Art Marketing for Self-Taught Artists

Q: I've been painting for 20 years mainly for my own personal enjoyment, but people kept telling me how much they liked me art. So I started selling about two years ago and have made a little over $10000 since by promoting and marketing my paintings totally on my own. I've never taken any art courses and don't have a lot of confidence in myself, so I price pretty low. Reading articles in art magazines and online about the art world and about art galleries is pretty intimidating. It seems like you can't be a true artist without going to art school, having years of fine arts courses at the college level, and getting a degree. Any suggestions on what to do?

A: Pretty much everyone feels intimidated in varying degrees about the art world, whether they're artists, collectors, buyers or average everyday people who just plain like looking at art. A surprising number of people are even afraid to do something as simple as set foot inside an art gallery. At the same time however, practically everybody likes art and would own it if they found something nice they could afford and feel comfortable about buying. This is where you come in. (You artists with degrees might pay a little attention here too.)

In a way, you have an advantage over the "intimidating" aspects of the art world and the formalities often in place around art galleries because you're not intimidating and haven't been indoctrinated or restricted by the constraints of a formal art education. In other words, you're a normal everyday person just like those who might be interested in buying your art. You know how to paint (or sculpt or make prints or whatever your speciality might be), you can relate to everyday people in language they can understand, and some of them even like your art enough to buy it. You can't ask for much more than that, especially in the Internet age where more and more people than ever are looking at art, the overwhelming majority of them without formal art educations or training. So far, you've made a modest though respectable amount of sales without having to engage with those who have preconceived ideas about who is and is not an artist... and that's even better.

Perhaps your best ally is all the online social networking opportunities and platforms available to artists today. At no time in history has it ever been easier for an artist to create and maintain a successful online profile and attract a fan base with absolutely zero involvement in either the gallery system or "established" art world-- regardless of their education, experience or qualifications. All they have to be is GOOD at making art. These days, greater and greater numbers of artists are going it entirely on their own and succeeding at it. Social networking plays a huge part in this because the entire world becomes your audience. If you begin regularly posting examples of your art online and people like what they see, word of you and your art will begin to proliferate. And that's pretty much all it takes to get started. If you're interested in learning more about how this all works, read How to Create and Maintain an Online Profile, How to Sell Art on Instagram and How to Sell Art on Facebook.

What's also at play here is that your self-esteem can use a boost. There is no reason for you to feel this way about either yourself or your art. Understand that how you acquire your skills, what you choose to paint, what your art looks like, and how you present yourself and introduce people to your art are entirely up to you. Your art world persona is whatever you want it to be, not what you think it should be, what other people think it should be, not what you believe the art world wants it to be, and especially not based on art school indoctrinations or restrictions around how you should think or act or what an artist should be. There are no rules governing who is or is not an artist, how or where to sell art, or how much your art is worth. You're good, people like your work, you're selling, and you can't do much better than that.

For you to feel guilty about charging higher prices because you haven't taken art classes or don't have a diploma is ridiculous. Plenty of artists without formal training or educations experience high levels of success, including participating in museum exhibitions, showing at established galleries, and charging plenty for their art. So if you're selling pretty much everything you paint within a reasonable period of time, think seriously about bumping your prices maybe 10% or maybe somewhat more, but certainly no more than 25%. The only thing you should be concerned about when raising prices is raising them too high too fast for your most loyal fans and supporters to afford. You know your market best, so you decide what you think those new higher levels should be.

As for increasing your sales, do a little survey. When appropriate, ask people why they like your art, why they buy it, and how or where they think you might be able to sell more of it. Find out what they like about you personally, about how you present yourself and your art, and then capitalize on those positives. You can also get an idea of how your art impacts others simply by listening to reading their responses to your art. Use their feedback to develop a basic strategy or plan to attract new collectors that incorporates all those good things people tell you about your art.

Establish an online profile and cultivate it by focusing on everything people like about your art, as well as why you love doing what you do. Most importantly, post new work with some regularity so people can see you're serious about being an artist. When appropriate, ask for referrals to other potential buyers or to local businesses that might be interested in letting you show your work. Also check with local or regional arts organizations to see whether you can participate in art fairs or festivals, open studios, group shows, and other opportunities to show your work in your area. Showing at alternative venues like lobbies of public buildings, restaurants or coffee shops are also good for getting your art out in front of the public, and a great way to prepare yourself for any gallery opportunities that might come your way in the future. In short, get yourself out there and stop wasting time fretting about perceived inadequacies; you've got the ability to produce good art and that's that.

The most important thing is to believe in yourself and to be confident about your abilities and accomplishments. Don't ever sell yourself short and for sure don't feel like you're less of an artist because you've perfected your skills without formal education or training. If anything, it's more like the opposite; you're "more" of an artist because you're talented enough to achieve success entirely on your own without help from others. People who buy art couldn't care less about where you went to art school or how many diplomas you have. They're looking for one thing and one thing only-- good art that they can appreciate and add value to their lives. As far as you're concerned, creating art brings joy to your life and selling it is bringing joy to the lives of others. That's called success and it's everything being an artist is about.


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