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People Need Help Buying Art, So Help Them
Remember that fantasy art life you grew up dreaming about, the one the art schools perpetuate in order to make their nut, the one where you get your degree(s) and everything else just falls into place? You're introduced to all the right people... the galleries, the curators, the patrons, the ones who count. The influential dealers and collectors visit you at your studio, see your work, and either buy it on the spot or offer you shows while all you have to do is create away knowing that you're now officially on your way to fame, fortune and all that other good stuff. Yep, that's the one.
Well, now you know better-- that dreamtime is over and from here on in, the realities of survival require your complete attention. You know that art is an option, not a necessity, and that being successful takes plenty of time, dedication, commitment and hard work. Your art competes with tons of other commodities in the marketplace including art by all the other artists out there, first for attention and ultimately for dollars (just like every item for sale in every store simultaneously competes for your business). You know you've got your work cut out for you if you expect to make a living as an artist, and that convincing multiple individuals to buy your art on a regular basis is not an easy task.
A gallery director once told me, "No art sells itself." And he's right, but that doesn't mean you hawk it like timeshares or used cars. Selling your art is not about tactical maneuvers or strategizing on markets, but rather about capitalizing on those moments when people are impressed enough, for whatever reasons, to stop, look, and maybe even ask you a few questions about your work-- whether they're doing it in person or online. You see, some of these people will be thinking about buying, so to increase the odds that they whip out their credit cards or cut you a check, you have to present and contextualize whatever art they're looking at in ways they can understand and appreciate, and do whatever you can to transition them from lookers to buyers.
People like to believe they're doing the right thing when they buy art, but since most of them don't know much about art, you have to help them. They need to understand the upside of what they're about to do, and the courage to follow through, because owning art is not easy. Take Joe, for example. Let's say Joe buys a piece of art. He takes it home and hangs it on his dining room wall. Several weeks later, he invites Mary, Susie and Bill over for a dinner party. So the four of them are seated at the dining room table, eating great food and sipping fine wine, chatting each other up and swapping gossip, when Mary points to Joe's art and asks, "Is that new?"
"Yep," answers Joe.
"Where'd you get it?" asks Mary.
Joe's answer has to satisfy Mary, Susie, and Bill.
"Really," says Bill. "Who's the artist?"
Joe's answer has to engage Bill, Mary, and Susie to the point where now they want to know more.
"That's interesting," says Susie. "I've never seen anything like it. What's it about?"
Joe's answer has to get Susie, Bill, and Mary even more interested and involved.
Poor Joe's on the spot, isn't he? He's got an awful lot of work to do, doesn't he? He sure doesn't want to look stupid in front of his friends, going out and buying art he can't explain. Not only does he have to explain it, but if he's like most people who buy art, he also wants to impress his friends and acquaintances with his discerning taste and sophistication. Furthermore, tonight is only the first of many times that Joe will be required to defend his art. For as long as he owns it, all kinds of people, many of whom know even less about art than Joe does, will ask all kinds of questions, and Joe will want to sound like he knows what he's talking about when it's his turn to talk.
As silly as this sounds, it's what art owners go through-- and one of the main reasons why so many people are afraid to buy art-- they're worried about being embarrassed by what others might think or say or ask. Not only do they have to justify their art to themselves, but also to anyone who sees it and has questions. The Joes of the world want to own your art, believe me, but they need your help first. You have to educate and inform them on what they're about to buy-- give them the ammo, the confidence, the protections they need to fend off doubts about whether or not they're doing the right thing if they buy it.
The good news is that most potential buyers need only the basics; you don't have to get complicated. Since most people don't know a lot about art, they don't need a lot of explanation, and-- here's the crucial part-- they don't want a lot of explanation because they confuse easily. Consider, for example, the simplest of descriptions about art, something like "My art is about trees." This entry-level statement or explanation is clear and about as easy to understand as explanations get; it presents the artist's art in a way that anybody can understand, and people who don't know much about art will go surprisingly far with it. The artist doesn't have to say how the art is about trees, why it's about trees, where the references to trees lie, or what the trees mean. Viewers will take those five words, run with them, apply them to the art, find the trees in there somewhere, and feel like they know something (and they will, in their own unique ways). Then they'll turn to their friends, point, and say with complete confidence, "The art is about trees" and proceed to tell them why. See how this works?
Suppose you're one of those artists who has no idea what your art is about-- it just happens. Fine. Then talk about what happens, what inspires you, how you start, your process, how you make it, what you use, how you know you're done, and so on. Again, keep it simple. For instance, you can say "I make my art entirely out of recycled materials." Believe it or not, this is enough for the large majority of viewers. People digest that statement and are now able to appreciate your art in a deeper more connected way (they don't have to know everything-- just enough to feel good about what they're looking at). They look at your art, try to imagine how you accumulate your materials, how you look for things, how you decide what to keep, how you sort it all out, how you arrange it into art, and so on. All you have to do is suggest; plant the seeds. The viewers will do the rest. They come to their own conclusions, and most importantly, feel confident about what they're looking at (and they do, in their own unique ways). If they have a few more questions, you answer. You go as far as they want to go, and make sure they're satisfied every step of the way.
One thing to avoid is being vague, saying stuff like "different people respond to my art in different ways," or throwing it back on the questioner and saying something like "it means whatever you want it to mean." Even though you're being truthful, you're not helping the viewer any. Artists who use copouts like these leave viewers confused, wondering whether or not their responses are "right," and in the end, often leave artists with no sales. People want a little help; they want starting points. Then they're able to feel like their responses "make sense." Easy-to-understand explanations also make art harder to dismiss. They help get people involved. Think how fast you dismiss things as you go about your daily business, especially things you have no information (or too much information) about. You don't want that to happen with your art. You want people who stop and look, and stay stopped for as long as possible.
Perhaps the most important key to "selling" your art, both literally and figuratively, is giving people reasons to care. With all the other stuff out there for people to care about, why should they care about your art? Why do you care about your art? That's a great place to start. If you can convey and convince in a simple sentence or two why people should care about your art the way you care about it-- you gain fans and followers, and ultimately make sales.
These same principles apply when explaining and showing your art galleries-- you're going a little more in depth, of course, but everything else about your presentation is essentially the same. For you to get a show, gallery owners have to feel confident that they can sell your art. Just like you, they have to convince their clienteles your art is worth owning. Each time you meet with a gallery in hopes of getting a show, they'll be listening carefully to everything you say, how you say it, and trying to figure out if or how they can effectively convey that information to potential buyers. They have to take what you give them and translate or transform it into compelling sales presentations. Understand? Not even galleries can sell your art without your help.
Presenting your art on your website or on social media is no different. Anyone who happens to see an image of your art somewhere while doing the daily scroll, and likes what they see will likely check out your social media pages or your website to find out more. When they get there, you'd be well advised to have some sort of basic introduction or welcome statement for anyone shows intereste in your art, no matter how little or how much they know either about you or about art in general. The easier it is for them to feel like they've got a grip, the better your chances of successfully growing your audience and selling more art.
I see plenty of great art by plenty of successful artists every day, and one characteristic they often share is that they've figured out how to distill their art down so clearly and directly that pretty much anyone can understand it. Sure, these artists are perfectly capable of going deep when they have to, and they do all the time, but they also know that the more people who are able to understand and appreciate their art on a variety of different levels, the more rewarding their art careers will ultimately be.
(art by Monty Guy)