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 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

39 Comments

  1. As an oil-painter, your last paragraph works very well for me Jason…

    [Jason] 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.

    I am very passionate about my Artwork, I have managed to find collectors for a variety of different styles that I work in. I like to think my passion is captured on the canvas, at least that’s what they tell me… My passion has kept me going through the very difficult times & now it is rewarding me big time!

    1. That’s so funny. I just highlighted that first sentence of the last paragraph of Jason’s, and here you said the same thing.
      Let’s all just keep plugging and doing what we love. There are no easy answers, but we all can improve our skills and concepts.

  2. It is interesting to note that where the artwork may go in a space also is important to consider (floors, walls, fireplaces, office boardrooms etc.) and perhaps as a gallery having a wide variety available for clients. As an artist I can see the importance of not trying to make art that might sell. It seems however, that the sales that have come my way have been for certain purposes such as anniversaries, new homes, collectors preferences, fundraising, etc. It seems the buyers just happened to like my colours and semiabstract style (both my representional and abstract work sell equally well). Several buyers have said they are happy to have a “Jane Appleby” so it’s nice to know they recognize something in my work that is authentic and pleasing. Thanks for your insights in this article Jason.

  3. Great advice…I always tell the artists I coach that you and you alone will be on your deathbed and have to look over the work of your life’s endeavors. Seems to me there is always someone who will respond favorably to certain pieces as long as they are done with beautiful craftsmanship. Gregory http://www.modernGJ.com

  4. I find its pretty hard to predict what will sell from show to show (speaking of art festivals) At one show a few paintings will get a lot of attention whereas at another show – some other paintings are the ones that seem to be getting all the attention.

    Also, as you have pointed out in the past, it can depend somewhat on the enthusiasm of the seller or even of the companions who accompany a buyer during the selection process.

  5. Since moving often, I also decipher greography is great influence.
    From NYC to Pheonix. Or Fredericksburg Tx to Dallas.
    I ‘ve learned to paint my joy and tune that voice… and I find my my clients and vise Versa. Still working on Mkt.
    Thx Jason.

  6. Tania Garner-Tomas
    Having sold over a quarter of a million dollars worth of my own artworks, which includes sculpture, paintings, and commissions, I can honestly say that if I am loving the work, they are loving the work. If I am “meh”, it never seems to sell! Time to reinvent those works. So do the work that gets you off! Subject, style, media, color, are your oyster. Stay in touch with your soul.

  7. Always get a lot of good information and ideas from your Blog Jason. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with us artists.

    I belive everything you say here is accurate and true, especially that we artists shouldn’t try to chase markets. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to be ourselves, work on what deeply intrigues us, and then communicate our “why” to the public and to our gallery representatives. A lot of good marketing can be done if the artist is confident in what he or she creates and takes the time to explain to others why the work is important, not only to the artist, but to outside viewers as well.

    Not an easy task, but I believe this communication (in a connection economy) is the essence of marketing wether it’s done by the gallery owner, museum, or by the artist on a website.
    Can you tell I just wrote a blog on this topic for Fine Art Views? LOL…
    Anyway, you do such a stellar job Jason. I’m grateful for being able to know your thoughts.

  8. I find that as a consumer, I walk from gallery to gallery and often like almost everything in one gallery and little or nothing in the next. As an artist, therefore, it’s important to maintain integrity of style and passion and then find galleries that carry works that are complementary.

  9. The passion an artist develops while painting a work radiates from that work to the viewer – and so the work reads as passionate. It also reads as confident, which is something that is unattainable if a work is just put up to get it done. Confidence is ‘that’ quality that essentially makes a painting sell itself. It’s very attractive

  10. “Continue doing what you’re doing …”
    What else can I (we) do?
    But the same is true for you also, ultimately.
    What else can you do? If you and we start chasing trends, we’re not the engineers on that train anymore. Lee Iacocca once said, “Lead or get out of the way.” Pretty blunt but true.
    The work in that statement is to find out what it is you are leading and I’ve found that size is scalable in canvas, in vision, in setting a path.
    Thanks for posting and sharing.

  11. Great response to this question. I always believe as an artist you have to be true to yourself. I create first and find the buyer second. I do not worry about or consider trends- they are always changing. A current event or trend may become a subject in one of my pieces if it part of my story. Having worked as a painter for decades and participated in juried shows, outdoor fairs , gallery representation and online sales I know that I have a smaller niche market- other artists painting more traditional works such as landscapes will always have a larger market base. And that is fine- I am a storyteller not a landscape painter. We all must be true to ourselves and not be subject to what is selling at the moment or by others. I do appreciate hearing a gallery owner stressing this point to follow our own unique paths .

  12. Yes. Art sales are random. I do notice that the geographical location has an influence on my art sales, for example my beach scenes and sea shell paintings did well in Southern California – but not in Utah. My alpine and snow scenes did better in Utah.

  13. Excellent post, Jason.
    One problem with chasing the trends in any field is that by the time you produce something for that trend, the train has probably left the station and you have to hop on a different one to catch up.
    Maybe it’s my age, but I find myself more interested in doing just what you suggest – following my passion and putting all I have into it – time, energy, yes even money buying what I need to paint the way I want to paint.
    I’m not foolish. I know there’s always money to be made and those who want to make it, including me, but I also know that chasing an artistic Moby Dick will wear me down and take away from any real goals I have with my art.
    Thanks for bringing this subject up…
    My best to all my art companions.

  14. ” continue doing what you’re passionate about doing, no matter what the style or subject”

    Ya-da, ya-da, and a partridge in a pear tree. Not helpful when you’re suffering from TMIS. When you’ve got six or ten concepts all fighting for the right to be on one canvas, “what you’re passionate about” doesn’t help you decide which one to invest your energies in.

