People Need Help Buying Art

So Help Them

Remember that fantasy art life you grew up dreaming about, the one the art schools perpetuate in order to make their nut, the one where you get your degree(s) and everything else just falls into place? You're introduced to all the right people... the galleries, the curators, the patrons, the ones who count. The influential dealers and collectors follow you online, see your art, love your art, contact you, check out your gallery shows or visit you at your studio, and either buy it on the spot or offer you even more shows while all you have to do is create away knowing that you're now officially on your way to fame, fortune and all that other good stuff. Yep, that's the one.

Well, now you know better-- that dreamtime is over-- and from here on in, surviving as an artist will require your complete attention. You know that art is an option, a luxury, a discretionary purchase, not a necessity, and that being successful takes plenty of time, dedication, commitment, and hard work. Your art competes with tons of other commodities in the marketplace including all the art by all the other artists out there, first for attention and ultimately for dollars (just like every item for sale online or at stores simultaneously competes for your business). You know you've got your work cut out for you if you expect to make a living as an artist, and that convincing people to buy your art on a regular basis is not an easy task.

A gallery director once told me, "No art sells itself." And he's right, but that doesn't mean you have to hawk it like timeshares or used cars. Selling your art is not about tactical maneuvers, SEO, or trying to manipulate markets, but rather about capitalizing on those moments when people are impressed enough, for whatever reasons, to stop, look, and maybe even ask you a few questions about your work-- whether they're doing it in person or online. You can be sure that at least some of these people will be thinking about buying, so to increase the odds that they do just that, you need to make yourself available to engage, present and address their questions or comments about whatever art they're looking at in ways they can understand and appreciate, and do whatever you can to convert them from lookers to buyers.

The key is to get conversations or communications about your art started between interested parties and yourself, and more importantly, to keep those conversations going. The longer they last, the more opportunities people have to connect with your art, and the greater your chances of ultimately making sales. But before we talk more about that, it's important to understand why art buyers need this kind of information.

To begin with, people like to believe they're doing the right thing when they buy art, that they're adding something meaningful to their lives. But since most of them don't know much about art, you have to help them along from time to time. They need to understand the upside of what they're about to do, and have the courage to follow through, because owning art is not easy. Take Joe, for example. Let's say Joe buys a piece of art. He takes it home and hangs it on his dining room wall. Several weeks later, he invites Mary, Susie and Bill over for a dinner party. So the four of them are seated at the dining room table, eating great food and sipping fine wine, chatting each other up and swapping gossip, when Mary points to Joe's art and asks, "Is that new?"

"Yep," answers Joe.

"Where'd you get it?" asks Mary.

Joe's answer has to interest Mary, Susie, and Bill to hopefully continue the conversation.

"Really," says Bill. "Who's the artist?"

Joe's answer has to engage Bill, Mary, and Susie to the point where they like what they're hearing and perhaps want to know more.

"That's interesting," says Susie. "I've never seen anything like it. What's it about?"

Joe's answer has to impress Susie, Bill, and Mary enough for them to realize that they're looking at something special.

Art owners like Joe get put on the spot like this all the time. He'll have to answer all kinds of questions for as long as he owns that art, and answer them well. If Joe is like most people, he sure doesn't want to look stupid, like he's going out and buying art he can't explain or even talk about. Not only does he have to have decent answers, but if he's like most people who buy art, he also wants his friends and acquaintances come away thinking that he knows what he's doing, and that he's a man of discerning taste and sophistication. For as long that art hangs in his home on display, this is the way things will be.

Not being able to handle situations like this is one of the main reasons why so many people are reluctant to buy art even though they might like what they're looking at. Why? Because they don't want to be embarrassed by what others might think or say or ask about whatever they buy. Not only do they have to justify their purchases to themselves, but also to anyone else who sees their art and has questions. The Joes of the world want to own your art, believe me, but they need your help first. You have to enlighten and inform them on what they're about to buy-- give them the ammo, the confidence, the knowledge they need to fend off any doubts about whether or buying your art is the right thing to do.

