How Do I Find Collectors?

I Want to Sell More Art

Q: I need to sell more art than I've been 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. You can sometimes make it easier for them to find you, but that's about as close as you'll come. We'll get to that part soon, but know going in that one of the great myths of the art world is the belief that simply acquiring names and contact information of collectors means instant sales, success, financial freedom, or whatever your goals 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 more complicated than that.

To begin with, 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? Invite them to your studio or gallery, or to visit your website or Instagram or Facebook pages? If you manage to make contact, what are you going to say? That you're an artist and have art for sale? Or that you're a gallery and have art for sale? Tell them you have a show coming up and that they should come and see it? None of this will get you anywhere fast.

Introducing yourself in any way has to be far better than that. Start by doing a little investigating first. Find out what these collectors collect and 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 in with their agendas. You need this information BEFORE you even think about making any kind of contact at all. But even if you know everything, crafting the perfect introduction is still not easy.

This leads to another great myth-- that collectors collect everything. If they're art collectors, that means they collect all art, right? No, it doesn't. The overwhelming majority collect very specific types of art. They do not travel in packs. They do not buy randomly. They do not 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 entirely with art that fits their (often strict) acquisition guidelines.

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 unlikely to happen except in rare cases. The overwhelming majority of collectors have very specific 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 know how to use social media to find what they're looking for. They're likely networked in and have cultivated and established circles of trusted contacts with galleries, artists, curators, consultants and others who know how to find them what they want. 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 likely to respond to calls, emails, or messages from artists or gallery owners they don't know. These types of buyers are more occasional, more random in how they search and buy, and tend to travel around the art scene checking out various galleries, open studios, art walks, art fairs, and festivals. They gravitate toward whatever art happens to attract their attention at any given moment. They're also online, either sifting through social media pages, searching hashtags, exploring individual or multi-gallery websites, artist websites and social media pages, etc. They prefer to move at their own pace, have their own systems and methods in place, whatever those may be, and they're comfortable with that. Again, they tend not to be interested in artists they don't know who approach them from out of nowhere.

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. In the meantime, you can follow them if they're on social media or otherwise in the public eye, and possibly even make yourself known by being supportive or complimentary in one way or another (such as liking or commenting on their social media posts). But as far as your art goes, let them do the finding at their own pace and in their own ways, and save the self-promotion for later. Nobody likes to be rushed or pressured. Hope that they become aware of you and let that be good enough for now. Let any communications or relationships evolve gradually and over time, and at their speed, not yours. That's pretty much how the art world works. 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 your art out there in as many ways as possible. Nobody buys anything they can't see or are not aware of. Be active in the art community; be active online. Make sure people have access to your art. 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 and regularly updated online profile (website, social media pages, photo pages, etc.). Be on the lookout for opportunities to appear on art websites in the form of interviews, blog posts, features, or in other types of content that might want to include your work, and so on.

Also keep track of relevant art events, museum shows, galleries that show art similar to yours, and other art-related activities-- both at physical locations and online-- that have connections to what you do. The more people who see you and your art and the more often they see it, the greater the chances that good things will happen. That's the first step to making contact. In the meantime, continue to produce new work, bulk your resume, enhance your online presence, and hopefully garner other forms of exposure and attention 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... and keep on getting it. Collectors like artists who are serious about their art and careers.

If you're a gallery, put on a consistent and engaging calendar of shows, maintain an active online presence (website and social media), post your complete shows online, participate in art fairs, and look for every opportunity to get exposure and coverage from reviewers, critics, and anyone else who covers your art scene. Assuming all goes well, you'll gradually establish a reputation where more people start taking notice and stopping 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; specialize in a particular type of art or artist. Become the expert-- the person people go to when they have questions or want to learn about your particular types of art. Serious collectors have preferred dealers and galleries that they grow to trust, whose knowledge and expertise they come to respect. They patronize these 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 about the art that they love.

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 enter into your life-- your art matches up with their specific tastes, and they appreciate artists who are as focused about their art as they 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 artists whose art is similar to yours. These include art fairs, gallery openings, lectures, seminars, museum and non-profit openings and events, organizational memberships, and so on. Participate regularly and be consistent enough so that people will at least begin to recognize you. Even if you're not good at socializing, interacting or talking, all you have to do is show up.

The same goes for your online presence. Get active on social media pages (yours as well as those of others), specialized art websites, and in relevant online art groups. Attend talks, gallery walk-throughs, panels, discussions, groups, seminars, etc. The more you show up, both in-person and online, 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 or follow 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 to get to where you want to go.

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 individuals, galleries, arts organizations, and online resources that focus on the kind of art you make. You'll gradually (not all of a sudden) learn who the buyers and collectors are and which ones may possibly have interest in what you do. As time progresses, do your best to find out about their collections or specialities, and how and why they buy what they buy. Sooner or later, you'll figure out how to make a compelling case for why your art makes sense within the context of particular collections.

In combination with all of the above, perseverance and longevity are key when it comes to getting to know the art people who count, regardless of whether you're an artist or gallery. The sheer fact that you stay active, are productive, show new work regularly, and 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 risky or uncertain buys, patronizing galleries with uneven exhibition programs, or buying from part-time artists who don't take their careers all that seriously. The more convinced buyers are that you're here to stay, the greater the chances your art may one day hang in their collections.


(art by Charles Arnoldi)

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