What Kind of Artwork Sells Best?

I’m often asked what kind of artwork sells best – traditional or contemporary, paintings or sculpture, large or small works?  On its face, this is a pretty easy question to answer – all I have to do is look over my sales records to see which media and subjects have been selling the best. We’re constantly looking at this kind of information in the gallery to get a sense of where our sales are coming from. I’m hesitant to share this information, however, because I’m not certain how helpful it is for artists who read the blog.

The problem with this kind of data is that we are in such a small industry that it’s very, very difficult to draw truly useful information from these kinds of statistics. Sales can fluctuate dramatically from month to month, and what’s selling today, may not be selling tomorrow. I wouldn’t want an artist to change direction or think that what he or she is creating can’t sell because it’s not what’s “hot” at the moment.

Last year we sold a lot of life and monumental size sculpture. This year we sold more paintings and other wall art – a mix of both large paintings and smaller pieces. Our total sales for this year will be up over last year, but the mix is significantly different.

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EinsteinIMG_20141213_105024Last year we sold a lot of monumental sculpture. This year were selling more paintings and other wall art.

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This year's sales have included more wall art
This year’s sales have included more wall art

Because the total volume of sales is so low relative to other industries/products, it’s almost impossible to discern or predict trends. Though our sales of bronze sculptures dipped a bit this year, they could roar back next year.

While I do pay attention to what seems to be hot and work very hard to keep our inventory up for work that is selling well, I can’t afford to put all of our eggs in that one basket. I try to continue to promote a wide range of work so that there are always sales in the pipeline at various price points and in a variety of styles.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that my sales reflect the results of just one gallery in a vast art market. While all galleries will be influenced by trends to some degree, the different kinds of work selling from gallery to gallery will be remarkably diverse. This is true even of galleries that are located next door to one another.

My advice to artists is to continue doing what you’re passionate about doing, no matter what the style or subject. Pursue your work with integrity and consistency, and then find your collectors, either through galleries or through direct marketing efforts. The art market is large enough that no matter what your style or medium, you can find collectors who will be just as passionate about your art as you are.

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

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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

26 Comments

  1. Jason, you are truly one in a million! I love your passion of always trying to help artists in so many different ways. I appreciate you so much!

  2. Jason: I’ve been listening to your advice for years and I completely agree about this blog. I work in a number of styles mediums and subject matters. Whenever I participate in art fairs, which is every so often , I try to take a variety of work, but with perhaps one of my various focuses dominating. And I will usually consider leaving the work that doesn’t fit the dominant theme at home. Invariably, one or two of those pieces sells as well — many times it’s a piece I have not considered for a long time and might have overlooked altogether. So I have learned to believe that although I might have my own artistic agenda, passions and opinions about my work , the buyer is always right. I think it is impossible and fruitless to try to time or second guess the market. Much better to do and show what you love and respect.

  3. I agree Jason
    The moment we start trying to be ‘with it’ or keep in style we’ll lose our way
    By the time we catch up preferences will change and we’ll be behind with our own unique work

  4. Of 2-D work, I suspect that paintings that contain something recognizable sells better, faster than non-objective work. Is that true?

  5. Thank you for the encouragement to follow my passion Jason. I am exploring more abstract work these days. Still falls into what my husband has named “neomosaic”. Love negative space. The contrast between organic and geometric works well too. So fun.

  6. The answer to this question varies by location and demographics and even trends. Here, I am in the Art Museum’s Gallery. It’s an artsy city with lots of young people…My work is representational/impressionist…I sell some there, but I feel they sell more abstract, naive, experimental and non-representational pieces. Sizes range from small for condos to large for the affluent and offices. It’s fun when filmmakers rent them for a few days.
    When I lived in CA, realist landscapes and westerns sold more.

  7. In our little northern community, a lot of what sells are images of life along the docks. We sell a lot of photos, as well as pottery. I am now working on smaller pieces so locals and cruise ship tourists can afford my work and take it home. I DON’T, however, make images of local scenery. Ever the rebel!

  8. On one hand I do realistic/impressionistic paintings on glass and on the other hand I do abstract paintings on canvas. They both sell although rarely does one person buy both styles. I cannot predict which will sell or when, but my mix is probably about 40% abstract and 60% realistic.

  9. Great advice, Jason. A wise person once told me, “we will never be all things to all people, so do what you love first, and those who love it will follow.”

    Thank you for always thinking of ways to help us.

  10. Jason, thank you, I just read your article re: six common mistakes when an artist approaches a gallery.
    Your advice and understanding are spot on with each of the six points. As a mid career abstract artist, I say thank you for your generosity to the community,
    it’s no wonder that Xanadu is a success. Again, thank you.

  11. Thank you for your posts, Jason. But a big thank you for how sensitive you are about what us artists need to hear. Your writing seems like you are asking, “If I were an art person reading this article, what would I want and need to read?”
    I’m reminded that data and how it’s organized has to be focused past tense. The sales, to be recorded have already happened. While it might seem like jumping on the bandwagon is tempting, the bandwagon has already passed by.
    You constantly remind us of two major points. Keep doing what thrills you, and do it consistently. That’s the studio part.
    The marketing is akin to that (but much harder for me personally). Get a routine or process that doesn’t defeat you, and continue it consistently.

