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How Do I Find the Names
of Art Collectors?
I Want to Sell More Art
Q: I need to sell more art than I'm selling. How do I find out the names and contact information of collectors? Once I know who they are and how to contact them, I'll be able to sell more art.
A: This a bit of a good news/bad news situation, but mainly good, and I'll tell you the punch line up front. In the huge majority of cases, collectors find you; you don't find them. One of the great myths of the art world is the belief that simply acquiring names and contact information of collectors is a magical panacea that will result in sales, success, financial freedom or whatever your aspirations may be. Many artists (and sometimes even gallery owners) believe that knowing how to contact the right people, aka collectors, is all that's necessary to realize their dreams, but it's significantly more complicated than that.
In the meantime, let's play this out. Suppose you somehow get yourself a list of collectors and their contact information. What are you going to do? Call them? Email them? Mail them? If you manage to contact them, what are you going to say? That you're an artist and you have art for sale? Or that you're a gallery and you have art for sale? Invite them to your studio or gallery? Or that you have a show coming up and that they should come and see it? Take any of these approaches and you won't be seeing any deluge of responses anytime soon. But wait; there's more. Do you even know what they collect? Why they collect it? Who their favorite artists are? What those artists' resumes look like? What price ranges they typically buy in? Whether your art fits with their agenda? This is essential information to know. Even then, crafting the perfect introduction is daunting to say the least.
The second great myth is that all collectors collect everything. If they're art collectors, then that means they collect all art, right? No, it doesn't. The overwhelming majority of them collect very specific types of art. They do not buy randomly or arbitrarily wander the vast expanses of artland ever prepared to whip out the credit cards or write big checks. Nor do they give every artist or gallery on the planet equal consideration. They are on missions to augment their collections exclusively with art that fits their (often strict) acquisition parameters.
Collectors-- especially more experienced ones-- do not buy art simply because artists or galleries contact them from out of nowhere, unless by some miracle what they're being contacted about is a perfect match with what they already collect and what they happen to be looking for at that precise instant. In other words, a sale (or even a conversation) is eminently unlikely to happen except in exceptional cases. The overwhelming majority of collectors have progressively narrowed and focused their interests, they know what they're looking for, they know where to find it, they know who to buy it from, they know what fairs or shows to attend, they're networked in, and over time, have cultivated and established circles of trusted contacts with galleries, artists, curators, consultants and others who have the abilities and qualifications to point them in the direction of whatever types of art they might possibly be interested in. They are rarely inclined to strike up conversations or get involved in relationships with total strangers unless there's a very compelling reason, referral or introduction involved.
As for people who buy art on more or less of a casual basis, but who wouldn't call themselves collectors-- they're even less inclined to respond to overtures from artists or gallery owners they don't know. These types of buyers are more occasional, more random in how they buy, and tend to motor around the art scene checking out various galleries, open studios, art walks, art fairs and festivals, and gravitating toward whatever happens to attract their attention at any particular moment. They prefer to move at their own pace, they have their own systems and methodologies, whatever those may be, and they're comfortable with that. Again, they tend not to be interested in people who intrude on their game plans simply to tell them to look at more art.
The good news is that no matter what kind of art buyers we're talking about, if your art happens to be what they're looking for, you can rest assured that sooner or later they'll find you. But let them do the finding at their own pace and in their own ways; nobody likes to be rushed or pressured. Serious collectors are always out on the lookout for art that fits well into their collections; believe it. That's pretty much how the art world works-- everything evolves gradually and over time, including your contacts with buyers and collectors. Having said all that, there are ways to tilt the odds in your favor.
If you're an artist, the way to meet collectors and others who buy art or who can advance your career is to put yourself-- and especially your art-- out there in as many ways as possible. Be active in the art community; be active online. Participate in regular shows and open studios whenever possible, be visible, enter established juried and non-juried exhibitions that are respected by art people and have profiles in the art community, maintain a consistent regularly updated online profile (website, social networking, blog, photo page), keep an eye out for opportunities to appear on art websites in the form of interviews, blog posts, features or other coverage that might be amenable to including your work, and so on. The more people who see your art and the more often they see it, the greater the chances that potential buyers who gravitate towards your type of art will find out about you in one way or another, and that's the first step to making contact. In the meantime, continue to bulk your resume, enhance your web presence, and hopefully garner other forms of exposure and distinction for your art on a regular basis. It doesn't really matter how you do it or where you get it as long as you get it.
If you're a gallery, put on a consistent and engaging calendar of shows, maintain an online profile, post your complete shows online, exhibit at art fairs, and look for every opportunity to get some exposure on the web and coverage from the critics. Assuming all goes well, you'll gradually establish a reputation where more people start taking notice and more people stop by to see what you're all about. Remember-- this all takes time; there is no instant fix. You have to prove yourself first. Most importantly, find a niche for yourself; specialize in a particular type of art or artist. Become the expert-- the person people go to when they have questions or a desire to learn. Collectors buy from particular dealers or galleries regularly because they grow to trust them and especially, come to respect their knowledge and expertise. They patronize particular galleries because they know what kind of art and artists they'll see, they know what kinds of resumes and accomplishments those artists will have, and they know that the gallery owners will keep them well informed and educated.
The same holds true for artists-- specializing, that is. Artists get reputations for creating particular types of art, or having particular approaches to the practice of art. That's how collectors happen into your life-- your art matches up with their tastes, and they appreciate artists who are as focused about their art as collectors are about their collecting.
In the meantime, whether you're an artist or a gallery, make sure you attend plenty of art events all the time, particularly those that have to do with art and artists similar to you. These include art fairs, gallery openings, lectures, seminars, museum and non-profit openings and events, organizational memberships, niche websites, online discussion groups, and so on. Appear or participate regularly and be consistent enough so that people will at least begin to recognize you. If you're not that skilled at socializing, interacting or talking, all you have to do is show up. The more you show up, the more comfortable you'll get with the surroundings, and sooner or later, either you'll start communicating or talking with people who you see regularly or they'll start talking to you. It'll happen, guaranteed.
The best way to meet buyers and collectors is the old-fashioned way-- as a result of your ongoing track record of accomplishments, commitment and dedication to being an artist, involvement in the community, and the exposure you get for your art both online and in the material world. Along the way, you'll meet more and more people, be presented with more and more opportunities, hear about different collectors and what they collect, and become increasingly fluent in how to navigate the scene.
In the same way that collectors follow what's happening with the types of art and artists they collect, you'll also learn to follow those specific individuals, galleries and arts organizations who have the most interest in your art. It's like approaching any gallery for a possible show or representation. If the gallery sells art similar yours, at least you have a chance. If they don't, it's a no go right from the start. People who buy art are no different; they all have their collecting specialties. You'll gradually (not all of a sudden) learn who the buyers and collectors are and which ones may possibly have interest in your work. As time progresses, do your best to find out about their collections, how and why they buy what they buy, and hopefully one day, you'll be able to make a compelling case for why your art makes sense within the context of a particular collection should an opportunity to meet and speak with a specific collector ever come to pass.
In combination with all of the above, perseverance and longevity are key when it comes to getting to know the players who count, regardless of whether you're an artist or gallery. The sheer fact that you can survive over time at a discipline like art means plenty in this business. The longer you're around and the more recognized and established you become, the more people will pay attention and eventually gravitate in your direction. Most people who buy art on a regular basis have progressed well beyond the point of making high risk buys-- patronizing galleries with uneven exhibition programs or part-time artists who don't take their careers all that seriously. The more certain buyers are that you're here to stay, the greater the chances that your art may one day hang in their collections.