How to Sell Someone Their First Piece of Art

Q: I meet people all the time who tell me that they really like my art, but when I ask them whether they'd like to buy a piece, they back away. Where does that leave me? I feel like I'm a textbook case of a starving artist. The interesting thing is that quite a few of these people tell me that even though they don't own any art, they really like to look at it. How can I convince someone who doesn't own any art but who likes art to buy his or her first piece-- especially mine? I'm simply not into the starving artist lifestyle.

A: Selling art is never easy. Even people who already collect art are reluctant to make first purchases from artists who they know little or nothing about. Selling to people who don't collect art and know little or nothing about you is more difficult yet. But once someone decides to buy their first piece of art from you, selling them additional pieces is ever so much easier.

Reasons why people who like art don't buy it often have to do with how much they know about art, how confident they are about understanding what they're looking at, how unsure they are about their tastes in art, or how concerned they are about the opinions of others. Many worry that other people will make fun of their tastes or that their friends or associates won't approve of what they buy. To complicate matters, even though they might like certain works of art, they're not sure how well done they are, whether they're worth the asking prices, or whether the artists are established enough in their careers to warrant those prices. Your job is to make people who admire your art feel comfortable both with you as an artist as well as someone who understands their concerns, and in so doing, to alleviate as many of their "fears" about owning your art as possible. The following tips will help you to accomplish those goals and to sell art.

** Do what you have to do to convince people that buying your art is OK. Talk about other collectors who own it, about what kinds of people these collectors are, about how long they've been buying your art, and how regularly they buy or (how regularly you sell). Potential buyers tend to look for signs that an artist is a going concern, that they're creating and selling art on a regular basis.

** Talk about how you sell your art and under what circumstances people buy it. Tell stories about how different collectors bought their first pieces from you, what they like about your art, what attracted them to it. Talk about the piece you sold most recently, for example, and how much you sold it for.

** Point out what makes your art unique or different or special. Distinguishing yourself or your art from that of other artists is an important part of the process. Potential buyers like to feel they're getting something special, something they won't be able to find anywhere else.

** Talk about how you price your art, what subject matters, mediums or compositions collectors like the most, and how many sales you've made in various price ranges during the past few months.

** Explain your price structure in terms that ordinary everyday "non-art" people can understand. Talk about how long your art takes to make, or how much time or effort or skill is involved in perfecting certain details. Point out any labor-intensive aspects of your art that may not be immediately evident or easily understood such as layers, glazes, special techniques or effects, and so on. These days especially, people like to see value in what they buy.

** Suggest that you have art for sale in a variety of price ranges.

** Have a resume on hand or talk about shows that you've had, venues that have exhibited your art, any awards you've won, and other honors or distinctions you've received during your career. People like to hear names or references that they recognize, respect, and understand. Even if your exhibition experience is limited to non-art venues like restaurants, coffee shops, open studios and the like, people still appreciate hearing that you exhibit your art on a regular basis.

** Show photographs or digital images of how different collectors display your art in their living or working environments, or if you don't have lots of collectors, display and photograph your art in various enviroments on your own. People who don't own art often have difficulty imagining how they would display it if they bought it, where they'd put it, or how it might improve the appearance of their homes or offices.

** Make yourself available to deliver your art to collectors and help them hang or otherwise display it.

** Offer to take a selection of your art, say half a dozen pieces or so, to someone's home or office so that they can see how it looks in their own environments. Make clear that they're under no obligation to buy.

** Offer to let people keep a piece or two of your art for trial periods of a week or two in order to see how they like it. Make sure that you get some form of deposit, credit card number, approval agreement, or some other form of security, of course, but make sure that anyone who wants to can have the opportunity to live with your art.

** Ask people why they like certain pieces and don't like others. Try to get ideas of what they think would happen or who would say what if they bought and displayed particular pieces of your art. Minimize any concerns they might have by giving examples of people who now own your art, but expressed similar concerns before they made their first purchases.

** Ask people what they want in their art, what art means to them, what they expect to get out of it, and why they want to own it. At all times, let them lead, and follow up with easy-to-understand answers or anecdotes taken from your own career experiences.

** Don't get into elevated art discussions that people can't understand, or try to describe your art with detailed explanations that they don't ask for or might find confusing. Don't overload them with information that's difficult to digest. Talk on their level. You never want to intimidate someone who's already in unfamiliar territory regarding your art.

The more experienced you get at making people feel at ease around your art and good about owning it, the more you're going to sell. A surprising number of people who don't currently own art would really love to buy some, but need a little gentle encouragement in advance. Convincing individuals to make their first art purchases is no different than convincing them to do anything else for the first time in their lives. The moment they feel comfortable and confident, the go ahead and do it.

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