  12. I agree with all the comments re Jason and his advice to just keep plugging away doing what we LOVE.
    I have a friend who figured out he could short circuit his way into the abstract/decorative market. He does these huge canvases with house paint. Well, great if they sell, but then what?
    I’ll go my own way and hope for the best.
    Happy New Year, All–and Happy Painting!

  13. Thanks Jason! You are always right on the money. It’s so easy to get pulled in the direction of what’s the hot art item or trend, especially when my own sales are down. But staying true to what I love to paint is THE BEST way for me to be happy and successful.

  14. Thanks for starting this and keeping it going! As an artist I need to keep growing in insight to develop artistically and support myself so I can keep it going!

  15. Create what you are passionate about is advice that is on the mark. There is really no other direction that an artist should follow. If we don’t create works we are passionate about, why are we even wasting our time? Passion sells.

  16. I enjoy reading your posts, thanks for creating them, they always offer some interesting observations.

    I have always followed my own choices in subjects I am passionate about and love to painting, no interest in trying please anyone, if they like my work, wonderful. I love that art is a path of constantly learning and discovery with no end in sight. If some people don’t find my work appealing, that is fine with me. There are enough artists painting in styles and subject matter to appeal to those individuals.

  17. Jason, you hit the nail right on the head. I have felt like this for quite sometime now. This is what you said and it’s so true and I believe it to the core:
    “My advice to artists is to continue doing what you’re passionate about doing, no matter what the style or subject. Pursue your work with integrity and consistency, and then find your collectors, either through galleries or through direct marketing efforts. The art market is large enough that no matter what your style or medium, you can find collectors who will be just as passionate about your art as you are”.
    Great advice.

  18. Jason – I have been in the retail art business since 1978, and I believe your comments here are right on target! 1st – different folks like different kinds of art! AND that, along with the many other factors you address in your column, are the reasons there are no set in stone guidelines or rules when it comes to original artwork sales.!
    Plus, I believe we all buy/collect the artwork we do, because we “liked” that style, medium, subject, etc., etc. and etc. and the price was within our comfort range of price.
    If someone comes in my gallery and they start asking me…..”how much is this piece going to worth 10 years from now”…… my basic answer is: “Buy it because you like it”! There is no better reason or answer. And if you don’t buy it just because you like it and will enjoy living with it every day……….then you bought it for the wrong reason.
    And sales do fluctuate – – for many reasons you mentioned in your article. And/So, no artist should change their style, or typical subject matter, etc because it is not selling well at the moment. Forget “what’s hot” at the moment”………do what you do best, and stick with it. Buyers/Collectors tastes will often change over time…………so again just keep doing what you best, and stick with it!
    I would not propose that an artist, or a gallery, not pay attention to what’s going on around them; and maybe bring new artists and artwork in periodically – – – and sometimes we find out that change was a good thought………and sometimes we find out that change was not such a good idea! But that is just a business decision – – – and a part of running a business – – whether you are an artist or a gallery!
    Someone once told me – – make sure you keep “the main thing, the main thing”!
    I know that sounds a little “simple” – – but think about it!

  19. Thanks for your comments on what type of Art work sells best. I work with Acrylics and do mostly traditional landscapes for over 35 yrs. but the last 6 or so yrs. my sales are so bad that I ve have stopped
    Painting and just run my Art Classes which I have done for some 20 yrs. I am a computer dummy and have
    never tried to market on line and maybe I m missing the boat but as I don t understand how it works so I stayed away from it. I live in a small community of 8000 people which after all the industry left town it s now a retirement town which is one of the reasons for the decline in sales. As i still love to create at age 75 I not sure if I should look at investing in the computer world to see if there s a market. Thanks for taking time to read this.

  20. Of course, good advise to ‘..be true to oneself..” However, there are many reasons why an emerging artist might need to know ‘what sells best?” -they have to start somewhere that lends some success before they get so discouraged they quit altogether.

    It also seems that with the growth of online outlets for art sales (saatchi.com, art.com, etc, etc), the data are there for us to see, if only these online sales outlets would compile them and share them. Maybe there’s a way for a large art advocacy group to partner with, say saatchiart.com, to bring these data to light ?? I think such information would be more inspirational than constraining or misdirecting.

    And just think what gallerists could do with it, vis a vis market research, acquisition of artworks, identification of trends over time across different markets, etc.

    Thoughts?

  21. I found Mr. Horejs, blog to be lacking in specifics. Review the title of the blog.

    He is hesitant about sharing helpful and useful information to the artist increasing his/her sales. I’m perplexed, what was the purpose of the blog? He mentioned briefly what is “hot” presently. Any artist attempting to paint what is trendy or “hot” – my advice, don’t quite your day job.

    Painting successfully for many years I like many have experienced all the pitfalls of selling one’s art, never repeating the same mistake twice, not in today’s competitive art world.

    Ed Dyer PSA/DPS

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