5 Reasons Why People Don’t Buy Art

It’s helpful information for visual artists to understand the reasons why people don’t buy art

— Unknown

Do you know why people don’t buy art?

As an artist who sells art, you gain fresh insights into the reasons people buy your art. This part is easy because they let you know. You can review your sales history and learn what about your art excites people to buy it from the patterns.

Let’s start with reasons why people buy art:

  • They love it.
  • It makes a perfect gift.
  • They like to collect your work.
  • They trust you or the gallery owner to help them make an intelligent buying decision.
  • It perfectly matches the interior design of a space they are decorating.

It is a valuable idea to develop your research and analysis to go beyond understanding why people buy your art. How is your art purchased? Make a list of where your art sells. Is it online, studio sales, networking, referrals, galleries, juried shows, or fairs?

How to Turn Losers into Winners

When a sale is lost, you have nothing more to lose and lots to gain by asking why it didn’t happen. So any feedback you get is another piece of the puzzle.

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

More than once, I’ve followed up on a lost sale or canceled service only to find out it had nothing to do with me or my services. Even better, by reaching out, it started something that evolved into a lasting, mutually beneficial friendship. (File Under: Try Because You Never Know)     

Use your research to guide you to innovative production and marketing decisions.

Look to find the commonalities in your channels. For example, are subject matter, color mixtures, sizes, prices, medium, or other selling factors consistently in individual channels? You will indeed find it a combination of the determining factors.

The point of this exercise is to help you make better decisions about what art to produce for each of the selling channels you use. Channels mean distribution sources such as galleries, shows, publishers, licensors, agents, art consultants, interior designers, etc.

Getting to the real reasons why people don’t buy art… your art… is challenging.

When it comes to why people don’t buy your art, it is harder to determine the real reason. Most times, when you get to a closing situation where you ask them to buy (You are asking them to buy, aren’t you?), and they slip off the hook with a lame excuse (I need to think about it), you have not discovered what is holding them back. (That’s what open-ended questions are for, to uncover real objections.)

Uncovering the real objection leads to more sales.

When a prospect tells you they need to think about making a purchase,  they do not reveal their actual complaint. Instead, it means you may have rushed the sale. You might not have asked them enough open-ended questions to discover their needs and doubts about making a buying decision.

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

Or you may have lost a sale because you didn’t know how to sell art with silence.

Five Reasons People Don’t Buy Art!

If you count permutations, there may be millions of reasons why some potential art buyers don’t buy art. So here are some specific suggestions on how to sell art when customers initially balk at closing the deal.

1. Insecurity

They are unsure about their tastes. They may be new to buying art. But, of course, you wouldn’t know unless you asked. But, regardless of their buying status, digging into what they want to do with the piece they are considering will help them make a confident decision.

This situation will not be your desired one call close, which is the case for most fine art sales. But, likely, you need more information about the space where the art will hang or be displayed.

My art marketing broadcast partner, Jason Horejs, posted how Photoshop helped sell a $5,000 piece of art from his Xanadu Gallery. His persistence in helping the buyer and a willingness in the artist’s role to create a painting based on the subject matter, size and space considerations, and Jason’s innovative use of technology were the reasons for getting the sale.

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

2. Assurance

They don’t know if your art is worth what you are charging. But, as with some other points, there is a crossover between not buying and the result. So this point is one of them. In part, buyer assurance happens when marketing, presentation, appearance, and demeanor set the table.

If your prospects are new to your work, they need to be educated with comparisons to sale prices of similar artists, your bio, with your sales history. Working this information into the conversation with your buyer, or even better, having your targeted marketing make these points for you, will work to take away this possible reason not to buy your art.

3. Money

They cannot afford your art. This situation can be a question of unfocused marketing. If you cast a marketing net too broad, you will waste time attempting to sell art to those who cannot afford it. If that is the case, fix it immediately. In the buying process, you subtly need to learn enough about your prospect to determine if a sale is possible or if you are wasting your time. Have they made other fine art purchases? Do they collect art? Where do they intend to display the piece? Part of your job is to sort through those not ready to buy and keep them in the sales funnel while removing those who are not prospects for it.

You can offer a layaway plan if a buyer wants to own the piece. For example, you might negotiate a first-time buyer discount. However, if your work is in the print market, offer one as an alternative. As an alternative, try providing a commission for a smaller, more affordable piece.

4. Confusion

They don’t understand your pricing model. If you sell through multiple distribution channels and do not have uniform prices on similar artworks, you will confuse your buyers about your work’s actual cost and value. For example, are your prices fluctuating in ways that there seems no logic to the amount? For instance, how can you price four times more for a piece that is only 25% larger than other works in your portfolio?

