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 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. It seems to me many of the words in the second list reduce the art to a commodity. The first list focuses on the experience of the art as a living presence.

  2. As an former gallery owner and arts marketing consultant I trained my staff using the philosophy- you shouldn’t try to sell collectors a piece of art … but give them enough information that they want to give you their money in return for owning the piece-
    From the mid 70’s to the mid nineties Mindscape Gallery was one of the to ten Contemporary American Fine Craft Galleries in the US

    1. I looked up Mindscape Gallery – cool work! Are you still associated with that gallery?

      Great article!!

  3. Love this article , I got to start using some of these words , I will be talking to a new client later in the week , so looking forward in using the VALUE of my piece instead of price .

  4. Asking open ended questions to learn more about the potential buyers preferences….begins easy conversations, and a place to create connection.
    I love the term “transformational vocabulary” For me, having courage and vulnerability to discuss my work in personal terms, emotions, and symbols adds value to the clients experience when considering purchasing my work. When their hearts open, the value is there. It’s no longer about price.
    Thanks for the conversation.

  5. Thank you once again for such valuable insight. Years ago, I was a World Book Representative and we were trained in something much akin to your Ziglar’s “Secrets of Closing Sells”. In a presentation there were at least three parts to closing the sale. Now, I need to apply that to any future chances to sell my Art.

  6. “What is going to work for you?” And “Let’s do it”. Have been particularly useful phrases for me. Just be open and honest with people, and ask for the sale.

  7. One of the best sales people i ever met was an srtist at the Calgary Stampede who innately used this same approach. She could associate to and read clients instantly after years of practice in situations where at most she had one minute to make an impression. The sales were done within 5 minutes. Shows were always sold out with clients lining up for commissions and invites to her studio.
    Words and approaches do matter!!!
    By contrast i also met an artist who was the worst salesman in the world. During a very high end exclusive event he was approached by a buyer who began the conversation by stating he would like to buy a particular work and would pay immediately. [6000 pounds] The artist proceeded to try to sell the client who was already sold. After about 3 minutes of being very forgiving and patient the buyer walked away totally disgusted without the art piece! As the organiser of the event i never invited that artist back. The client did spend his money just not with that artist. [a real head shaker]

  8. stop using the word- but it puts you in a negative hole you need to get yourself out of. Use the word and…the conversation stays on a positive level. .
    1. Thank you for purchasing my artwork but I can’t ship it till next Tuesday.
    2. Thank you for purchasing my artwork and I can ship it next Tuesday.
    “but” takes a positive experience and drops a negative feeling into it.
    “and’ continues the positive feeling!

  9. This is timely for me! I have my first ever solo show at an art gallery, with March 3rd being the day of the Reception. I am beyond nervous to mingle with potential customers….I’m going to print of the list of “do use” words, and the great advice from the other responses too!

  10. Good advice! Thanks
    Never correct the viewer’s perception of the image. I did in early years and they walked away. They see what interests them! Appreciate what and why they like it, be enthusiastic with them.

  11. Thank you for the great post!
    I have noticed that my story, my concept for each piece makes all the difference, if my philosophies align with my potential collector, it’s pretty much a done deal. That’s why I have stories around every piece I place in a gallery or at an art fair. Is this not what differentiates an illustrator from an artist? The concept. The story. The reason you created what you created, versus just having a finally tuned skill, as a good illustrator need to have. “Artists” have something to say, something to share. People don’t buy WHAT you create. They buy WHY you create it. – A slight variation on a quote from the wisdom of Simon Sinek.

  12. Thank you for the helpful advice!

    I find also that sharing the story or meaning behind the artwork also helps people to fall in love with the art. Even if they can’t afford it, they’ll help promote it or do whatever they can to help it succeed because they not only think it aesthetically pleasing but they also believe in its message and experience almost a sense of loyalty to the artist and the work. In portrait art, people seem especially receptive to stories about healing, love, community, and compassion.

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