Expand Your Audience

Sell More Art

Market Research for Artists

If you're like most artists, you probably live and work with artists, eat with artists, socialize with artists both in person and online, and recreate with artists-- and likely with other fine arts professionals as well. When you're on your own, you probably read about artists, visit art websites, attend art lectures, visit galleries and museums and more. You're basically all art all the time. And that's excellent.

But those of you who want to maximize your chances for success as an artist have to do more, especially in this new age of universal art accessibility perpetrated by none other than the good old Internet. What kind of more? You have to continually broaden your horizons (and the horizons for your art) or in other words, learn how to present your art to a progressively wider and wider range of people in a wider and wider variety of ways.

You see, the problem with the all-art-all-the-time lifestyle is that the more inside the beltway you are, the more removed you tend to be from typical everyday people who like art and would consider owning it, but who may not know that much about it. There are plenty of these people out there, believe me. Unfortunately, the more time you spend talking exclusively with art world insiders and conversing in language only art people can understand, the less likely you'll be able to talk about your art with regular people.

Think about this: No matter how much or how little someone knows about art, anyone who's interested enough in your work to take time out of their busy lives to look at it, or get up the courage to ask or message you about it, has got to be considered a potential buyer-- not instantly of course, but assuming all goes well and they get increasingly engaged with your work. The tricky part? Keeping conversations going without intimidating or overwhelming them, or just plain frightening them away. This is not easy-- starting out with someone who doesn't know that much about either you or your art and having that evolve into a relationship, or better yet, a sale-- but it is possible. And the better you get at guiding inquiring minds through the perilous intellectual thicket surrounding your art, the greater the number of sales you'll ultimately make.

You already know how to talk about your art with art people. No problem there. You understand each other perfectly. That's taken care of. The hard part is learning to talk to everybody else (aka the other 99.99% of the population, pretty much all of whom like art if given the chance).

At some point you have to think more about the broader population, especially online and with social media in particular, because that's where more and more art action is taking place. The greater the range of people you pay attention to, the greater the opportunities to expand your collector base and the greater the probability of making your artistic survival a reality. Who these people are or how little or much they know about art makes absolutely no difference-- as long as they would consider making your art a part of their lives. Why these people like your art makes absolutely no difference either, as long as they like it enough to make contact and ask you about it. And since nobody buys anything they don't understand, it behooves you to acquire the skills to effectively present and dialogue about your art to as wide a range of people in as wide a variety of circumstances as possible.

By observing how different kinds of people respond to your art, you can learn the best ways to respond back and communicate with them in ways they can appreciate. How do you accomplish this? You do what's commonly known in the corporate world as "market research" or "focus groups." Or put another way, you watch how people react to your art, listen to how people react to your art, and most importantly, make yourself accessible to anyone interested in communicating or speaking with you about it.

The more you know about how your art affects people and about what types of information they need in order to best understand, appreciate and enjoy it, the better able you are to keep them in the game, hold their attention, keep them asking questions, progressively deepen their experiences and involvement with your work, and hopefully, make sales or get commissions or exhibition opportunities or whatever else you're looking for. The most important people for you at this point are those you know the least about, those you've been ignoring for whatever reasons or those you've made assumptions about, but have never bothered to test whether those assumptions are at least a little bit accurate.

How do you gather the necessary data? One of best ways is to expand your fan base on social media beyond your immediate circle of fans. Get yourself and your art out there in front of as many different kinds of people as possible. Present your work in ways that encourage conversation and responses. Experiment with different types of posts by continually focusing on different aspects of your art. Some will work much better than others and you never know which ones those are unless you try.

Talk about color, composition, inspirations, stories behind the work, what it means to you, how you make it, whatever you think might work. Show different images, angles, details, the art displayed in different or unusual settings, parts people sometimes miss, etc. Watch what people say, what kinds of questions they ask, which posts get the most attention or likes or shares (and which get the least). This experimentation phase is key; it's how you learn the best most effective ways to present and communicate about your art to all kinds of people who have all kinds of reactions.

