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.

IMG_5979
EinsteinIMG_20141213_105024Last year we sold a lot of monumental sculpture. This year were selling more paintings and other wall art.

img_20161115_105240img_0276fullsizerender2

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.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

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 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

40 Comments

  1. I appreciate YOU so much. I bought your book “Starving to Successful”a couple of years ago and it was so informative and have read almost all your newsletters since then. You are such a high consciousness man to want to help others when you could keep all the info to yourself. I love all your newsletters and your point of view. You are so on top of things and artists often don’t have that business sense. Thank you so much for being in this world and making it a better place on so many levels. Aloha from Hawaii, Dianne

  2. Thanks Jason~
    I had a discussion with a fellow artist last Friday night about finding the appropriate gallery fit… I thought I’d ask you this question for a good blog topic:

    Do galleries look for artwork like the art that they show or do they look to fill a gap for what they don’t have? I used to think I needed to find a gallery that showed work like mine but when I approached a few galleries they said they already had artists who had work like mine. Then I thought to check out a gallery that didn’t have work like mine but it doesn’t seem like a good fit to find an abstract gallery for expressionistic realism. I’m thinking maybe the best fit is a gallery that carries a variety but has a “hole” for my style. Would you agree? For example, how many expressionistic realists vs. abstract, vs contemporary, vs. photo-realistic, vs. traditional realist painters would you carry at an particular time? More than one of each I would imagine but when do you (or do you?) worry about one of your artists competing with another?

    Also, wondering what you would consider the style categories? Was my list a good representation of styles? I left out impressionistic but it would obviously be in the list too… When talking to a gallery, they always ask what style so it would be great to have a current list to choose from.

    Thank you for your insights~
    Jeannette Stutzman

    1. Good questions, Jeannette.

      Thank you for this opportunity. Jason, you do carry what I would call contemporary work. Another successful gallery I know also specializes in contemporary painting and sculpture so I would say contemporary work is what your buying public is looking for, or what you and he know the most about.

      I would ask where one-of-a-kind clay pieces fit in to the art picture. I feel clay is far down on the fine art food chain due to old perceptions of its place as craft. I shall keep doing my best to break this glass ceiling and would really like to hear an opinion from someone in the know but not so close to clay.

      Thank you. I feel better already.

  3. Right on Jason! No better answer than to make the art you’re passionate about making. It’s good to pay attention to the market a little bit, but not let it heavily influence the true nature of who you are as an artist. My goal for the coming year is to make the artwork I’m most interested in making and not what I think others expect me to make.

  4. When my sales are down, as they have been this year. I really do begin to question my work and begin to wonder what is selling…maybe i should do that instead. And I have tried that route of reinventing myself. It doesn’t work. Keep an art journal, experiment daily, allow that to direct and influence and style your art work to be your personal best. If its good work, your best work, someone will fall in love with it and have to have it.

  5. I’m on Oahu, population around 1 million I think and although I would absolutely love to paint portraits, I find what sells here for me is landmarks and landscapes of Hawaii. The tourism industry is big especially with the Japanese because they want to take home a “piece of Hawaii”, so I stick to that. Not sure if others have found that location is utterly important. I will continue to do what I am doing which I do enjoy, but would be curious if I would be successful say on the mainland or other countries?

    1. Short answer, probably not. 13 years I lived and sold on Maui, now 17 years I’ve lived in Scottsdale, AZ. On Maui, I paid my bills and sold regularly, I still haven’t found a gallery to represent me here… for you, it could be different. Wish I was still on Maui

    2. Yes you are right. I life on the Big Island And I am a gallery manager.
      Most but not all of our customers are on an Hawaiian vacation and go for
      Something that reminds then of their visit. I promote mostly Hawaiian themes, seascapes, landscapes, flowers, birds, etc. This month’sexhibit Is Oceans and marine animals. I do have one artists that does modern art and one abstract artists for variety but honestly the traditiona Hawaiian art is what sells.