In addition to pricing logic problems, lack of focus or lack of marketing leads to confusion and uncertainty. Your artwork, your pricing, your marketing, and your presentation all need to be in harmony. Your goal is to remove all doubt from your buyers before a closing situation occurs.

5. Remorse

Post-cognitive dissonance is the fancy way to describe the sense of regret buyers often have after they have made a purchase. There are situations where customers anticipate remorse, and it kills a deal even though part of them wants to own your work. So let’s call it pre-cognitive dissonance. You can answer this in advance by offering a return policy. Maybe it is 90 days with return shipping not included and with the art in the same condition as when it was sold.

Consider using a buyback policy where you agree to take the work back as part of a payment for a new, more expensive piece. For example, you might not want to publish such a policy, but keep in mind for situations where it will help you get the work sold today. For example, you could use a sliding scale with a gradually lower percentage over time.

Leasing art is a way to get your work in the market. And some artists use a lease-to-own policy towards the total price where a specified percentage of the monthly or annual contract would be used to purchase the piece.

Information is power when you use it wisely.

As a small business owner, you need as much information as possible about why your work sells and doesn’t. The wisdom you gain from instituting formal policies and procedures to acquire this knowledge significantly impacts your art career success.

The more you align the work you want to make with buyers who wish to buy it, the more you will have an enjoyable and rewarding art career.

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


Art Buyers, art marketing, Buy Art, Why People Buy

You may also like

  • Your articles are always so consistent and factual. I’ve experienced most of the examples given at some time. I’ve personally found it important to market to a more focused clientele base. Don’t confuse Wal-Mart with Fine Art! You also mentioned having harmony with pricing,marketing and presentation. So true, this really completes the package. Wonderful read!

  • Tammy Serea Roberts says:

    Thank you for the information, it will be very helpful to me in my up coming art gallery night showing in May?

  • Very well written and thoughtful article. You mentioned several points I had not thought of. Thanks for the information

  • Joe Loffredo says:

    Nice article – thank you!

  • I did not find this to be at all helpful. People are ignorant and cheap and usually regard art as free entertainment. It’s like trying to get blood out of a stone especially here in Canada, the land of Little Hope. My work is excellent and extremely reasonably priced but all I get are compliments and the old “your work will not have any value until after you are dead” bullshit delivered with a smile like it is humorous.

    • Sorry to hear my post was not helpful, and that your experience selling your work is does not meet your expectations. Have you tried finding artists in Canada who are having success and then researching to learn how it’s happening? Best wishes to you in your career.

    • You sure can paint. Your work is worth every penny spent. It takes years to paint that well.
      But you already know that.
      It is discouraging to hear that work of that caliber is not flying off the walls.
      More later..Jo

    • By the sounds of the comments you are receiving it sounds like you are selling to the wrong market. Research any up and coming events in your area. Maybe you can take your work along an advertise.. Art shows, concession stands at events and shows that people go to, who love the outdoors and outdoor recreation. People that participate in these kind of events usually are quite wealthy and appreciate real art. I would also look at all the local magazine’s and see if you can get anything published. If somebody is saying your work will not be worth anything when you are dead, they obviously don’t know anything about art!! Also keep a Twitter and Facebook page for your art, inviting everyone you meet to add you, including any events etc you go to. It’s about getting to know the right crowds. I love your work very much. I lived in Canada a few years. I painted the wildlife of South Dakota now in the USA.

    • Steven,
      I’ve visited your website and agree your art is excellent and very salable. As a retired arp rep who sold my own work and that of many other artists and publishers for more than 20 years, I would have welcomed your art in my sales portfolio.
      My clients were Interior Designers and Architects. They were easy to sell to because they knew exactly what they were looking for. If you had an image that fit their specs and budget at the time they were looking, they bought. Many bought repeatedly over many years. Have you visited any IDs in your area?
      Barney and I co-authored HJOW TO SELL ART TO INTERIOR DESIGNERS. have you read it?
      Though it was many years ago, when my sister-in-law was living in Canada I set her up with a starter portfolio of art and introduced her to a couple of publishers I sold for. She quickly build a nice business, working out of Kitchner, driving no farther than Toronto. She found Canada an excellent market.
      Reading your comment, I wonder if you haven’t convinced yourself a prospect isn’t going to buy and let a negative tone and inappropriate language sabotage a potential sale? Not meant to offend, only hoping to help you find a hot market for good art.
      I’d encourage you to continue to show your art as often as you can to as many prospects as you can. You may have to shuck a lot of oysters to find a pearl.

