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.

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 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.

8 Comments

  1. Agreed, sales are unpredictable, there are so many factors at play. Case in point: a couple of years ago, I started making a series of tiny collages because a number of people had commented that they loved my work, but couldn’t afford it. This worked out well, especially when I showed the work at a local art fair. Because it was in the lower range of price for all works at the fair, people purchased. However, when the work was available in a small works show later that year, it was in the higher range of price… no one purchased it. I continue to see this playing out, this sense of the work’s perceived value based on its context. And then the whole game shifts when I am selling from my own website. Here, it is a numbers game- how many more new sets of eyes can I get on my work? Because with higher numbers, it is more likely that the work will be a fit for someone.

    Selling is extremely complex.

  2. FWIW, During a one-man show last fall, 50% of the paintings I exhibited were pure abstractions and 50% were semi-representational. While both sold, the pieces with an element of representationalism in them outsold the other 5 to 1.

    1. So interesting! I go back and forth between abstract paintings and semi-abstract landscape paintings. You’re right. Both sell, but the somewhat representational sell more frequently.

  3. Your amazing and such an encouraging force out there love your blogs and thank you so very much 😋

  4. There are many factors which determine what sells faster within specific art markets. It has traditionally been understood that landscapes sold the strongest, followed by seascapes and still-lives, which would be followed by the figure, of which the male figure traditionally sold slower than the female figure. Abstract work seemed to float somewhere in the middle of all of this. That ideology does not actually hold true anymore. I feel that geographic regions and cultural influences are what determine which type of art will out sell another type. For example in south Florida where you have large contemporary homes, ( with big walls) large colorful ,abstract or contemporary work is more in demand than others. Miami leans much more towards contemporary art than the conservative affluent Palm Beach art scene. In New England the walls are smaller and therefore the demand for smaller works is a driving force. New England is a mix of styles, both traditional as well as contemporary/abstract. In Atlanta, you have a very conservative crowd which is reflected in the art scene. The demographics of that area reflect a much younger and diverse population which is taking over, and this is changing the demand for more contemporary work .The wealthy client in Atlanta used to want to see if an emerging artist has first sold in New York before they were likely to purchase their work if it is above a certain price point. That factor is also changing. Charlotte, NC is attracting a younger crowd as it continues to grow, which is also reflected in the art which is selling there. That area is attracted to contemporary work which tends to be more representational. The wealthy black client in the south tends to want to support black artists, and at times will only purchase art from black artists. In the midwest, the landscape ,and art which reflects that local area tends to be strong. I could more than likely never sell a mid-western landscape in my New England gallery. There is a demand for specific art in regional areas which reflect those areas. Los Angeles’ art scene continues to grow, and tends to leans towards more contemporary work over traditional work with the exception of the California landscape. With such factors as these in mind one thing should hold true for any artist, and that is to be true to yourself. Paint what you love, and what you feel, and it will show through in your work. There is a market for every type of art.

    1. This is the most comprehensive explanation on this subject. I believe the location, due to the architectural styles ie wall sizes, and cultural influences
      dictate what sells the most.
      At the end, as an artist, no matter where I live, I could/would never envision changing what I create. If I did it wouldn’t be reflection of me.

  5. I used to work in a frame shop and customers would ask this all the time along with the usual trying to match the matting/framing to their decor. I would nod and smile and say only: “Buy what you love, that way it will always be ‘in style’, and I notice that any particular work of art you fall in love with only gets better to you over time.” Do what you love, as well, artists.

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