Some artists hate me. If you don’t believe me, just take a moment to look through the comments on my social media posts. In a comment left on a recent post where I suggest artists should consider focusing on quantity over quality (for the record, my suggestion is that quantity leads to quality), a commenter said, with what I could only read as disdain, “Because galleries want to make money.”
As a gallery owner, I find this kind of remark curious. I mean, why would that be a bad thing? When I opened my gallery in 2001, I did so to make money. To be fair, I also opened the gallery because I love art and working with artists. I could have chosen an industry where generating profit would have been easier, but I have a passion for art and business, and it’s been extremely gratifying to build a career by combining the two.
There is a strong sentiment among some artists that money and art don’t mix. Some think that applying business principles to art somehow corrupts the purity of the artistic process. Indeed, for some, selling is selling out.
I concede that there is a risk that an artist who focuses exclusively on sales, to the detriment of originality and creativity, will become overly commercial. I argue, however, that most artists are far removed from this risk and will benefit from a better understanding of the mechanics of the art business. I’ve observed that artists who can implement basic business skills benefit from the increased success they see in their pursuit of art and are enabled to pursue their art more vigorously and devote more time to creating.
At the end of the day, no matter how much some might wish it weren’t so, the art world runs on money.
With that in mind, I want to share five fundamental mechanisms driving art sales. These mechanisms are the core of my business, and I hope that a better understanding of these mechanisms will prove helpful to artists who are hoping to build a business around their art.
These mechanisms are:
- Assembling high-quality, engaging artwork
- Attracting customers
- Effective salesmanship
- Developing customer relationships
- Building reputation
Assembling high-quality, engaging artwork
As a gallery owner, one of my most important jobs is gathering great art to show and sell in our gallery. The quality of our selections determines, to a large degree, the success we will have in selling art.
We strive to work with artists who are creating high-quality, engaging artwork. We strive to select artists whose work we believe in and to help them market and sell their work.
A gallery can have the best artwork in the world, but if no one knows about it, the gallery will not be successful.
We work very hard marketing the gallery and the artists we represent. We do this through various channels, including print and online advertising, social media, direct mail, and public relations.
Our location also plays a key role in attracting interested art buyers.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have many (MANY!) people see the art you are trying to sell. The art business is, in many ways, a numbers game. No matter how great the artwork is, it will not appeal to everyone. It’s critical to have a high volume of eyeballs on the art to generate sales. Marketing and location are key.
Once a customer is in the gallery, it is my job and my staff’s job to sell the artwork. This involves much knowledge about the artwork, the artist, the market, and salesmanship.
It is also important to understand the customer’s needs and match those needs with the right piece of artwork.
Developing customer relationships
The best way to sell art is to develop relationships with customers. We do this by getting to know our customers and their interests and by staying in touch with them even when they are not in the market to buy art. It’s important to always have new buyers exposed to the gallery, but returning customers are the lifeblood of the gallery business.
A gallery’s reputation is extremely important. We work hard to maintain a good reputation by being honest and fair with our artists and customers and by providing a high level of customer service. We pay the artists we represent quickly when work sells and strive to maintain open communication channels with our artists and clients.
This is the art business
If all of the above sounds like business, that’s because it is. I am in the art business, and an artist interested in generating sales of her work will only benefit from understanding how the business works and by implementing sound business principles into her art practice.
Not every artist is interested in pursuing financial success with their art, but for those that are, I don’t believe creativity and business acumen have to be mutually exclusive.
What do you think, can art and business mix?
Do you think art and business are compatible? What have you done to sharpen your business skills? Have you seen benefits from those efforts? How would you respond to an artist critical of those actively trying to sell their art? Share your thoughts in the comments below.