When real world options return, host a show, soiree, reception, dinner, party or gathering around your art-- not at galleries but at alternative venues. Better yet, have someone host it for you. Perhaps a friend or acquaintance will offer or have access to a space where you can display a selection of your work and throw yourself a show, even if only for a night. Then again, if you have to do it all yourself, that's fine too-- as long as you do it. Why not at a gallery, you ask? Because at alternative venues, you can practice and perfect how to dialogue with others about your art. Get your presentation down first; then you'll be ready for the galleries.

Hold the event at a non-intimidating non-art location like a lobby of a commercial building, a conference room, a hallway, a boutique, a hair salon, a coffee shop or wine bar, a restaurant, a vacant storefront, even someone's private home or office. Choose a venue where non-art people will feel comfortable. That way, they'll have their guards down and be more likely to respond to what they see and to communicate their feelings, opinions or experiences. And make sure there's no pressure to buy, just to come, look, enjoy and have a good time. Then again, if someone wants to buy something, go for it.

Invite as many non-art people and as few art people as possible while also minimizing the number of friends, family and those who already know your art-- they won't be any help. In fact, they'll distract you from the matter at hand. Encourage those you invite to invite friends they think might be interested, and for those friends to invite their friends. The goal is to get total strangers through the door-- people who have nothing invested one way or another in either you or your art. Save your fan base for later. Remember, this is not about people you already know; it's about people you don't know. Don't worry if the thought of this all makes you feel a bit anxious or reluctant; that's exactly the point. You're here to learn, to get comfortable around new people, to get brave and explore unexplored territories surrounding your art.

No matter what the circumstances, people new to your art always have all kinds of questions, many having nothing to do with any formal aspects of art or art history. They may want to know how long your art takes to make, how much it weighs, how hard it is to move, what you hang it with, what it means, why you put the red circle in the corner, how long it takes to dry and so on. Most importantly, people who don't know that much about art ask questions you don't anticipate, some of which will be so off-the-wall they'll take you totally by surprise, some so strange that you won't have the slightest idea how to respond. And that's the whole point-- learning to answer everything. A surprise question can only surprise you once and once the surprise is over, it's time to craft an answer. Why? Because the goal is to keep the conversation going.

This is the key-- learning to respond to all kinds of comments from all kinds of people in all kinds of circumstances, both online and in the real world. Experienced artists are great at this; many are so good at understanding how average people respond to their art, they can anticipate a wide variety of questions before they even get asked. Remember, no matter how uninformed or irrelevant certain questions may sound to you, I can assure you that they're of utmost importance to the people who ask them, and furthermore, that your answers are critical to advancing and enhancing their experience and enjoyment of your art, so critical in fact that some of those answers may ultimately lead to sales.

The point of all this? In order to effectively transit artland and survive as an artist, your mission is to give people a grip, to get them involved, and once you master that, you're on your way. The better you are at making people comfortable around your art, the better your chances of succeeding as an artist. It's that simple and no more complicated.

Additional tips for your art market research:

* Have several friends attend your event so they can watch and listen to people talk about your art, and perhaps even get involved in conversations. Then see what they found out when its over.

* No matter what the circumstances, make yourself available to anyone who might want to talk or otherwise communicate with you about your art. Don't be hard to reach or speak with.

* Pay attention to the most common questions people ask about your art. These are the questions you need to have the best answers for.

* No matter what people write or say, don't take it personally. In fact, learning not to take things personally is critical to your success as an artist. Most people react based on their own tastes, feelings and experiences around art. It's not about you; it's about them.

* When the occasion presents itself, make people feel welcome to speak or chat with you about your art. You might even ask if there's anything they don't understand, or if they have any thoughts on how to better explain your work. Encourage them to be direct and honest. The more people who ultimately understand and appreciate your art, the better. There is simply no downside to knowing your audience.


(art by Gottfried Helnwein)

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