How in the World Do You Sell Your Art? Who Do You Trust?

There are many questions for artists when it comes to decisions on how to sell their art and get work to market. In the business of art, questions about selling art and finding trustworthy people to work with rank at the top in importance.

What are your thoughts about how you get your work to market?

Do you have a plan that works for you? Do you make most of your sales, or do you trust a third party, such as a gallery or art rep, to handle that part of your business?

When it comes down to running your business profitably, you must have a reliable system to get your work sold. It makes a huge difference whether you are operating in an orderly process or dealing with chaos. You need a system that gives you some form of predictable results. Without such a system, you can’t make plans, scale your operations, or successfully apply for loans and grants among other things.

Are you locked in on a plan?

The reason for asking about your marketing plans is to focus your attention on a crucial aspect of your business. If you desire to make a full-time living, or a substantial income from selling your art, you must have a viable plan for how it gets sold. If you are flitting about from one way to market your art to another without committing to any, your results are almost guaranteed to be sketchy.

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Live Your Best Artist’s LIfe

Why you might flit can vary. You’ve got ADHD. You’ve scared to commit because you don’t have faith in the system. You avoid the obvious path to success for you because you are dealing with head trash that keeps you from embracing the best option. I wrote about head trash in last week’s “Want to Know the Real Truth About Success? It’s Not What You Think,” post.

If you’re not on it, that is, working a solid plan to market your art, there is a reason. You need to know what it is and face it head-on. No joke. Something is between you getting the right things done consistently. You’ve got to figure it out. Face the facts and fix it. If you’re waiting around for lightning to strike, hoping to get found, or believing the starving artist myth, good luck with those choices.

The reality is It’s all there—the knowledge you need to set you free is right in front of you.

It’s what you do with available wisdom that makes all the difference. When you know and accept this reality, you have no excuses. It’s time to start prioritizing to get your most important systems and tasks lined up and completed.

This post relates to the one from last week in many ways. It is, however, more granular. We’re looking at one critical element of your business. The more you have clarity and confidence in how your work gets to market, the less you stress. Moreover, by achieving clarity and taking appropriate action, you can bank on making more money and having more free time for the studio or other activities. It is the virtuous circle you want for your career.

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You Get to Choose

One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is you get to call the shots. It’s entirely up to you to determine how your work gets to market. If you don’t feel empowered by this thought, then you are having some problems that need your attention.

You are the boss of you, and as such, you can’t afford to cede power to anyone else. Take advice from trusted partners and mentors, but in the end, it’s always your decision. Even if you decide to let someone else make the choices, short of an ironclad contract, you can take your power back anytime.

Can Gallery Sales Carry Your Water for the Long Haul?

It’s a common dream for artists to want all their work sold through galleries. I get it. Let me create, and I’ll let you handle all the marketing and sales for me. Just keep the royalty checks coming. Except it rarely, if ever, works that way. Moreover, when it does, it’s temporal.

The art gallery business is a dicey gamble. If the gallerist owner lacks solid business and marketing skills and a clear understanding of the uniqueness of running a business selling expensive discretionary luxury products, it’s a near sure bet they will fail.

Successful gallery owners have the battle scars to prove their mettle. They know how to sell your art. And, they have survived economic downturns, crazy landlords and rising lease rates. Dealing with fickle customers and temperamental artists is a daily grind.

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It takes grits and smarts to keep a gallery profitable. All the while, you’re in a stable with other artists hoping you get your share of promotion and sales. Alternatively, you expect your art stays on display all the time. (Believe me, it’s a safe bet you’re not being shown at all sometimes.) It’s not malicious. Such results happen most likely due to poor management or laziness if your art is MIA in the gallery.

What Are Your Top Priorities When Working with Galleries?

You, as the hopeful artist, has much more to worry about besides lack of display. Does the gallery pay on time? Does the gallery have a long-term plan to stay in business? Is the gallery owner entirely focused on the business, or is it a secondary hobby business? What kind of training is provided to help sales associates learn how to sell your art? Is the gallery on shaky financial grounds, and can it be trusted to alert you to get your work out of the gallery before it shuts down abruptly?

The point here is not to scare you from working with galleries. You might never encounter any of the problems listed here. The goal is to make sure you don’t have wild dreams that galleries are the full solution for how you sell your work and make your living. That was possible for some artists in previous generations. It’s a pipe dream that will never come true in today’s retail art environment.

Things Are Changing in All Retail

Physical retail is under siege from online competition. That is not going to change. If you want a long, profitable career, you must plan for it. That includes having alternative methods of selling your artworks in other than brick and mortar stores. You must step up, take charge, do your research, and make the best decisions for you. There is too much to risk by letting anything but solid plans that you believe in left to twist in the wind.

At the most basic level, either you sell your art to buyers directly, or you contract with others to market and sell it for you. Many artists today run some hybrid of the two options. That is, they might have some gallery representation, or work with a publisher or licensor, and at the same time sell through shows, fairs, online galleries, and so forth.

Is the Hybrid Option Best for You?

You can see why this hybrid option happens. There is some safety in spreading your distribution around and not relying on one channel. Also, it’s hard to string together enough top tier galleries to sell all your work. It’s equally hard to build a list of prospective buyers and sell everything to them. So, you hedge your bets.

My advice for years has been to work a hybrid method, but only for as long as you need it before you move to sell all your work personally to your contacts. When I got started in the art business in 1988, advice such as that was career suicide. If galleries, and some publishers, knew you were working on cutting them out of sales, they would cut you off in a heartbeat.

It’s More Than Retail That Is Changing

All kinds of important things have changed in many ways. The introduction and the evolution of the internet and surrounding technologies are behind the changes. Smart gallery owners now recognize that artists who have a list and social media following are assets. They seek to look for ways to work with artists. That doesn’t mean they share buyer contact information.

The internet changed everything. You can buy all kinds of luxury items from cars to diamonds to fine art without ever seeing the physical product. Consumer buying habits have changed. They are open to buying from the source now. In the past, without the ability to research and evaluate online, they relied on gallery owners to do the due diligence and guide them to art and artists they might want to buy and collect.

How to Tap Your Built-In Advantages

These days, many art buyers like the idea of supporting local artists, and indie artists. Making direct purchases from artists is a common occurrence. Given that backdrop, it only makes sense to me that artists should shift their attention to building a list, creating relationships with prospective patrons and buyers, and get in full control of their distribution.

The Future Is Now

This is your future. It’s happening now. You can choose to ignore this opportunity and reality. Doing so, in my humble opinion, does not bode well for your prosperity and the viability of your art career.

Your Best Option to Sell Your Art Long-Term

If I had a better option, I would be all over promoting it, but I don’t. This is it. You can accept this as the best path for you to follow, or work on something else you think will produce better results.

If you have any useful ideas that vary from mine on how artists can help themselves oversee how they should sell their work, or whom they should trust to sell it for them, please share your thoughts. I promise to help you promote your ideas. Otherwise, start thinking about building your email list. It would be best if you did this regardless. It is the one distribution method that you own. No one can take your list from you. Cherish it and those on it. Treat both with respect. You’ll be happy you did.

There are plenty of opportunities right now. Make yourself open to them. The best way to make that happen is to start building the most solid marketing plans you can so you can confidently answer the question, “How in the world do you get your art to market.” Your confident answer is your ticket to success.

Start and stay on the path best for you, recalibrating as you go. Doing so leads to good things. It’s how it works. Go for it!

A terrific way to get started is to download the free Fine Art Career Roadmap. Get it at

The Guide to Art-related Careers
Learn about art-related Careers.


art business, how to sell your art, Selling art

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