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Selling Your Art: You Can Learn

Sunday, 17. June 2012 23:32

This past Saturday was my first group show, for which I was preparing last week. I have been in juried shows, but this was the first group show in which I have participated with the goal of selling art. As is the case with any “first” experience, I learned a great deal, and had a number of ideas reinforced in practical terms.

Here is what I learned during “Speaking of Abstract…” organized by Jomar Visions in Houston’s Hardy and Nance Studios. Some of the items below seem obvious; but before the experience, they were not, at least to a number of participants.

  1. The vibe matters. I had more than one visitor talk about how good the show “felt.” I think that may have been the mix of artists, the music, the nature of the show, the venue. It was a very inviting atmosphere, and it seemed that visitors grasped that the second they walked into the studios. I can only credit the show’s promoters.
  2. The quality of the surrounding work matters. Every artist in the place brought quality work, and that mattered. It might not have been to everyone’s taste, but none of it was bad. This was not the case in some shows I have seen. This show, however, was juried if not curated, and that insured the quality, which added to the vibe and created a positive expectation on the part of the patrons. Again, I credit the show’s promoters.
  3. Alcohol helps. The show was sponsored by St. Arnold’s, a local craft brewery, so there was plenty of beer. And a number of artists brought wine, soft drinks, water, and snacks. All of this was offered to patrons and artists alike and certainly added to the festive feel of the show. It may have made the difference between lookers and buyers in some instances.
  4. Everyone who walks by is a potential sale; there is no predicting what will catch someone’s interest. Another photographer asked me the age of my market. I had thought it was persons 30+ years old, but this show taught me that although my market might lean that way, it did not exclude younger people. Indeed, some younger people spent a great deal of time looking at the images and came back repeatedly.
  5. Having your contact information available and easy for visitors to find is vital. Those business cards in my pocket did nothing for me; they needed to be easily seen and accessed, whether I happen to be in the vicinity or not. Some patrons have to think before deciding to make an investment. And they need to be able to find you later.
  6. Networking both with other artists and with potential buyers is paramount. Most artists want to help their fellows, at least that was the case in this show, and knowing people and their work helped in that regard. It also became evident that someone who had liked your work would tell others who would then come by and visit. The more people who know and like your work, the better your odds for a sale.
  7. Sales go to those who interact with potential patrons. Yes, you have to actively sell your wares. A sculptor, whose work was exceptional, and I discussed how we weren’t really comfortable approaching people with the intent to sell, while another artist near us went about trying to sell everybody’s work (including ours) to anybody who showed any interest in anything. Although he did not restrict himself to his own work, he did sell two of his own pieces and made contacts for those around him by force of personality and affable aggressiveness in his willingness to go for the sale.  He said that he was there to sell art—if not his, then anybody’s that he liked. I’m not sure that you have to be that aggressive, but you have to figure out a way to interact with potential buyers in a way that will enhance the sale, even if you have to step out of your comfort zone.

It was a successful show, at least according to everyone I talked to: 15 sales and one artist trade in seven hours—in a bad economy. I did not do as well as some, but I learned. I will definitely do similar shows in the future. And I will do some things differently. Selling art is a different skill-set from making art, but even the most introverted of artists can learn.

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