The good news is that most potential buyers need only the basics; you don't have to get complicated. Since most people don't know a lot about art, they don't need a lot of explanation, and-- here's the crucial part-- they don't want a lot of explanation because they confuse easily if they get overwhelmed. Consider, for example, the simplest of descriptions about an artist's art, something like "My art is about trees." This entry-level statement or explanation is clear, concise, and about as easy to understand as explanations get. It presents the art in a way that anybody can appreciate, and people who don't know much about art will go surprisingly far with it. The artist doesn't have to say how the art is about trees, why it's about trees, where the references to trees lie, or what the trees mean-- unless they get asked. Most viewers will take those five words, run with them, apply them to the art, find the trees in there somewhere, and feel like they know something (and they will, in their own unique ways). Those who want to know more will ask. Most importantly, anyone who ends up buying will now be able to display the art in their homes or offices, say with complete confidence to anyone who asks that it's about trees, and proceed to tell them why. See how this works?

Suppose however that you're one of those artists who has no idea what your art is about-- it just happens-- and that you can't answer questions. But you can. Talk about what happens in the studio, what inspires you, how you start, your process, how you make your art, what materials you use, how you know when you're done, and so on. Again, keep it simple. For instance, you can say "I make my art entirely out of recycled materials." Believe it or not, this is enough for the large majority of viewers. People digest that statement and are now able to appreciate your art in a deeper more connected way (they don't have to know everything-- just enough to feel good about what they're looking at). They look at your art, try to imagine how you find your materials, how you look for things, how you decide what to keep, how you sort it all out, how you arrange it into art, and so on. All you have to do is suggest; plant the seeds. The viewers will do the rest. If they have questions, they'll ask. Go only as far as they want to go, and make sure they're satisfied every step of the way. They'll come to their own conclusions, and most importantly, become confident in their understandings of your work.

One thing to avoid is being vague, saying stuff like "different people respond to my art in different ways," or throwing it back on the questioner and saying something like "it means whatever you want it to mean." Even though you're being truthful, you're not helping the viewer any. Artists who make viewers do all the work often leave them confused, wondering whether or not their responses are "right," and in the end, risk losing sales. People just want a little help; they want starting points. They want the art to "make sense." Easy-to-understand explanations also make art harder to dismiss. They get viewers more deeply involved. Think how fast you dismiss things as you go about your daily lives, especially things you have little or no information about. Don't let that happen with your art. Make sure anyone who stops, looks, and takes the time to ask, stays stopped for as long as possible.

Perhaps the most important key to "selling" your art, both literally and figuratively, is giving people reasons to care. With all the other stuff out there for people to care about, why should they care about your art? Why do you care about your art? That's a great place to start. If you can convey and convince in a simple sentence or two why people should care about your art the way you care about it-- you gain fans and followers, and ultimately make sales.

These same principles apply when explaining and showing your at galleries-- you're going a little more in depth, of course, but everything else about your presentation is essentially the same. For you to get a show, gallery owners have to feel confident that they can sell your art. Just like you, they have to convince their clienteles your art is worth owning. Each time you meet, speak, or correspond with a gallery in hopes of getting a show or representation, they'll be listening carefully to everything you say, how you say it, and trying to figure out if or how they can effectively convey that information to potential buyers. They have to take what you give them and translate or transform it into compelling sales presentations. Not even galleries can sell your art without your help.

Presenting your art online is no different. Anyone who happens to see an image of your art anywhere while doing the daily scroll, and likes what they see will likely check you out further. They'll search for images, website, social media pages, etc. So you'd be well advised to have basic introductions or welcome statements for anyone who visits and wants to know more. The easier you make it for them to feel like they've got a grip on what they're looking at, the better your chances of successfully converting them to followers and selling more art.

I see plenty of great art by plenty of successful artists every day, and one characteristic almost all of them share is that they've figured out how to distill their work down clearly and directly for anyone who cares. Sure, these artists are perfectly capable of going deep when someone asks, and they do all the time, but they also know that the more people who are able to understand and appreciate their art on a variety of different levels, the more rewarding their art careers will ultimately be.

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(art by Monty Guy)

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