    • Kent norton says:

      Sounds like you’re a starving artist. The one thing I never did and I’ve been traveling in Canada since the 60s is go to art museums there. We never think of Canada as an art place. Contact me if you’re still around and not started yet. I think you’re right but there’s got to be able to do it Sarasota’s in Orange city we sell a hell of a lot of hard here I think it’s just the fact that you and I are not sales oriented if people can find an emotional message and they are in town the backstory go buy it I’d like to see some of your stuff

  • This is a great article – definitely some things I need to think about, in terms of how I promote and write about my art. Thank you so much!!

  • eston henry says:

    I am new to selling art and photography as a major if not sole means of income. This article was quite helpful. Thank you.

  • Good data. I find that there are lean selling months and some fat selling months.
    Artists have learn how to close on sales. I offer time payments. I have art that is budget
    friendly. I get people to understand my art represents, effort, labor and 10,000 hours of
    practice. I do well enough to have working class art life. I do get to heat and eat.


  • Hi Barney

    Wondering if you could clarify the phrase in your infographic “Don’t sell with what’s in your wallet.”?


    • Sure, it is a way of telling you not to let your financial condition affect your ability to ask for a big sale. Lots of artists, especially starting out, can’t afford the originals they make. Never be afraid to confidently ask for the biggest order you can. The worst that can happen is you hear no. But, sometimes it will be something your buyer wants and will take it on the spot. If you don’t ask for big sales, you don’t get them.

  • Jettie Nedley says:

    I am continuously browsing online for posts that can help me. Thank you!

  • marco cinti says:

    I always find your blog super inspirational. Thanks for the share.

  • I always read articles like this, to see if I can learn anything. I have learned I will never do commissioned work, way to stressful. I really only create to satisfy my own personal joy of doing art. And I realize that selling prints in a very saturated internet field is pretty much a lost cause. I would be extremely lucky if I ever sold anything, print wise, on a POD site. I did not join the site expecting to sell anything. I did it just to get out their and be seen and to give God credit for giving me my gift. If I were to sell my originals they would be to pricy for the average person and quite frankly the economy bites! So I will leave my originals to my kids, when I die and stick to showing my prints instead. I am just happy God gave me a talent and I have a fairly cheap platform to showcase it. I am still praying for GOD to give me some clean comedy, so I can do stand-up. I can`t hardly wait to do that too, if He lets me live that long. Nice article, but it does not help print on demand artists that much. At least not me, but thanks for sharing. God bless you.

  • I'm glad you mentioned one of the reasons people don't usually buy art is because they're unsure about the value of an artwork. The other day, my wife and I went out, and we stopped by a shop, they had a beautiful painting that my wife loved, but when we asked about it, we jumped with surprise because of its high price. We think they might be overpricing it, so we didn't purchase it. My sister knows a little about art, so we asked her to go to the shop to take a look, and she also agreed with us. She suggested we get an expert to check it out and to help us get an agreement with the owner of it. We think that if we can get the price lowered, we'll definitely get it. We think you did a great job explaining the common reasons people refuse to buy art.

    • Thanks for your comments. If you like the art and can afford it, buy it. Don’t beat the artist or gallery up too much. They need to stay in business. Love the art and enjoy that you supported an independent artist. Become a patron.

  • Nicola Hellier says:

    I have am A level in fine art and design, I've drawn since I was a kid locking myself in my bedroom a form of escape. I'm self taught mostly, had a couple of teachers that got me.
    I have sold about 9 pieces. Just people asking me how much one is.
    What amazed me I had a picture it took about a hour to do. Someone offered me £350. Yet I had another picture that took about a month only hot £50.
    I draw and paint what's in my head, the simplicity of Mattessise, abstract confusion relates to picasso.
    Any advice on how to price my work ?

    • Check out my course. Read this blog post. When you read to the bottom of the post you will find links to other articles on pricing art.

  • Arlene M Zubris says:

    All Fine Artist are not into marketing. It takes away time from their creative experience. What is needed is more art Marketers instead. I would prefer to sell art thru retail markets. Not much out there, huh? Business and sales is just what it is named where art is creativity.

    What we really need is a National Art market where artists are paid to create and the business' who owns the art does the marketing. Interested? One of my social Entrepreneurial ideas.

  • There's nothing like actually having a piece of art in hand! Interior Designers very often must show art to their clients to get approval to purchase. If you are willing to leave the art On Approval, trusting the ID knows his or her client's taste, the sale will happen nine out of ten times.

  • Theres nothing like actually having a piece of art in hand! Interior Designers very often must show art to their clients to get approval to purchase. If you are willing to leave the art On Approval, trusting the ID knows his or her client's taste, the sale will happen nine out of ten times.

