Visual Artists and Advertising – Should Artists Advertise?

Visual artists need to carefully consider before doing any consumer advertising. There are other ways to sell art that are more affordable and effective.

should artists advertise The question of whether artists should advertise comes up frequently. Because I sold advertising for nearly 20 years in Decor magazine, a trade book for the decorative art galleries and retail picture framers, I come by opinions easily.

I’m sad to say Decor was shuttered this year after a 135-year run. A testament to how nothing stays the same and how rich history will not carry your water into the future.

The question for artists is not so much about trade advertising. These days, Art World News is the last trade magazine serving the fine art market. Its chief competitor, Art Business News, shuttered a few months after Decor.

Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

Trade Advertising Works

You can still find lush four-color advertising from artists and publishers in AWN, but its page count is far below what it used to produce just a few years ago. Nevertheless, if you are trying to reach galleries and dealers and have it in the budget, trade advertising is something to consider. It does require a financial commitment and takes time to pay off. You cannot expect quick returns and works best and is more effective when coordinated with other forms of art marketing.

When most artists speak of advertising, they have in mind consumer advertising. I have never been keen on consumer advertising for visual artists. The primary reason is it is too expensive for the average artist to consider it. This is probably good because the secondary reason is it rarely works.

The Myth of Print Advertising

It always seemed to me that advertising in consumer art magazines was more for ego and vanity than sales. Jack White, the prolific art marketing author, and successful artist in his own right penned a post for the FASO Fine Art Views blog a couple of months ago. The piece was titled, The Myth of Print Advertising, What Works?

The gist of the article is Jack spent $150,000 over several years in an effort to promote the work of artist, Mikki Senkarik, who is also his wife. He freely admits it was a huge costly regrettable mistake. He provides lots of details to support his now strongly held belief against consumer advertising.

There is a long thread of interesting comments, including those from Eric Rhoads, who is the publisher of Fine Art Connoisseur, a consumer magazine for art collectors. Naturally, he takes issue with Jack’s perspective.  The post is worth reading for any visual artist who is considering including advertising in his or her marketing mix.

Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

What Should An Artist Do To Market Themselves?

Because word-of-mouth is so important and so valuable, artists need to learn to ask for referrals. If you have someone who likes your art, chances are they know others who will like it as well. You will never get 100% cooperation by asking, but you don’t need to in order to be successful. You do need to develop a comfortable way of asking for referrals 100% of the time there is opportunity to do so.

Having a pat way to ask is how you get good at it without seeming nervous or pushy. “I’m thrilled you like my art, or have bought my art. My business thrives on referrals. Can you give me the names of a couple of people you know that I should also get to know?” Work on that sort of format and practice it out loud until it comes from you as neither pushy nor desperate, but rather just a natural question for the normal way you do business.

Once you get the names, ask how and when introductions can be made. Follow up and make it happen, and then make sure you get some face time with your new prospect. Be sure to follow up to thank the person who referred you. It’s courteous, professional, and with certain “connectors” you will find them to be great centers of influence who can make repeated introductions to new prospects for you.

Have Your Own E-commerce Enabled Website

Being able to make sales directly is most beneficial. Here is why:

  • You get paid immediately.
  • You get maximum profit from the sale.
  • You add a collector to your email marketing database.
  • It works 24/7 for you.
  • It is the future.

Learn How To Become a Press Friendly Artist

A very useful e-book by the same title is available from Artist Tara Reed. You can order a copy on this link. I’ve been doing press releases for years for myself. When I purchased the book, I found just one suggestion saved me the $80 I had been routinely spending when I submitted my press releases. The book has great advice and examples for artists who have never done a press release before.

Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use

I’ve blogged numerous times about using publicity and press releases to promote your art career. A good starting point is this post, As a Visual Artist, Are You Press Release Worthy?

My book, How to Profit from the Art Print Market, 2nd Edition, devotes an entire chapter titled, Publicity, Promotion and the Power of Self-Belief. It’s information is worth the price of the book by itself. That’s because you only need to get one good repeat buyer from such an effort to make it pay you back multiple times for your time and effort put into getting good publicity.


Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use
Download List of 7 Essential Tools Artists Use


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  1. This is a great article. I’ve had a lot of experience with advertising and what I’ve learned: Paid advertising in print doesn’t usually have enough return to make it worthwhile.

    There are two ways I’ve managed to get loads of “free advertising” for my artist husband, Drew Brophy:

    1-PR: Working with the media for magazine articles/newspaper articles (there’s an art to this that anyone can learn)

    2-Position yourself with companies that do a lot of advertising, and find ways to provide value to their ads by being a part of it (while they pay). An example: We’ve had skateboard companies put photos of Drew painting in their ads. Drew’s picture and name was clear, it was printed in many magazines, and the skateboard company benefited because it made them look good, too.

    For fine artists, you can encourage the galleries you work with to include interesting photos of you painting in their ads.

    Get creative, you can find many ways for other companies to pay for your advertising, and they greatly benefit from it.

  2. Thanks Petra, always good to hear from you.

    And, Maria, wow!
    Your advice is great. You have unlocked one of the secrets to getting publicity without having to pay for it. As you know, it doesn’t just happen. But, when you get the right work pitched for the right project, magic happens! As you say, anyone can learn to do this. There are few things with the payback on the marketing time and energy that beat publicity.

  3. Barney,

    Maria tweeted your article. You, her and Reed have all helped me very timely to promote my show with a press release. I don’t have capital for paid advertising and most likely wouldn’t do it anyway. Starting out online I followed you, Godin, MacLeod and others building word of mouth in this small big world.

    Thanks, and

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