Selling Art | Words that Make a Difference

Several weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who was visiting the gallery and was fascinated with the art gallery business. He is a business owner himself and was curious about the mechanics of the art business. He asked a lot of questions about how I decided what art to show, how the relationship with artists worked, and about the challenges of the business.

I love talking about art and the art business and he probably ended up learning more than he ever would have wanted to know. As he was leaving the gallery he said, “This seems like a really interesting business, and it seems to me that the art would just sell itself!”

I just smiled . . . if only that were true! While there are those times that exactly the right buyer appears and finds exactly the right art, it is much more frequently a significant amount of effort to close a sale.

If you’ve followed my writing here at reddotblog, or attended one of my webinars or seminars, you probably already know that I take the art sales process very seriously. I consider sales a craft, and as such I have become a student of salesmanship (I should probably call it “salespersonship” to be more accurate).

Very early on in my gallery career I picked up a copy of Zig Ziglar’s classic sales book “Secrets of Closing the Sale.” Even though Ziglar wasn’t in the art business, his timeless advice about how to close a sale has helped me countless times over the years. Some of his advice has to be adapted to fit our business, but his core outlook on the sales process applies to any sales opportunity.

While much of what I learned in the book makes its way into my daily sales life at a subconscious level, there is one page in “Secrets of Closing the Sale” that I consciously think about quite frequently. In chapter 22, Ziglar talks about words that help sell. He provides a list of 24 words that should be used when attempting to sell. The first word he mentions is your client’s name – and if you’ve read my book “How to Sell Art” you know I am a big fan of using a client’s name repeatedly throughout a contact.

Not all of the other words apply to our business, but the ones I find particularly apropos are:


These words help create a positive atmosphere around you and your art.

Even more helpful to me are the words he recommends avoiding. Again, not all apply, but words to vigilantly avoid include:


You’ll notice I bolded several of the words – these are the words I find I have to make the most effort to avoid (and are all closely related to the question of $). I recommend that you avoid talking about the “cost” or “price” of your art, and instead talk about the “value”.

Even though we might think of those words as synonyms, there is a world of difference between a sculpture that has a cost or price of $3,000, and one that has a value of $3,000. Take a moment and look these three words up in your dictionary and you will see that the first two have a negative connotation (you’re losing or giving up something), while value is positive.

Ziglar also discourages the use of any profanity when conversing with a client. Vulgarity won’t necessarily kill a sale (though it might), but it’s never going to help make one.

Making a conscious effort to select the right words is particularly important when working on any marketing or advertising copy, when speaking with a client or a gallery that might want to represent you, and when you find yourself negotiating to close a sale.

If you don’t believe that word selection is important, I would encourage you to experiment with your word usage and see what impact it has on your sales.

Have the right words made a difference in your sales? Are there particular words you try to use or avoid when interacting with a customer? Have the wrong words ever cost you an art sale? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

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, 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.


  1. I always discuss value, never price, whether it’s a painting or graphic design work, or whatever. Great tips!

  2. Thanks for simple bits to aid me in thinking toward sales. My old man accuses me of always being in ‘lala land’ and this is mostly true. Concrete advice really helps bolster my thoughts toward selling, the hoped-for outcome of making the art.

  3. When I am dealing with customers in my gallery, I try to incorporate the strength to a piece as well. It helps to instill in the customer that the work they are considering is thought out, has substance, and is enduring in quality. I use such words as : solid, architectural, strength, foundation, armature, etc. I apply this to both sculpture and painting. An example may be a statement such as : The architectural foundation for this composition was built upon the artist’s own personal experience when he was living in Chicago and working in a factory. Or thinking of another particular painting, I recall using the statement: “The real enduring strength to this work is not only in it’s skillful execution, but in the alluring mystery which the artist has incorporated into the relationship of the two characters. My advice is don’t wait to figure out what you are going to say about a work of art…Analyze it ahead of time and script it out in your head, or even make notes of it and review it at times. Be honest and sincere with it though, or it will come across as a pitch.

  4. Before I retired and started painting I was in business for myself for 23 years, running a bookkeeping and payroll service from my home. I always discussed value when meeting prospective clients. Some did not recognize that and wound up hiring me later after having a disaster with a bookkeeper who was not qualified, but was cheaper. It did cost them a great deal in the end (especially the ones who wound up with embezzlement issues).

  5. Thank you, Jason.
    It seems that “negative” is front and center in our world just now. It takes real work sometimes to check that we don’t slip into it. There was a phrase when I worked for a large retailer. It was “negative selling”. It was easy to do but not entirely successful. The real poison was that it could easily become an attitude.
    So your lists are doubly appropos.
    I have two instances of wrong word choices that could have been disastrous but for the good graces of 2 artists- one a friend the other well-known. I won’t bore you with the details except to say, a quick, honest response asking to “start again” and changing the tone and words won the day.

