Back in the early part of this century (so long ago!) I spent a lot of time visiting major art fairs all over the United States. Some were major recognized art events like the Sausalito Art Festival and King’s Mountain Art Fair in California, while others were more modest events with a focus on local artists and craftspeople.
One thing which was always interesting to me was to see how visitors to these fairs were often drawn to the booths of a few specific artists. Sometimes it was because they were well-known local or national identities, and other times it was because the art was really great. But often the booths containing some of the very best art (IMHO) were quiet and without traffic. Why was that?
Another data point was that the busiest booths at the shows were often those of photographers and jewelers. The popularity of jewelry was obvious – while it may be art, it’s also associated with how we look and feel – and that gets to one of the “big 3” buying motivations – in this case, relationships. But why photography?
Over time I developed a theory that photography is popular with most people because it is more accessible than other art forms. Meaning what? Meaning that a normal person without an elaborate art education feels comfortable relating to photography without having to be told why it’s “important” or a great work of art. There is something about the fact that we have all used a camera and that the images look mostly real (even if incredibly artistic) that allows us to relate to photography in a natural and un-stressed way.
On the other hand, I often noticed situations where visitors to a booth containing some really excellent oil paintings or pastels were obviously less comfortable knowing how to respond to the work. Their gut feeling may have been that they loved or hated it, but in many cases this true response was buried beneath a hesitation of whether they should like it – as if an art expert was needed to interpret for them. This created more of a distance in how they responded to the art.
In the years since then, I’ve noticed similar behavior at many at events from small open studios to high-brow art events. Without question, making your work accessible to the hearts and minds of your visitors will help you sell your art. But how do you do that? How do you do that if your work is different or unusual? Of course their will always be a few people who really “get” your work from the beginning, but there may not be enough of them to sell your art to and build a prosperous commercial career on.
There are many answers to this question, but one which is most important in my mind is simply – communication. You have to find ways to bridge to a wider audience and help them understand you and your art. That can be very simple and here are just a few examples:
- At an open studio or show, be sure to make time to engage with each visitor and listen to them. Ask them how they feel about a particular piece and give them some details about the technique you used or your motivation when you created the artwork or ….. This make you much more accessible.
- On your artist website be sure to have a bio and artist statement that people can relate to. You want them to feel that you are real, and you also want to “bring visitors in to your inner circle” where they will feel comfortable enough to get really excited about you and your art.
- Go way way beyond the concept that “my art speaks for itself”. It will to a few people for sure – but this is an age where few people trust their hearts and minds to make a purchase without some collateral support. So, be very 21st century in all your marketing plans and materials.
- Create some champions! In an ideal world, the best sales and marketing person for your art is you the artist. But you can also get some great results by enlisting existing collectors and friends who love your work and can speak about it and explain it to other potential buyers. Sometimes you’ll find an existing patron whose greatest passion is to help you get more of your work into the world. Recognize and engage these wonderful people to help to build relationships and sell!
Good sales in any field mostly come down to a mix of excellent product and great relationships. To sell your art you need to follow that same formula. You have a wonderful product (your art!) so make it accessible by connecting with your audience and explaining why it (and you!) are important and wonderful!