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The Reason to Stick to a Style When Working with a Gallery


Many Artists Struggle with Style.   

Best explanation I’ve heard on why galleries require style.  

Tina Swindell

This post began as a reply comment made in the Older Artists Facebook group I founded and had to close because 220k members became impossible to manage. I screengrabbed the artist’s comment and created a graphic I used to repost his comments to the group.

In a matter of hours, it got a 4,000+ post reach, with hundreds of comments and many shares, all indicating significant interest and varied opinions on dealing with sticking with a style as an artist.

Let Me Be Me.

I understand and sympathize with artists who want the freedom to make any art by any means they like. The reason for publishing this information is to help artists understand why galleries work with artists whose work is recognizable. If you are interested in the subject of art gallery representation, I invite you to read my four-part series on How to Get into Art Galleries.

I also aim to help self-representing artists with this post because they deal with the same challenges as gallery owners when marketing their art.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

What do galleries like?

This comment from the defunct Older Artists Facebook group is the genesis of this post.

I think one of my failings as an artist is that I paint in quite a few different styles, and this often confuses people!… I think galleries like a more uniform approach to your work when staging an exhibition. They don’t seem to like a mixture of styles from one artist hanging together.”

John William Smith

The following is my reply to his comments…

The pros and cons of sticking to a style.

What you make as an artist depends on your expectations for your art once it is complete. If you want gallery representation, you must fill its needs. Having worked in several galleries and advised artists on marketing for three decades, I can say that having a distinct style matters when creating interest and demand.

Consistency is powerful when persuading buyers to own multiple pieces of an artist’s work. When I’m marketing and selling, it’s a huge advantage anytime I don’t have to start from scratch. Having buyers with an ongoing interest in collecting artwork from a genre like yours is how galleries get repeat sales for artists.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

Here’s an Activity Suggestion:

Take a break, clear your mind and evaluate the difficulty level in developing and consistently engaging a set of valuable contacts for your self-representing artist business. It’s just as hard for gallerists.

Finding an active buyer from a pool of potential buyers with similar interests is a big challenge. And you can’t count on crossover interest when you are in the business to make a profitable living from selling art. Instead, think about the challenge of a gallery owner in cultivating a buyer of abstract art, and then imagine the gallerist convincing them to buy wildlife art from the same artist who won’t be pinned down.

It takes considerable time, money, and talent to develop possible patrons for a style of art—and that’s just the first step in producing a buyer from them. Gallery owners don’t have the resources to build unique collections of potential buyers whenever an artist changes styles. Plus, whether rational or not, it can confuse and even anger previous buyers who wonder why the artist is no longer creating in the style they purchased.

There are no wrong decisions here.

Make all the art you like in as many styles as you wish. But understand the marketplace will rarely embrace diversity. And that brings us back to your expectations. If your priority in making the art you like to make is all over the board, you should know it will limit a gallery’s ability to build a cohesive audience likely to buy your work more than once. And the same if you are a self-representing artist.

Nothing is impossible, but the degree of complication depends on artists’ decisions about what they make.

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

My best advice for artists who want steady sales is to find the look or style that generates the most sales fast. Go with the country saying, “Dance with the one who brung ya!”

There are no rules that say you can’t keep making different art. Just realize it’s probable you will need a new group of prospective buyers or other galleries to market it.

Jumping styles may inhibit mastery.

A final caveat. Just as creating unique prospect pools for different styles waters down your ability to get your work to market, it also taxes your ability to take your skills in making a particular style of art to the next level.

The paragraph above marks the end of my reply on Facebook. I hope it clarifies why a consistent style benefits galleries and artists in marketing their work.


Art Marketing News Extra: Visual Artist’s Guide to  Business and Marketing

In many ways, the intent of this post exemplifies the mission of the Art Marketing News Extra (AMX) twice-monthly newsletter. It emphasizes creating harmony between family, finances, career demands, and artistic desires. Its goal is to educate artists about their marketing options and to help them use them.

AMX subscribers get practical art marketing advice with tips for a well-lived artist’s life. I seek to encourage and enable them a plan for living a rewarding life that balances their competing demands. The AMX content aims to help artists decide which tools and techniques are the best for their art marketing plans based on their genuine and realistic goals.

I intend to help visual artists lead well-lived, joyful artist lives.

I’m not trying to compete with anyone else. I’m good with selling access to my information at the giveaway price of $5 per month with no contract because I believe helpful art marketing training should be affordable. If you would like to enjoy a community of like-minded artists and help market your artwork, I invite you to subscribe to the AMX newsletter. It’s such a good deal that you have much to gain and virtually nothing to lose. Hit reply if you have questions or if I can help you.

Affordable art career advice. No contract.
Practical guidance on marketing art and living well. 

How to Find Yourself in the Art Business
Success leaves tracks — learn to find and follow them here.

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  • Thanks, Barney, for making this issue crystal clear. I might add…. it's ok to use a variety of subject matter as long as you portray them in your signature style.

    • Thanks for your reply and additional comment. You’re spot on with it. I see 2D art and sculpture from Guilloume in the Xanadu Gallery. Collectors buy both. The key is they are recognizable as his work.

  • Spot on, Barney! Thanks, as always, for your insights. I discovered the truth to this discussion years ago, and thankfully I love to continue to paint in my signature style, which galleries that represent my work exhibit. I do have another body of work I have developed for many years, and I have a special page on my website that showcases this separate style and medium. It doesn't interfere with people viewing the work they have come to like and expect. So far it lives in my studio. Someday I may market it as well, but it would be as a separate body of work, not mixed in with my recognizable style.

  • Hello Barney, My name Cynthia Jackson. Suddenly, lights go on while reading your article! I am so "guilty as charged"!! What would you charge to mentor me by looking at my clumsy progress, and with a few phone calls to straighten out my YouTube Channel; my website: accidental masterpiece.com; my Pixels.com website, and my art in general? I am thinking that I will indeed join your AMTP, post haste! But I have gone off track now for so many years that I critically need help to get back! Either way, thank you for the article. Very helpful! Cheers, Cynthia Jackson cjn.

    • Hi Cynthia, Thank you for your comment and question. You are not alone. Many artists find themselves off the tracks now and then. The good thing is you can fix it. I am happy to help you. I see you have joined the AMTP already, so welcome, and thanks for that too! I am flexible when working with artists because each person and situation is unique. I suggest reviewing this page https://barneydavey.com/coaching/ to learn more about how I work with artists one-on-one. Please let me know if you have questions or how I can help you. All the best.

  • christine forbes says:

    Thanks for sharing the importants of style .
    Now i will work on this valuable information.

  • Очень полезная статья. Полностью с Вами согласен. Но следовать Вашим советам для меня никак не получается. У меня основная тема городсой пейзхаж. Но очень тянет и к друггим пейзажам, портретам, жанровым сюжетам, цветам. Более менее покупается только городской пейзаж и природа.
    Спасибо за науку и интересс к мукам художников.

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