How Do I Find the Names of Art Collectors?
I Want to Sell More Art
Q: I need to sell more art than I'm 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 is one of the great myths of the art world-- the idea that acquiring names and contact information of collectors is a magical panacea that will result in sales, success, financial freedom or whatever your aspirations may be. Many artists (and sometimes even gallery owners) believe that simply knowing how to contact collectors is enough to realize their dreams, but it's way more complicated than that. So 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? If you manage to contact them, what are you going to say? That you're an artist and you have art for sale? Or that you're a gallery and you have art for sale? Or that you have a show coming up and that they should come and see it? Take any of these approaches and you're dust.
To begin with, collectors-- especially more experienced ones-- do not buy art simply because artists or galleries contact them from out of nowhere, unless by some miracle (and the proper alignment of all heavenly bodies in the universe), 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 eminently unlikely to happen. The overwhelming majority of collectors have progressively narrowed and focused their interests, they know what they're looking for, they know where to look for it, they know who to buy it from, they're networked in, and over time, they have cultivated and established trusted contacts with galleries, artists, curators, consultants and others who have the abilities and qualifications point them in the direction of art and artists they might be interested in. They're not the least bit 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 inclined to respond to overtures from artists or gallery owners they don't know. These types of buyers tend to motor around the art scene checking out the galleries, open studios, art walks, art fairs and festivals, and gravitating toward whatever happens to attract their attention. They prefer to move at their own pace, they have their own systems and methodologies, whatever those may be, and they're comfortable with that. Again, they tend not to be interested in people who intrude on their game plans simply to tell them to look at more art.
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. But let them do the finding at their own pace and in their own ways; nobody likes to be rushed or pressured. They're always out on the lookout for art; believe it. That's pretty much how the art world works-- everything evolves gradually and over time, including your contacts with buyers. 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 is to put yourself out there in as many ways as possible. Be active in the art community. 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 updated online profile (website, social networking, blog, photo page), keep an eye out for opportunities to appear on art websites in the form of interviews, features or other coverage that might be amenable to including your work, and so on. The more people who see your art and the more often they see it, the greater the chances that potential buyers will find out about you one way or another, and that's the first step to making contact. In the meantime, continue to bulk your resume, enhance your web presence, and hopefully garner other forms of exposure on a regular basis.
If you're a gallery, put on a consistent and engaging calendar of shows, exhibit at art fairs, and hopefully get some exposure on the web and coverage from the critics. Assuming all goes well, you'll gradually establish a reputation where more people start taking notice and more people stop by to see what you're all about. Most importantly, find a niche for yourself; specialize in a particular type of art or artist. Become the expert-- the person people go to when they have questions or to learn. Collectors buy from particular dealers or galleries regularly because they grow to trust them and especially, come to respect their knowledge and expertise. They know what kind of art and artists they'll see, they'll know what kinds of resumes and experience to expect, and they know they'll be well informed and educated.
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 happen into your life-- your art matches up with their 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 art and artists similar to you. These include art fairs, gallery openings, lectures, seminars, museum and non-profit openings and events, organizational memberships, niche websites, online discussion groups, and so on. Appear or participate regularly and be consistent enough so that people will at least begin to notice you. If you're not that skilled at socializing, interacting or talking, all you have to do is show up, and if you show up enough, you'll become increasingly comfortable with the surroundings, and sooner or later, either you'll start communicating or talking with people who you see 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 exposure you get for your art. 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 increasing fluent about how to navigate the scene.
In the same way that collectors follow what's happening with the types of art and artists they collect, you'll learn to follow those individuals, galleries and arts organizations who have the most interest in your art. The analogy is similar to that of an artist approaching a gallery for a possible show or representation. If the gallery sells art similar to yours, at least you have a chance. If they don't, it's a no go right from the start. People who buy art are the same way; they all have their "specialties." You'll gradually learn who the buyers and collectors are over time and which ones may possibly have interest in your work. At that point, do your best to find out about their collections, how and why they buy what they buy, and hopefully one day, you'll be able to make a compelling case for why your art makes sense within the context of a particular collection should an opportunity to meet and speak with that collector ever come to pass.
In combination with all of the above, longevity is key when it comes to getting to know the players who count, regardless of whether you're an artist or gallery. The sheer fact that you can 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 high risk buys-- patronizing galleries with uneven exhibition programs or artists who don't take their careers seriously. The more certain buyers are that you're here to stay, the greater the chances that your art may one day hang in their collections.
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