  6. I’m sure this is excellent advice, especially the use of positive words, but I myself hate it when a salesperson uses my name repeatedly throughout a conversation. A couple of times is fine, but more than that really grates on me and sounds insincere and annoying. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Perhaps it’s a regional thing and more acceptable out west than here in New England.

    1. I completely agree with you both. I especially notice it because I have a really hard time remembering names, so if I hear someone use mine repeatedly, I automatically think they are doing it because a little reminder alarm is going off in their heads… “use the name! use the name! ” It even annoys me when I am online chatting with, for example, a phone service rep. Once when they are learning it, once in the middle maybe, and once in parting is the perfect amount, I think. BTW I’m in Canada.

    2. I so agree with you, Pamela! I’m originally from New England, now living in Northern Cal, but location doesn’t mitigate insincerity.

    3. I also am disturbed when people who don’t know me use my name in their conversation, or in ads that come in the mail. I don’t think it’s a regional aversion, having lived in many locations during my 75 years, but it might be generational. Many people of my age group expect a certain decorum of respect, and too much familiarity seems inappropriate. I can tolerate and understand when salespeople repeat my name for their own benefit of remembering, and also perhaps when they are saying goodbye. Watch to see if your client reacts negatively to your presentation, and you can change your demeanor to possibly save the sale.

    4. I hear what you’re saying, and you don’t want to overdo it, and you don’t want to be insincere, but I promise you that using a client’s name judiciously as you have an engaging conversation is very powerful and positive. It takes some practice to learn how to use clients’ names at the right time and in the right quantity, but once you get the hang of it it’s a great relationship building tool.

  7. At an outdoor art fair I once asked a customer to put down “good faith” money. This was because a neighbor , who was a car salesman told me that was a good thing to do! The customer laughed so hard and said, “what are you a car salesman?”

    1. Patricia, that is pretty funny, in light of the car salesman link! But what else are you supposed to do if someone asks you to hold a piece? I hate those situations. . . “Sure, I’ll just set it aside so that you can get my hopes up and have me turn down other chances to sell it while you dither, all because you were too dishonest to simply walk away without saying something you didn’t mean.”

      1. the proper word is deposit
        it should be gently suggested that they could take a chance that the piece will still be available by the end of the show but a deposit would definately hold the piece for them and they could pick it up on the way out after the fair, it should be 20-25% or an amount large enough that they will make a decision whether to “think” (which is ok) or walk away (still ok – give them a card and paperwork, brochure) or agree to purchase , i mean adopt your art

        just so you know “good faith money” screams con-artist

  8. When I was working hard on marketing one of my books about being bullied I had gone to workshops on marketing read the book you are writing about, I had done a number of things to learn marketing. One day, I was sitting at my computer and I had just had enough. So to lighten my day, I put in my Billybob teeth and I turned on YouTube and I made a silly video using every one of the wrong words. Lol! It was very silly, but it made me chuckle!

  9. There’s some unwritten law in art circles that says ‘artists are not supposed to SELL their art’.
    I’ve been a full time artist for 30 years and I love to promote my work ( it’s exciting too) although that also is somewhat forbidden in many circles ( I know – gallery owners have scolded me ).

    Here’s what I’ve noticed, except for cold blooded investors who are only in it to make money selling art as a valuable commodity, it has been my experience that art is a passionate and beautifully impulsive transaction. The artist loves to create and will give everything s/he owns to pursue the magic of creating, and the collector or person wanting the art does likewise.

    So I agree with your list of words to avoid indicating a SELL is what’s happening. It’s more like sex, you have the foreplay ( seeing value ), and then the orgasmic act of possessing the work.

  10. I was at a farm show event and because my artwork featured farm related subject matter, I had a booth selling my artwork there. I had a viewer admiring one particular painting. He mentioned he really liked this piece but he would not be able to consider buying it as it was more than he would be able to afford. Without really thinking, I responded my art wasn’t for everyone (which, in retrospect was an arrogant response) but really appreciated his positive comments and interest. Surprisingly, he seemed bothered that I was insinuating he wasn’t in “the group” of people who could by my artwork. He came back later and bought it.

  11. remove the word BUT from your language! instead use AND!
    BUT drops you in a negative hole you have to crawl out of, to being again…AND continues the conversation!
    It is amazing how it keeps the conversation going in a positive note.

  12. I loved how you made it so easy to understand the art of the sale. Its always a happy event when I learn a new fun way to close a sale to someone who values my painting, and deserves to have it hanging in his own space.

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