  6. It’s probably easier to advise on subject matter rather than medium as location tends to drive the topic. Having lived in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon), mountain landscapes, indigenous animals and western themes did well. In the Southwest (Santa Fe), the same topics but desertscapes and more Southwest Indian. Catholic themes such as saints and churches were popular too. I’m now in the Southeast beach area where coastal themes sell well. I am not a traditional artist so my challenge is synergizing style and theme. Although best selling media can be trendy, I find more confidence in pinning down themes.

  7. I’m not surprised that monumental work goes in streaks. And when it comes to media, there’s always a new way of doing something, or a very old way being rediscovered. If by “kind of artwork,” you think “media.”

    But what if, by “kind of artwork,” you mean subject? Sometimes I may have a hard time putting brush to canvas, but it’s more often because the only ideas I have are more complex to execute than I’m in the mood to attempt at the time than a lack of an idea to paint. More often, I suffer from “too many ideas” syndrome. My last three paintings were a recreation of a WWII submarine event (that I hope to expand to a series of 4-7 paintings), a floral still life from a “paint this photo” challenge, and a Christmas scene I’ve been kicking around for a few years. What next? In the last month, started looking into the various theories on why the Edmund Fitzgerald sank. Do I start working on one of the concepts for a laker painting that this has inspired? Do I go back to my WWII submarine series? The next “paint this photo” challenge (it’s a California seascape)? Or do I start that cowboy painting I’ve always wanted to do? Having an idea of what kind of SUBJECTS sell well might help make the decision.

  8. Hi Jason, I’m doing research on how art sales went for a number of artists who “report” to me on occasion. I’ll release a blog after the holidays, most likely in mid January. Several full time artists who sell at a number of venues have had very good sales in the last 4 months. Those artists sell work through a variety of venues, but much of it was sold via direct sales at shows/events and then followed by sales and commissions after those events.

    The artists who are doing well with gallery sales have a distinct , recognizable style of their own even if they are traditional in style.

    My conclusion, although I can’t say my statistics are scientific, is that artists whose work is recognizable as their own stands out from the crowd. Secondly, artists who engage personally with buyers usually make secondary sales from them.

    One artist in TX, his gallery sales are down this year for the last 5 years, he’s sold larger works through galleries and 9×12 and smaller at his workshops and from his website. He teaches a lot of workshops, so he’s got a built in audience there.

    The interesting thing about this artist is that he used to show his smaller work on his website with a “buy” tab, but now he asks to be contacted for the sale. He mentioned that while he expects to lose sales, he forms a relationship with the buyer when they contact him and that has led to future sales from this same buyers since they often sign up for his email newsletter. He does post prices, but interested parties need to contact him to purchase the work

  9. I no longer care and am just ever so happy to paint what I love. Thus the inventory is growing and I’m learning. I believe the money will come. Thanks for your posts though I seldom comment I sure appreciate what you do!

  10. I live in Brisbane Australia and although the little gallery I display in does reasonably well some months, other month’s sales can be dramatically slow. We are a member based gallery and man the place only from Fri, Sat and Sun – this can be limiting of course. But the major reason for art sales across our country to be way down (I have spoken to many who display or own galleries from all around the state of Queensland and Australia) we are in a bit of recession, with the possibility of a proper recession on the horizon. Our credit rating was under threat but is still OK for the moment. Everyone is guarded about what they buy. We are waiting for your new president to do well as it seems to reflect a lot on what happens here. So the art market is often affected by politics as well.

  11. Jason, Thanks for all of the information you give all of us!. One question I have since I work mainly in colored pencil and graphite is, even though Colored Pencil is considered fine art now days, when people are so crazy about paintings will colored pencil ever have a chance in galleries? I work with colored pencil on suede board and many times people assume it is a painting and it has a really soft look. I painted in acrylic for 20 years before starting colored pencil (should I change back???) but colored pencil is my passion!! I have a lot of local people that really praise my work, but when I spend all my spare time producing it there’s no time left to market it……….Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and the best year ever in 2017! Thanks for all the time you spend helping artists.

