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  • You Can't Sell Your Art Until You Learn How to Sell It

    Q: I'm a visual artist, networking and marketing my own work. I'm looking for resources and references. I paint mainly contemporary abstracts on panel and canvas, medium to large in size. I would like to find a rep or gallery to show and sell my work. Please visit my website and have a look at my art, and if you have a moment, I would appreciate your thoughts or feedback. Thanks for your time.

    A: If you're taking shots in the dark like this, you need professional help. Hire an art consultant, artist agent, or perhaps even an art dealer, and pay them for an hour or two of their time. Perhaps this is not what you want to hear, but if it's any consolation, plenty of other artists need the exact same thing. Rather than get help, though, they continue to make arbitrary random attempts to call attention to themselves and their art, attempts that almost always fail.

    Take your attempt, for example. I don't know how many people you've sent this email to; I'm sure I'm not the only one. So I'll try to give you a generic answer, typical of one that any art business professional would give you. Of course, most simply won't respond, but what you're about to read is similar to what they'll be thinking as they read your request (assuming they even read it)....

    You say in your opening sentence that you're marketing your own work, but you're not really. You're asking others to help you market it or even to market it for you. You want them to give you references and resources. You want them to help you find a rep or gallery. You want them to look at your art and give you feedback. Maybe you want them to rep or show your art themselves.

    Here are my questions for you: Are these people supposed to take an hour or three of their time to study and critique your work, put their thoughts into writing and email them to you? Are they supposed to go through their contact lists and give you a bunch of names so that you can ask them the same questions... or ask them to show or buy your art? Are they supposed to offer whatever additional help they can to advance your art career?

    Assuming they're supposed to do any or all of these things, what's in it for them? Are they supposed to do it for free? You don't say anything about how you intend to compensate them for their time and effort.

    Not to belabor the point, but let's say they look at your art for free and email you their thoughts. Would that mean anything? You're getting them for nothing. You'll read the email, save it if you like it, and delete it if you don't.

    But enough about what you want for you without making clear what you'll do for them in return. Convincing someone to show and sell your art involves more than asking them to look at it on a computer screen and give you feedback. No one is going to visit your website, see your art, and become so taken with it that they decide to represent you right then and there. They have no idea who you are, how you are to work with, what your capabilities are, or anything else about you. You're a total stranger approaching them from out of nowhere.

    For the sake of argument, however, let's suppose someone does like your art enough to email you back. Can you explain why your art is worth owning, or what about you or your art is worthy of their attention? Can you provide information about how much art you've sold, where it's sold, for how much, and under what circumstances? Can you present yourself in such a way as to convince this person to represent you or give you a show at their gallery? Would you know what to say if they called you on the phone, or met with you in person?

    Do you know anything about them or their business or how they are to work with? Have you visited their gallery or office? Are you familiar with their business practices? Are you sure they're reputable? Have you spoken with other artists who they represent? Are those artists satisfied with how they've been represented?

    If you're feeling a tad queasy at this point, then we're right back where we started. Get professional help and pay for it or trade art for it or make clear in some other way that you are prepared to compensate those who help you. An experienced art consultant or similar art business professional can show you how to present your art effectively, maximize your chances for results, minimize problems, and enter into mutually beneficial business relationships. And here's the good news: You don't have to compromise your artistic integrity or change the look of your art in the process; you learn how to present yourself in ways and in places that are more likely to result in sales of your art.

    Art galleries, agents, and artist reps sell art for a living. If they can't make their livings selling art, then they have to get real jobs like the rest of us. In order to avoid such a fate, they carefully evaluate every artist who presents them with art, and decide to work only with those who can demonstrate or convince, in one way or another, that their art is not only appealing to collectors and potential buyers, but that they'll actually buy it. Before you can get representation or a show, you have to understand how people who sell art for a living think, what they need, and how you can give it to them.

    Just so you don't think you're getting dumped on here, it's not all your fault. Art school does not teach you how to how to sell your art in the real world. You may learn how to put together a portfolio, but that's not selling art. At worst, you graduate thinking that all you have to do is get yourself a studio and start cranking out art like you're printing money. That's not the way it works.

    Oops. I got a little off the subject. Anyway, you've got to pick up a little art business expertise somewhere along the way in order to know what to do with your art once it's ready to leave your studio, and how to present your portfolio once it's together. As for paying to learn how to do this, you've already paid tens of thousands of dollars (or more) to go to art school; now pay another couple hundred bucks for a quick dose of reality, and learn how to effectively present your art to the public. I don't generally get promotional in my articles, but I might suggest myself as one of the options here. I've consulted with thousands of artists over the years and am good at what I do.

    Get some basic training about what makes people buy art. Learn how to present, show, and explain your art in ways that whomever's listening will find compelling. And learn how, at some point during your presentation, to convince them that your art is worth owning. Only then will you be ready to actualize your art marketing adventures.


    Interested in my services for artists? I consult and advise on all aspects of your art and career including how to organize and present your art, making sure your website or image pages are easy to understand and navigate, how to increase exposure for your art, pricing, how and what types of galleries or venues to approach for possible shows or representation, social networking, and much more. Please email me-- Alan Bamberger-- or call 415.931.7875.

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