You Can't Sell Your Art Until You Learn How to Sell It

Q: I'm a visual artist interested networking with others in order to market and sell my art. I'm looking for resources and references. I would like to find a representative or gallery to show and sell my work. Please visit my website, have a look at my art, and if you have a moment, I would appreciate your thoughts or feedback. Thanks for your time.

A: If you're taking shots in the dark like this, you need to learn how to better present yourself and your art. Perhaps this is not what you want to hear, but if it's any consolation, plenty of other artists need the exact same thing. Rather than look for any kind of help though, they continue to make arbitrary random trial-and-error attempts to call attention to themselves and their art, attempts that are almost always destined to go nowhere. Now you can always hire an art consultant, an artist representative (sometimes referred to as an artist agent), an art dealer or other art business professional and pay them for an hour or two of their time to show you on how to approach or contact people about your art. But in the meantime, let's take a look at your request and see how you can do things better...

Regarding how you introduce yourself, I have no idea how many people you've sent this email to; I'm sure I'm not the only one. So I'll try to give you a generic response to all these things you're asking for, typical of one that any art business professional would give you. Of course, hardly anyone will actually respond and voluntarily give this kind of information to you. There's absolutely no upside in it for them and will instead simply press "Delete." But what you're about to read is pretty close to what they think about emails like this...

You say in your opening sentence that you're marketing your own work, but you're not really. You're asking others to help you market it or even market it for you. You want them to give you references and resources-- names and phone numbers of people they know and trust to you-- a total stranger. You want them to help you find a rep or gallery. You want them to look at your art and give you feedback. Maybe you want them to rep or show your art themselves. In other words, you're asking for an awful lot, but it's not clear what if anything you are offering in return.

Here are my questions for you: Are these people supposed to take an hour or three of their time to study and critique your work, put their thoughts into writing and email them to you? Are they supposed to go through their contact lists and give you names so you can ask them the same questions... or ask them to show or buy your art? Are they supposed to offer other options for advancing your art career?

Assuming they're supposed to do any or all of these things, what's in it for them? Are they supposed to do it for free? You don't say anything about how you intend to compensate them for their time and effort.

Not to belabor the point, but let's say they look at your art for free and email you their thoughts. Would that mean anything to you? You're getting all this input for nothing. You'll read the email, save it if you like it, and delete it if you don't. What good does that do?

But enough about what you want for you without making clear what you'll in return. Convincing someone to show and sell your art involves much more than asking them to look at it on a computer screen and give you feedback. No one is going to visit your website, see your art, and become so taken with it that they'll decide to help you in some way or even represent you right then and there. They have no idea who you are, how you are to work with, what your capabilities are or anything else about you. You're a total stranger approaching them from out of nowhere.

For the sake of argument however, let's suppose someone does like your art enough to email you back. Can you explain why you believe your art is worth paying attention to, why it's worth owning, or why the public deserves to know more about you and your art? Do you have a resume? Can you provide information about how much art you've sold, where it's sold, how much it's sold for, and under what circumstances? Can you explain in detail why they should represent you or give you a show at their gallery? Would you know what to say if they called you on the phone or met with you in person? These are all questions you should be prepared to answer whenever anyone expresses any interest in your art.

But they're not the only questions. In order to be successful at presenting yourself and your art, you also have to know who you're emailing. Do you know anything about who these people are or what their businesses are like, their histories, what types of art or artists they show, or how they are to work with? Have you visited their galleries or exhibition spaces? Do they buy, sell or represent artists whose art is similar to yours? Whose resumes are similar to yours? Are you familiar with their business practices? Are you sure they're reputable? Have you spoken with other artists whose art they represent or sell? Are those artists satisfied with how they've been represented?

Art galleries, agents, and artist representatives sell art for a living. If they can't make their livings selling art, then they have to get real jobs like the rest of us. In order to avoid such a fate, they carefully evaluate every artist who presents them with art, and decide to work only with those who can demonstrate or convince in one way or another that their art is not only appealing to collectors and potential buyers, but that it's actually worth owning. Before you can get representation or a show, you have to understand how people who sell art for a living think, what they need to know about you and your art, and how you can give it to them.

If you've never heard cold hard art world facts presented quite this way before, don't worry; it's not your fault. Art school provides little or no education for artists about how to how to sell their art in the real world. You may learn how to put together a portfolio, but that's not selling art. You might even learn how to put that portfolio online on your website, but that's not selling art either. At worst, you graduate thinking that all you have to do is get yourself a studio and start cranking out art like you're printing money, and that the galleries and collectors will somehow materialize out of nowhere. That's not the way it works.

Oops. I got a little off the subject. If you're feeling a tad queasy at this point, then we're right back where we started. Get a bit of professional help and pay for it or trade art for it or make clear in some other way that you are prepared to compensate those who help you. An experienced art consultant or similar art business professional can show you how to present your art effectively, maximize your chances for results, minimize problems, and enter into mutually beneficial business relationships. And here's the good news: You don't have to compromise your artistic integrity or change the look of your art in the process; all you have to do is learn how to present yourself in ways and in places that are the most likely to result in sales of your art.

This is the best fastest way to pick up a little art business expertise so that you'll know what to do with your art once it's ready to leave your studio, and how to present yourself and your portfolio online as well as in person once you've gotten yourself together. As for paying to learn how to do this, you've already paid tens of thousands of dollars (or more) to go to art school; now pay another couple hundred bucks for a quick dose of reality, and learn how to effectively present your art to the public. I don't generally get promotional in my articles, but I might suggest myself as one of the options here. I've consulted with thousands of artists over the years and am good at what I do.

No matter how you choose to go about it, make sure you get some basic training about what makes people buy art. Learn how to present, show and explain your art in ways that whomever's listening will find compelling. And learn how, at some point during your presentation, to convince them that your art is worth owning. Only then will you be ready to actualize your art marketing adventures.


Interested in my services for artists? I consult and advise on all aspects of your art and career including how to organize and present your art, making sure your website or image pages are easy to understand and navigate, how to increase exposure for your art, pricing, how and what types of galleries or venues to approach for possible shows or representation, social networking, and much more. Please email me-- Alan Bamberger-- or call 415.931.7875.


(art by Patrick Dintino)

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