  12. Once again, thank you Jason for confirming the obvious that gets covered up by our fear. When I was in graduate school Ron Nagle, a prominent ceramic sculptor and head of the Art Dept, was adamant that we pursue only what was in our nature to pursue. He often refereed to Giorgio Morandi and his vision and beautiful paintings! I often think of this advise. But I have to admit that in the absence of prolific sales of my work, I find that the fear creeps in. To combat this, I have set up my support system to be there for me during just these types of blind relapse, to remind me of what they see in my work and how I must never falter. This is so very important! So thank you again Jason for reminding us of our Vision and of our LOVE for what it is that we do.
    Many Blessings for Health and Creativity during this Holiday Season and the New Year!
    Betty Jo

  13. Artists can drive themselves nuts trying to answer that question. I’m not even sure it is a valid consideration if you want to build a body of quality work. You may work yourself to exhaustion trying to satisfy the current “hot” subject matter only to have it go stale in six months.
    Regional can be in demand and sell well … until you get tired of painting the same thing. Southwest is never out of style, if you can reach those patrons. Livestock, Western … almost generic here in Texas. But not everyone is a cowboy. Cityscapes if you live in the city, landscapes in the country. Maybe. Florals. Maybe. Abstracts are somewhat universal. Still life across the board; whimsy can be tagged on to that. Just when you think you have it figured out a sale can come out of nowhere … of your least favorite painting. I have a few I’m surprised they haven’t sold.
    Technique and style may have more to do with it than subject matter. *shrug* I generally paint what I want but would paint more Asian if I could fine a market for it. I’ve succumbed to Regional demand to a degree. The problem is a glut of Regional artists and I would be just one more.
    Paint what inspires you … it will make you happier.

  14. I have a question about the climbing men I see in one of the photos in thus email.
    Where can I buy them or similar work??

  15. I think an artist could go crazy as it were, trying to tailor his or her work to what the public will buy.
    I have sold a variety of pieces, in subject matter, all in realism style, from fish to flowers, animals to an image of chair sitting in a field of flowers. Landscapes, cloudscapes, a drawing of old worn out leather gloves have all found homes.
    I have been exploring the galleries in the DFW (Texas) area and a vast number of the more successful seem to handle only contemporary art. I feel my work would not be a good fit.
    The one thing I focus on, now is not painting what might sell. I paint what I enjoy painting.
    Everyone’s taste in art is different; it is a very personal and individual choice.
    By being “true” to yourself and your art, believe there is a niche or market for your work. By consistency and producing quality work, you will find it. By trying to produce work you think or hope will sell is a road to frustration.

  16. Trying to figure out what is hot in the art market is like trying to figure out what the juror for an exhibition will choose. I agree that you have to paint your passion and keep looking for galleries. If your search is broad enough you will find galleries who can sell your work. At least that is my hope.

  17. Each one of us, working artists, is inspired by different emotions, subject matter, mediums, etc.
    I say …find what truly speaks to your soul and transfer your heart’ s passion into your artwork. That art will sell.
    Do not paint what sells just to make sales. That would be selling your soul.
    Unless we are going thought desperate times and desperate measures have to be applied to survive …then anything goes I guess.

    I find that close to Christmas small works sell very fast. And January sales are very very slow due to the big spending done in December.

  18. I agree, paint what is inspirational to you. Try to find a unique way to express the subject and do series. This way the subject can evolve .
    As for sales, living in two places is complicated. People know me and buy my work in the east. My art sales in Utah are difficult. There doesn’t seem to be as much interest in art or in buying art. I hope to put more time into finding a gallery in the west to.prove me wrong.

  19. This is a good article in that it makes one reflect on why they create art. Unfortunately the commodification is a necessity for most of us…

  20. I totally agree that an artist should paint what they are drawn to paint, not chase after the latest hot trend. My daughter is always urging me to see what art is currently selling and to paint something similar. She would like to see me make a little more money from my art and doesn’t understand my stubborn insistence on painting what I love to paint and in my own way.

