- by Barney Davey
Selling Art Is a Challenge… Then and Now!
What are the best ways to sell art sounds like a loaded question.
Let’s be honest. Selling art was never easy. Social media, online galleries, email, websites, blogs and whatever don’t make it any easier. Now do they, really? I don’t think so. Well, maybe a little. Mostly, they just make it different.
Whether it was 20 years ago or 200 years ago, art is only bought by a precious few. Notably, original art buyers are a rare commodity. This has never changed. How art gets bought has changed, probably more in the last ten years than in the last half-century. That’s because the internet changed everything.
The internet changed everything… forever!
Consumers are conditioned to buy everything online. You can buy cars, diamonds, furs, houses and everything imaginable online these days, including art. The need for brick and mortar stores is in serious decline. Huge shopping malls are closing in growing, almost shocking numbers. And, art galleries are feeling the pain, too… big time.
Downbeat Main Street
A recent visit to Main Street in Scottsdale, which is one of the premier art destinations in the U.S., was a sad experience. The gallery where I worked there years ago has been empty for many months. The amount of closed shops and spaces for rent on Main Street has to be near an all-time high. The number of restaurants, boutique shops and tourist tchotchke traps is growing. Many of them will not survive because they can’t compete with the scale of Amazon and Walmart, or are poorly run and marketed.
People are still buying art. That same hardcore group that has always bought art is still buying art. They still get some of it on Main Street. Some comes from online galleries or local art shows. But, more and more of it is being bought directly from artists.
Significant Changes Are Happening
I’ve had reports from top tenured artist friends. They have had substantial gallery representation for years. What they are telling me is they are seeing a quickening pace of gallery sales declining. At the same time, their direct sales to patrons are on the uptick.
I’m not the least surprised at this trend. In fact, I don’t see it as a trend. Trends are like the current high fashion of tight, high water (above ankle) pants for men. (What the hell is up with that goofy look? And, boy am I happy to be too old to want anything to do with it.)
The Changes Are Growing
The way art is getting sold these days is a monumental sea change. One that will grow larger in my opinion. I see it headed towards mostly mobile. More people are using their smartphones and tablets to shop. Desktop usage is going the way of brick and mortar galleries, which is down and down.
I don’t see galleries as going out of business. I believe working with a top shelf gallery will always be a good play for artists. It’s just that I don’t see many if any having the sales wattage to fully sustain an artist’s career.
So, what is an artist to do?
Build a tribe. If you want the surest way to prosper and thrive from now on, start building a following and don’t let up. This is where all those cool tools come into play. Email, website, blog, and social media are practically free to use. They are relatively easy to use. And, best of all they work.
The only thing stopping you is you.
You can do this. You can build a tribe. I will not sugar coat that it takes work. But, I believe it’s work that pays off now. And, it will keep paying off in the future. And, oh yeah, when was selling to total strangers ever a walk in the park? Uh, um, like never! Selling to strangers is a much, much harder row to hoe than developing a following and connecting with prospective buyers.
Turn Buyers into Collectors… the most profitable thing you can do!
When you have direct, personal relationships with those who have shown an interest in your art, there is every reason to believe they will collect your art. That just means they will buy multiple pieces. And, therein lies the key to sustained prosperity.
What’s even better, some buyers will move beyond patron and become benefactors. They will help you in ways you could not imagine. Often, without you asking. When the right person comes along and takes the right action, the multiplier on sales, recognition and rewards go up for you exponentially.
The 2017 Challenge
I’m challenging you to challenge yourself. What are you going to do to make a difference in your career next year? I believe the single best thing you can do is work on ways to connect with potential buyers and collectors.
You can have all kinds of other goals. None will give you the lasting effect of building relationships with buyers who know, like and trust. There is nothing to compare it to when it comes to making the best of your career.
Figure out who is your ideal buyer… your customer avatar. Dial it in. Make it a work in progress until you know this person down to details that might nearly shock you to think about. The thing is, the more you know your ideal buyer, the less time and money you spend marketing to what looks like tempting targets, but really are expensive, disappointing, empty promises.
Don’t let lack of sex appeal be a hindrance
I wish there were some sexy way to package doing this work. It would be so much easier to sell as a concept. Everyone wants to chase rainbows and unicorns and hope they get found and so on. Believe me; I get it. I’ve chased my fair share of them.
I’ve got the battle scars that tell the tale
I can tell you in detail how the feeling of deep disappointment pierced my skull, heart, and wallet when the realization that the pipedream I was smoking was nothing more than a snare and a trap. An illusion of my own making. Knowing I had no one to blame but myself for falling prey to faulty, wishful thinking only deepened the pain.
There is an upside. It is there always is a way to end the strings of losses and dead ends. I found there are better ways to go about my business. I drummed out the noise. I stopped seeking and started doing.Kind of like getting healthy. It sucks more at first because it’s painful to give up old comfy habits, whether couch surfing, cheeseburgers, or mint ice cream. But, once you get going, you begin to whet an appetite for improvement as the desire for all the bad behavior lessens.
Af first, it was kind of like getting healthy. You know it’s going to suck the most as you begin. That’s because it’s painful to give up old comfy habits, whether couch surfing, pizza, beer, cheeseburgers, or mint ice cream. But, once you get going, you begin to whet an appetite for improvement as the desire for the bad behavior lessens.
Does it ever go away completely?
Never! I caught a drift of cigarette smoke the other day, and it smelled good. And, I haven’t had a puff on a cig since 1983. You can’t let your guard down.
What keeps you going are working on higher goals and sustaining your higher self. As one of my idols, Van Morrison sings,
And I’ll be praying to my higher self
Don’t let me down, keep my feet on the ground
After you figure out your ideal buyer, then start using that knowledge to learn where they go. Then go there, too. Be amongst them. Sure, you can’t join the country club, but you can join the Boys and Girls Club. Get it? There are always ways in. You need to become a master of finding the cracks. And, if it’s important enough, you always will find them.
The late, great, Leonard Cohen told us:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Remember that. Find a way. Look for the light. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep going.
To answer the first question in the subject line of this post, “Who do you really trust?” I say, “Trust Yourself!” You’re all you’ve got baby, and that’s more than good enough to get your career going the way you want.