the higher their sales.
I recently received an email from an artist in Florida who took exception to my assertion that artists should set a goal to increase production and that I know a number of artists who are creating 100 pieces per year, or about two per week. No serious artist, she asserted, could possibly create 2 original pieces per week. I responded that it all depends on one’s definition of “serious.” I believe an artist who is serious about the business of art will dedicate the time and energy needed to create a large body of work.
I understood where the artist was coming from, she shares the idea with many other artists that you cannot create quality artwork if you are prolific. Great works of art take time. There is truth to this idea, however, I have found successful artists are artists who are putting miles on their paintbrush or running through tons of clay, glass, etc. While quantity is not the over-arching goal, I have found there is a certain quality which may only be obtained by exploring an idea, a technique or a style extensively.
There would be, it seems to me, two potential paths to success in the art world. The first would be to create an extremely low number of pieces and sell them at incredibly high values. The other would be to produce a larger body of work and be able to sell the pieces and lower values. You will certainly find numerous artists who have successfully pursued both paths.
If an artist chooses to pursue the former path, he/she must realize chances of success are going to be much lower. The artist must basically become a star to generate high values for individual pieces and as the number of artists in the market has increased dramatically and the over-all level of interest in art has decreased in the market as a whole, the math for this path has become much more challenging for an artist.
Especially for the emerging artist, the chances of being able to create a sustainable living without creating a large body of work are almost nil.
Hours spent in Studio per Week
The next result ties in directly to the question of production and that is the number of hours spent in the studio. If an artist is producing a large body of work, he/she must be in the studio consistently.
Average number of hours spent in the studio for artists generating $40,000 + per week: 34.5
Average number of hours spent in the studio for artists generating $80,000 + per week: 36.4
Fewer hours than a full-time job! Of course, this question refers to studio time, not marketing efforts or shows, travel, etc. Truly, the professional artist is always working.
Gallery Sales Vs Personal Sales
In spite of personal efforts to sell artwork directly to collectors, including shows and internet marketing, a majority of artwork sold by successful artists continues to be sold through traditional galleries.
The internet is revolutionizing the art marketplace, making it possible for artists to connect directly with interested buyers. Conventional wisdom 5-10 years ago said collectors would never buy art directly from the internet site-unseen. Buyers, the logic went, want to see, touch and feel artwork before they will consider buying it.
With that philosophy in mind we originally designed our website as a simple reference tool where visitors could go back and see work they had first seen in the gallery and learn more about the artist. It could also keep past collectors informed of new work. I didn’t view it as a direct sales tool to bring new collectors to the gallery.
Imagine my surprise then, once we added a shopping cart feature to the site and started to see buyers, who had never been to the gallery, making purchases from our inventory. The transition to internet buying has been revolutionary and incredibly fast when you consider 15 years ago internet saturation was in its infancy.
Between personal websites, online galleries and online sellers like eBay,™ an emerging artist now has many options to connect directly to potential collectors. With minimal effort and expense the artist can have a sophisticated online gallery in a matter of days.
This being the case, it would be easy for traditional galleries to despair – is there still a place in this independent market place for a high-overhead retailer who takes up to a 50% commission? Why wouldn’t a collector simply pass over the gallery and buy direct from the artist? A recent NPR feature brings this exact question into play: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106061368
As a gallery owner in the 21st century, these are questions I have certainly had to grapple with, and a large number of galleries have simply gone out of business because they couldn’t come up with an answer.
In my opinion galleries are going to have to adapt in creative ways to the new marketplace if they want to survive. We have a chance because the internet, while offering some tremendous advantages to the artist who would like to market directly to collectors, has its stifling disadvantages as well. The sheer numbers of artists who have an online presence is overwhelming. In order for a collector to find exactly what they are looking for they may have to wade through thousands, or tens of thousands of websites. And because there is not a moderator monitoring the quality of the work online, often a collector will give up a search in despair after viewing a lot of bad artwork. A collector may also find it difficult to buy directly from an artist because they are not sure if they can trust the artist to deliver as promised. And, finally, artists selling online, on average, have to sell at much lower prices than those selling in traditional galleries because the competition is so steep. In the NPR feature above it’s interesting to listen to the artists talk about how they have to price their work to compete.
A gallery in the 21st century has a chance to become a filter for collectors. To sift through the millions of online artists and bring them the highest quality work and giving them a reliable venue where they can confidently make a purchase.
The modern gallery has to do far more to promote their artists than did the gallery. The gallery must offer the collector far more information and access directly to the artist. Internet savvy collectors want to have information about the art at their finger-tips. With that in mind, Xanadu Gallery has dramatically increased the amount of information available on an artists page, so that not only do you see the image of the artwork, but also sizing, pricing and background information about the art, and biographical information about the artist.
A gallery must also expand the amount of work they are showing online. Put simply, a collector is not satisfied with a handful of artists and several dozen works of art. I am always interested to see how many pages a collector will browse on our site and how long they will spend looking.
In January 2009, we launched Xanadu Studios, an online extension of our gallery. It allows us to offer a much broader sampling of work to our collectors; response has been tremendous. We have seen a dramatic increase in both online traffic and online sales as we have provided collectors with greater variety, while maintaining our high quality standards.
The take away?
These preliminary results give you a couple of things to think about.
Production. It would be easy to look at the production numbers from the artists in this survey and become frustrated – don’t let that happen to you. Rather than throwing your hands up in despair because you can’t possibly produce 100 pieces per year, I suggest you take the number of pieces you created in the last twelve months, increase the number by 25% and set that as a goal for your next 12 months
- Set a schedule that allows you to be in the studio consistently every day.
- Set a weekly production goal (one painting a week, or one new sculpture every two weeks, or 3 new photographs, or 10 pieces of glass, or 2 new pieces of jewelry, etc.)
- Remove distractions from the studio. Turn the computer (especially the email) off while you are working.
- Set your sights on gallery representation. If you don’t yet have a reliable network of galleries working for you to sell your art, it’s time to commit to expanding your gallery representation efforts. If you’re not sure how to prepare, find, research and approach galleries, consider sitting in on one of our intensive online workshops. The workshop will help you prepare your portfolio, find the right galleries and successfully approach them.
I look forward to hearing your reactions to the results of the survey, and will continue to post results as we analyze them.
J. Jason Horejs
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.