    Thanks for all the wonderful, informative articles Jason. Very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year to you, your family and staff!

  21. Wishing all of you a Blessed Christmas.
    Thank you for all your encouraging posts.
    Sure need your professional guidance.

  22. Thank you, Jason. I live in the rural Virginia, very close to the Blue Ridge mountains, among peach and apple orchards and vineyards. So, I have been selling really well this year. I sold around 60 paintings this year, through various venues, but mostly through my first gallery which started representing me since March this year. I sold all my paintings with the Blue Ridge mountains. People love the mountains any time of the year, especially in the afternoon hours and at sunsets. Also, they love to buy blooming meadows, with wild flowers, country roads, blooming peach or apple orchards, creeks or ponds with trees reflections, especially in the fall. Fall reglections is a very popular subject. Sunsets are very popular. I just sold a small sunset. And I had sold another one from the same lucky place I know near my house. Also I noticed people love flowers, mostly women, but me buy my outdoor still life with flowers. I sold all of them, the ones I created here in the US within the past 4 years. In Russia I sold 25 outdoor still life with flowers only to one buyer. She was crazy about my florals. People tend to buy spring and summer landscapes more than fall scenes, though the fall is gorgeous here in Va, still I have sold more paintings of the mountains done in the spring and summer. They love a more realistic approach, a limited palette, not very bright colors. I sold some of my impressionistic stuff, with bold colors, but not much. I sold more of my colorful landscapes in Russia, where my devotion to color found more understanding of the buyers. As I am making a living as an artist I am pretty much concerned about what I am planning to paint. I don’t want to waste my time and effort on something which may be unsold, so I try to focus on what may be really interesting for a potential buyer. And I believe that an artist SHOULD be selective about what he intends to paint and should follow the market to a certain extent. Otherwise he won’t be able to survive as an artist. The phrase “I enjoy painting and I will paint what I like” may be ok at the beginning of an art carreer, but the more you work the better you feel what you need to paint to sell well. Another thing is that you may paint what you want for yourself, but paint other stuff for sale.

  23. Thanks for your insights. You are wise not to make predictions. Professionally I would be reluctant to tip off my competitors! I have been painting railroad art all my professional life. I sell direct, mainly because I know how and where to sell it. Over time this market has aged out, and I find myself at a crossroads. Changing genres of what you create as an artist is like turning a ship in a channel-it is going to take time-maybe a year or more. I am also looking to change mediums as well, so it will be like starting all over again. That process will start this spring, with photo expeditions and a new camera. It is exciting ,but leavened with moderated expectations. In the meantime I plan to continue painting what sells.

  24. Thanks for sharing. As artists, I think we all go through doubting times. Your experiences, although not as an artist, are and have been very helpful and relevant. Also, Your encouragement goes along way. Thanks again for all the information.

  25. Thank you Jason for not pigion holing us. Passionate art work, regardless of medium sells. It’s a guess at best and depends on location, buyers, and disposable income…. And we love new home buyers in the $500k plus range just looking for the perfect piece of whatever medium fits that special room.

  26. Thank you for addressing this issue, Jason…my husband is always asking me to find out what is selling and to then paint that. He has been supportive of my painting, but as he is approaching retirement, he would LOVE for me to make more money at my art. Now, I have a great article with great comments that I can have him read…I do so enjoy reading your Red Dot blog, and I have learned much from it and the comments section. Thank you, all!

  27. Thank you so much for your wonderful articles (I’ve read Many of them!). I do have a question, though you may have covered this and I’m unaware….but I’ve been wondering what type of varnish on a painting seems to be more preferred by collectors? I love the color saturation of gloss but not the reflective quality . I’ve tried using satin for an in between but cannot get fully satisfied! Thanks for any thoughts on the subject!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *