Art and Money-Ramblings on Sales and How to Sell Art

PlantOntheDune, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

Everybody dreams about making money with their art. That’s a good thing, basically-if we weren’t dreamers, we wouldn’t be artists, right? I’ve never bought into the idea that somebody who sells a lot of work is a “sellout.” On the flip side, as my friend Kathy points out, “they don’t call it artWORK for nothing” and I’ve seen a lot of people jump in looking to make a quick buck. They buy a camera one week and they expect to be able to quit their “day jobs” two days later, go off into the sunset surrounded by half naked models with wind machines, never accounting for talent or hard work, just somehow, magically, raking in tons of money. That is just not realistic and, if you think it’s going to just “magically” happen for you, you probably need to think again.

Sales should come second to making a product you believe in, one you can stand behind. I’ve always followed the philosophy that sales come if the work is strong enough and you’re tenacious enough to go and get them, but you have to have strong work-really strong work-as a basis for this. Sorry, but there just is not a market for mediocre artwork out there and there are far too many artists willing to put the time and energy into making quality work.

My answer, and it may seem simplistic to some, is to do work that’s so good, work you feel so strongly about, you’d feel it was a crime *not* to promote it. Then promote it. It might sound simplistic but, if you do this, you can’t help but succeed-and, yes, success like this will lead to sales too. Typically, those who do work just to rack up sales wind up doing work that lacks passion and soul and this too can be reflected in the marketplace. It’s never good for sales in the long run to do something like this.

Sales have never been an end goal for me because of this. I don’t paint or take pictures and think, “oh, now this is going to sell, sell, sell!” I’m my own critic. If it pleases me, if I like it, if it fits in with where I am as an artist at the time, I’m happy. I know that if I turn around and market it, it will sell, somebody’s going to buy it. Somebody else will like it too-they’ll buy it or respond to it in some positive way. I trust my taste and I think that’s a very important thing to do as an artist.

Now, I realize I might sound like somebody who doesn’t sell much work-maybe I don’t as compared to others, maybe I could sell more if I pushed myself to really try harder in the sales and marketing department. I have sold work in the past and I probably will again in the future. I just sort of accept sales as part of the natural cycle of making and producing art. I’ve sold work at odd times too-in economic “downturns,” at times when I thought I would never, when it’s traditionally “slow,” that sort of a thing. That’s maybe part luck as much as anything I’d guess. Sales don’t always come when you want them.

I think the best thing about my little arrangement, the best thing about my simplistic view of the world is that I’ve had some success and it’s been on my own terms. I’ve defined who I am and what kind of artist I want to be so, indirectly, anybody buying one of my pieces is buying into that. They’re buying a piece of me essentially. That’s a far greater reward than making something that looks “like it will sell” and not having your heart in what you do.

Sorry if you thought this was going to be a great little post about “this is how to sell your work” but there are no easy answers. Do strong work, market it well, promote it, promote yourself, your “brand” as it were, and hard work are really what turns art into money for any kind of artist.

Until next time…


  1. Kala
    March 25, 2010 / 9:56 pm

    I truly think the key is in knowing how to promote yourself. And that's something I am really not keen on doing.

  2. mythopolis
    March 26, 2010 / 11:14 am

    I found it quite helpful to build a mailing list of everybody you ever run into. When staging a show, I would mail out announcements based on my list. After awhile, you have a pretty good list, and a growing following. At any rate, showing your work is always a good excuse to party!

  3. Carol
    March 28, 2010 / 1:02 am

    Kala-yes, it's a lot about branding-finding a style and then finding a market for work you do in that style.

    Mythopolis-I totally agree! I good mailing list is a very productive tool and who doesn't like an excuse to party!

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