  • Refreshing article. I have sold some of my work, but I am in need of some assistence. I need a web site, but I don't know how to creat one. And, I don't know where to go for help. I have an idea of what I would like, but going from my head to the screen is difficult for me.

    • Thank you for your kind comment about the post. Based on what you have told me, I recommend you use It is a simple, elegant website builder platform built for artists by artists. You’ll love the ease of use and variety of templates. Customer service is excellent. Artspan is affordable and comes with ecommerce-enabled and other features to help you as you need them. Send an email to [email protected] and tell them Barney sent you.

  • Excellent article (I also enjoyed the comments & replies from others). In my experience, I've discovered that an artist must have a variety of first-time client "Price Points" for them to begin experiencing my work. I paint Watercolors of historical scenes in the California Gold Rush area, end I also enjoy meeting and talking with people at community events and art shows. People enjoy viewing my work and reading and learning the story behind each scene depicted in my paintings. My originals range from $800 to $1,700. Nearly all my originals have sold; however, I also produce full-sized prints that I sell for $150 to $450 (depending on if the print is framed or not). In addition, I produce smaller-sized prints ranging from $50 to $125, depending on how the work is framed. I even produce Collector greeting Cards of my most popular scenes that sell for $5 to $7 per card, depending on the number of cards one purchases. Yesterday in the small town of Colfax, CA, I set up a very small booth in a community Artwalk. I had a satisfactory number of sales from new clients because of varying-sized pieces, ranging from price points between $6 and $425. During the event, I also handed out literature about my gallery & studio as well as a large county-wide Artists Studios Tour in November of which I'm a member involving 110 other artists. Some of the visitors ask to join my Email Client Email List. I have found that many folks who attend local events such as art walks and festivals are usually unprepared to purchase an original painting that particular day, but because they were able to make a smaller-sized purchase and have information about my studio & gallery location and other upcoming events, they return to make a more substantial purchase the next time we meet.

    • Thanks for your comments and for sharing your experiences. You have the right attitude and you follow through with excellent methods of gaining attention and working the process of finding and developing a repeat customer base.

  • Very interesting advice and thank you. I would like to ask what you think about framing or not framing oil paintings for sale.
    Lately I have decided not to frame even the 2cm deep edge oils because of the depression in the art market in Cape Town and surrounding country towns in South Africa.

    Possible buyers in the past have asked if I would reduce the price and remove the frame and I have said 'no' but one gallery usually allows this. Good framing is expensive these days so I do not like that cost to be wasted and hope that the lower price will aid a sale. from Elinor Fletcher/Carleton-Smith

    • Thanks for your question. Framing is a personal and aesthetic choice. If you design the work to show well unframed and present the finished work ready-to-hang, that is advantageous, as is lower cost to you and lower price to collectors. That said, I wouldn’t let random comments and requests from a few buyers deter me from creating a framed product and standing behind it on price and appearance.

  • Hi very interesting article, l don't think I could sell anything of my work, l am not good at sales l have tried a number of times and end up with a disaster.

    I have a feeling the people would rather purchase work from someone else selling it for you. This is my personal experience no need to be a professional, just someone else.

    I don't understand this at all.

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure what you don’t understand. It is tough if you don’t believe you can sell your work. And sadly, if that is what you think, it becomes a self-perpetuating reality. Finding others with the time, temperament, and talent to sell your work for you is also a daunting challenge. Either way, I wish you well.

  • I enjoyed reading this. I have been painting 50 years, and had many different experiences with selling. You hit some wonderful points that all artists need to be aware of. Thank you!

  • #1, People don't like your work. If you own a restaurant and the food is not good quality you won't sell. You can't blame the attitude of the buyer, or the economy or the pandemic. If you are not selling art it might be time to do a little soul searching, ask a few experts, (not your Mom) and then work hard and make changes.

    #2. Price: It is unreasonable to expect to sell $4,000. paintings to people who make $17. an hour. You either reduce the price to sell in the market or pay attention to Barney, do a little marketing and discover how to talk to your desired market. Again stop blaming the market place and do your homework.Talk to the right people.

    #3. Basic craft/quality: Hanging in the gallery was my 6 foot painting of an old Clydesdale mare. I though the painting one of my best. No one was interested. The gallery manager pointed out that the painting had scuffed frame corners and a small smudge in the sky. I took the painting down fixed the frame and cleaned and varnished the surface of the painting. It sold the next weekend.

  • Eileen Tascioglu says:

    Interesting and informative article. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    Subscribe & Get Instant Access to
    "How to Find Yourself in the Art Business."  

    Search This Site