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.

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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

10 Comments

  1. I’m curious if you’ve ever sought out a certain kind of art that you particularly wanted to sell. While realizing that certain local market trends might guide you toward selling styles or types of artwork because you know they’re profitable in your venue, are there also genres or styles that you think “should” be promoted? Have you ever looked for the kind of art that you particularly admire with an aim of selling it, even as perhaps just one element in the overall inventory of your market? “I like this for reasons x, y and z; I think this art is something that really matters; I’m going to promote it experimentally and see what happens.” Do you ever do that — where you contact the artist rather than the other way around? Just curious.

    1. Great question Aletha – I like to think that I’ve done that with every artist I’ve brought on. Just as I am encouraging artist not to try to create artwork that they think will sell, I also don’t just want to bring on artwork that I only admire for commercial reasons. I think what you’re asking in essence is, have I ever brought on an artist who I suspected would not do particularly well in my market because I believed in the work for other reasons and hoped I could create a market for the work. I have done this with varying degrees of success over the years.

      There have also been times that I have regretfully told an artist that as much as I personally love their work, experience has taught me that their style or subject matter simply is not going to sell in my gallery. In the long-run I would hope that these artists are able to find venues that are a better fit – after all, I’m not doing an artist a favor to take on their work and then have it languish in my gallery because it isn’t a good fit.

  2. Jason, I love this article and the way you handled it. Artists can fret over what will sell, and try to adjust accordingly. My insight is only from this one artist over a 35 year career. It seems to me that the more passion I pour into a work, the more likely it is to sell. Maybe not in every case, but most. I am so glad to hear the ending of your letter where you encourage us to create what we are passionate about. Kudos! You are a true blessing in the world of art and I am sure many will take what you say to heart.

  3. And things are so different regionally. Like the interiors you showed in the last 2 pix look as if they have very high ceilings. So a 24 x 36 would get lost in that setting.
    Here in the northeast, people don’t typically have much wall space.
    I do the best I can to always have smaller pieces to augment the bigger (for me, 24×36) b/c the bigger pieces hook people in even if they can’t buy them.
    Thanks for your sensible insights!

  4. Yep, you can’t tell from one painting to the next, or one year to the next, what’s going to sell. I’m just painting what I love and loving what I paint. I’m having fun, and I have to say my collectors have more fun, too.

  5. I DO think that the more prolific you are, the more you sell. I’ve vern painting up a storm this week, practicing for an Art Battle Event, where you have 20 minutes to do a painting. I’ve been posting them on my social media, and each one that I post gets more engagement that the last…..and I’ve sold three this week!! And I don’t have a website or an email list yet.

  6. About 6 months ago I painted a larger piece, 40X30 and put a higher price than I normally do. I took it to an art show on a small tourist island off the mainland and hoped it would sell. I painted it because I had an instinctual urge to do so to satisfy my muse. It did not sell at the show and I asked a local gallery to carry it. She didn’t have room for it and put it on the floor against the t-shirt shelves. She put a higher price on it even. 2 days later a couple came in and saw it. They felt it was just perfect for their home. They bought it after going home, measuring their wall and deciding it was what they were looking for to express their love of my subject matter. Of course the gallery owner was ecstatic, so was I. She never sold that type of viewpoint before in a painting. I will do more but my muse and the timing has to hit me just right. I like to paint different subjects, either seascape or landscape, figurative or still life. Just do what you love is right, it is most satisfying and can be rewarding financially.

  7. Ok…. I love that the first photo is upside down……
    As a former perfectionist I would have once upon a time cringed if I’d missed something like that BUT being that perfectionist prevented me from pursuing that which is most passionate to me!
    Kuddos to to you for addressing the pursuit of what is passionate in the work we do!!!!
    I paint with a balance of mindfulness and full abandonment….FINALLY trusting myself to use the unexpected for new insight.
    Each passion driven painting seems to find its proper home, in time🙏😇
    Perhaps one day we’ll meet and discuss art and life…until that time: Thank you for your blog, this artist appreciates having found you this way.

  8. Doing a search on Google I found that there are several art genres listed as most popular. They are: modern or semi abstract landscapes, abstracts, dogs, figure studies, seascapes, wildlife, impressionistic landscapes, nudes…. in that order. Having done this search before it would seem that landscapes usually comes out on top, whether realistic or partly abstract.

    But also looking at some of the major artists today I find a lot of contrasts. On one hand Jeff Coons makes outside the box works and sells a lot for big bucks. Kind of crazy semi abstract works by Jean-Michel Basquiat are hot right now and sell for big bucks. Lichtenstein is up there as an abstractionist as is Jackson Pollack. Hirst, Freud, Kapoor are up there with styles of their own that don’t fit in the box. And David Hockney may be the contemporary artist best known for his landscapes.

    Looking over those very successful modern artists I am finding it hard to get much guidance on what style to pursue that can me bring fame and fortune. They all have a separate uniqueness. Hence I prefer to just set and follow my own path as an artist. At least I have one fan of my work to count on, myself. And often times also my wife and many of my friends.

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