This article has been edited and published with the author's permission.
Roberta Murray is an oil painter and master photographer. Until recently, Roberta and I were only Facebook acquaintances. I enjoy the wonderful photos and paintings she posts. Recently, she wrote a piece for her blog that resonated deeply with me. It's a subject I have spoken about many times and I think she has summed it up very well and wanted to share it with you.
Since the economy took a downturn I have watched many artists struggle while others carried on as usual. Listening to various conversations can reveal clues as to why many artists are struggling. I’ve been following several conversations over the past couple of years from artists bemoaning the difficult state of the economy and the effect that has had on an already challenging business.
There is a common thread amongst these conversations which amounts to laying of blame. They name amateur artists for creating a glut on the market, China for its cheap knockoffs, artists selling miniature works or small studies at a low price (I may resemble that comment), and more. But a surprising number talked about the scarcity of wealthy people. There is an attitude among many artists that the only people who buy art are wealthy.
Purchasing art has nothing to do with the depth of a person's pocket, and everything to do with the depth of their soul (and their priorities in life). Rich and poor alike buy art, so if artists assume their only market opportunity are the wealthy, no wonder they are having problems selling. That type of elitist attitude is what distances the everyday person from learning about art, developing an appreciation and value for art.
Blaming low priced artwork on their lack of sales is also hard to accept. People can judge quality and value well and know the difference between a painting by the two-paintings-a-year hobbyist and one created by the master painter dedicated to the study and passion of their practice. To blame the lower priced amateur art on their lack of sales is like Nordstrom’s blaming Wal-Mart for a lack of sales.
My local art market is not a healthy one. Most artists sell their work for prices that barely recover their material costs. I want to be a successful artist but know I can't at the prices the local economy supports. My solution was to not focus my attention on the local market and cast a bigger net.
One of my markets caters to people who want large showcase paintings to fill the wall of their home or office. I am always being encouraged to paint large paintings, but I don’t. Or at least I don’t paint many big paintings in a year.
By offering a range of sizes I may sell those couple of big pieces, but also have a lot of work for the passionate person with shallower pockets. My prices are formula driven based on size - length x width x my experience factor (which increases every year), creating a logical and stable pricing structure which is easy for customers to understand.
With more and more people living in condos or apartments, there is demand for smaller paintings. One of the other benefits of smaller work is commissions. I was just commissioned to paint a big version of one of my paintings. The buyer isn't wealthy and needs to make instalment payments to afford the bigger piece. Being flexible and offering payment option opens up many more opportunities for sales.
Artists should review their career with honesty and some tough questions. Why did you become an artist? Was financial success at the top of that list, or is it because of passion and the need to tell your story? If it is passion, have you lost touch with it? The fact remains that if an artist is struggling to sell, the only blame that should be laid is on themselves.
My methods won’t be the answer for everyone, but they do show the need to think about your market and where you fit in it. Be as creative in marketing your artwork as you are in creating it. If you aren’t successful with existing results, re-evaluate and search out the right market.