    1. I do understand Wendy, but I don’t believe that telling you that Pink Cows are all the rage this year is any more helpful. It’s still a question of finding your passion and sharpening your focus, not a question of market analysis.

      1. And an artist’s ‘passion’ can be the texture of the paint on the canvas. Or it can be the brushstrokes. Or color. Any of these can be applied to any subject, but their passion, instead of subject matter, could be refined to the act of painting or the materials vs. *what* is being painted. That is an aspect that I think many artists overlook.

        When you look at the post-impressionists and the modernists, they were far less concerned about the subject matter, and more concerned about either the act of painting (Pollack, Rothko, etc) or the manner it was painted (Kandinsky, Picasso).

      2. If your passion is hyper-realism, it’s not helpful to know that abstract is drawing the big bucks. If your passion is still lifes, it’s helpful to know that “blue sells” (there’s a local artist that always includes a characteristic blue in her paintings, whatever their subject). Or that landscapes sell better when they have lots of flowers in them (Johannes Vloothius mentioned that little gem in one of his demonstrations).

      3. And yes, “Pink Cows is all the rage” could indeed be helpful, if one of the umpteen ideas I have involves cows. I’ll send that concept to the front of the the line and order more magenta (part of my “style” is working mainly from “process color”).

      1. “Too many ideas syndrome” Rather common over in the writing world. I started out painting local landscapes, because I though it might be a niche I’d have to myself. Then I got interested in submarines, and planned out a series of WWII-era depictions. After the first of a planned four in the series, I started writing a book on the Edmund Fitzgerald and started painting cover candidates. Right now, the books I’m working on are being a “market” for my current paintings, but once those are done, it’ll be back to “flowers, or local scenes, or carnival rides, or ?”

        Oh, and I’m teaching a “guinea pig” class right now. We’re painting Split Rock Light (sky and water shows how you can get different-looking color with the same paints, and some of my students are intimidated by how to paint rocks). Time will tell if these become regular classes. So I’ve got another whole set of ideas–coming up with subjects that aren’t too complicated and have learning elements in them.

  15. I think when we first begin to paint, this questions is valid. If we don’t know what our passion is why not try something that is really popular with the marketplace? However, as time goes on, you begin to develop likes and dislikes. I would hate to think an artist was creating something just because it sells. I always tell my students to follow their bliss because that joy in creating will come out in their work and people respond to that.

  16. One benefit of staying true to your own passion and not following trends is that you will avoid copying a large crowd of other artists. It is better to develop your own unique, personal art than to make art that looks too much like what many other artists are already doing. Trendy art can get less interesting after you see too much of the same thing.

  17. It would be impossible to use your Arizona Gallery to compare what works for your clients compared to what I see where I am in Canada. Winter scenes with icy rivers and snow clad trees would likely have little interest in a desert. Likewise it is unlikely that cactus would be big sellers around here, where Maple and Birch trees and evergreens and amazing forests intrigue buyers. It makes sense that you the Gallery owner will find what works for your area and it is up to us to find where our individual subjects have intrigue..

  18. Jason’
    As a scratchboard artist it took me a long time to develop my craft. I’m not going to be concerned or worry that another medium is more popular than the one I’m using. For quite sometime now I’ve seen this medium go from books to art magazines to museums ,art galleries to private collections and corporations nationwide and international.
    This I”m proud of. I like your summery in being passionate of what you do.

  19. Trends will fail you because the herd does the same thing. You may sell one or two but by the time you come up to speed on “what sells,” it’s changed again … and again.
    We must distinguish ourselves in some manner. Why does anyone pause and look at your work? Because it is different.
    When Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” sold for millions all of a sudden you could find sunflowers on dresses, cups, aprons, on rugs, scarves … you couldn’t walk into a retailer without seeing sunflowers. Restaurants and hotels had huge bouquets of sunflowers displayed. Remember?
    Artists everywhere did their version of sunflowers as a homage to Van Gogh … fine. But there was only one Van Gogh and although he painted five sunflower paintings only one sold for 39.9 million.
    “Trend” is just another word for fashion and fad, and please don’t apply it to your art.
    Your skill and ability as an artist is what sells. The integrity of the piece and your expertise is far more important than its individual subject matter.

    1. Jackie, I find your response very intelligent. I would only add this comment to everyone reading and commenting here … we only have to find one buyer for one original piece. Therefore we do not have to appeal to the masses.

  20. Thanks Jason, the word that stood out for me is integrity. I’ve never wanted to be a trendsetter because it can kill your voice. I’ve gotten off track many times by trying to listen to others and it always made me sad instead of joyful. Be true to yourself.

  21. I’d be curious about which art simply DOESN’T sell as well. As a photographer it seems that photographic prints, even small limited editions, really require a special buyer.
    I’m not going to give up photography to begin pursuing another craft – this is my passion – but I wouldn’t mind knowing just HOW difficult it would be compared to other forms of art in the gallery. I know it’s a tough sell… just HOW tough? I’m happy to be making a few sales here and there but 2018 I am going to ramp it up to a whole ‘nother level!

  22. I’m afraid I’m with Wendy here, I didn’t find this article useful. The headline was “What Kind of Artwork Sells Best?” not “Art Sells Randomly, So Just Live on Hope.” Most artists are already putting more effort and attention into their work than would be ordinarily justified by their sales. It can be discouraging to look at a handsome piece gathering metaphorical dust in the corner for no reason the artist can discern. That’s why I took the time to read this article — to look for hints about moving that piece into a good home.

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