The Thriving Artist Survey Results


Some time ago, we did this survey thing. The results are in, professionally analyzed, and, well…fascinating. Here’s what we learned about what artists are doing in their business and online.

Lesson #1: Ya’all really care about what’s going on in the art world right now.

This is actually tremendously heartening. We had an astonishingly high 900+ artists take this survey. That’s very impressive. There are lots and lots of artists looking for ways to build their own careers. It tells me the art market is changing and that soon we’ll see lots and lots of artists making a living on their own, instead of it being the exception that it is now.

Lesson #2: You’re Mostly Mature, Smart Women

Either there are far more artists who are women, or men just don’t like taking surveys. The point is, most of the survey respondents are college educated, female, and more than half are 45 – 64 years old.

Lesson #3: There’s A Lot of Fear

The most often cited fears about being an artist are 1) not making enough money to support your self or 2) your art won’t make a difference.

Lesson #4: There’s a lot of Internet usage

Granted, this was a web based survey, but 82% of you said that you use the Internet for art-related activities. Astonishingly, fully 23% of you said that you spent 11  – 20 hours per week on art-related activities. More on why that’s astonishing to me soon.

Lesson #5: Self-delusion.

This might sound harsh, but I think a lot of artists are deluding themselves when it comes to their art business. Fully 32% of artists made less than 10% of their income from their art in 2011, yet more than 27% of artists expect that art will be more than 90% of their income in 2012. Combine that with the fact that 40% of artist websites are irrelevant or out of date, and that 55% of artists say that understanding and choosing the best forms of marketing for themselves is their top challenge as an artist.

Ineffectual Internet Marketing

There were a lot of interesting statistics in the artist survey, but considering the nature of TAA, I’m going to focus on this one.

Last week, I mentioned that some artists get distracted by social media. I’m not wrong. The biggest source that artists cite for online sales is social media. Yet 80% of artists don’t make a living from their art. On top of that, my experience tells me that social media is not a primary sales driver. It works for driving attention and building an audience – but sales requires other/additional tools and activities.

Here are a few things that work in addition to/instead of social media that you might try:

1. Pick up the phone. I know. Scary stuff. But here’s the thing – a few weeks ago, over on the ArtEmpowers forums, one of our members posted that she finally mustered up the courage to call a local store and offer her work wholesale. The store gladly accepted. She’s now working on fulfilling orders for her third store.

2. Build & use an email list. If you are going to continue to operate as an independent artist who sells their own art directly to collectors, you need an email list. I end up coaching a lot of artists who are struggling financially. If there’s one thing that nearly every one of these struggling artists has in common, it’s that they don’t have an email list, or they don’t use it for sales. This might be the single biggest factor in your long term marketing success. If you need help in this area, check out this post on artist newsletters.

3. Improve your website. 40% of artist websites are out of date or irrelevant. This is an easy fix. Put aside some time each week or at least twice a month to update your site with current offerings, shows, and events. If you have an active art business, you will probably have things going on frequently – make sure your website reflects this. This is the starting point. You can then do lots of other things, like making it easier to complete a purchase or navigate through your collections. If you need help with your artist website, I can help.

4. Learn to tell your story. I know many of you are uncomfortable talking about your own work. You might feel sheepish or insecure. Here’s the thing – artists are inherently interesting. Just by the simple act of creating new work and claiming the title, most people will at least be mildly interested in what you do. Learn to talk about your inspiration, why you do what you do, and even how you do it, and you will draw people to you. Use these stories as fodder for blog posts, newsletters, and other marketing materials.

5. Form more business relationships. There are a lot of problems with the contemporary gallery system, but you can learn a lot just by getting to know the local gallery owners in your town, as well as the regular collectors, dealers, and other art world folks. Take them to lunch. Get to know them without trying to sell them on you or your work, and you will learn a lot about how to navigate the art world and what motivates collectors.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering more of the interesting tidbits that came from the artist survey. There’s lots there to mine.

In addition, I’d like to hear from you. What has worked for you? What do you do that actually gets you a sale of your art?


  1. inharmony1 says

    This is great information and an astonishing response actually.  If artists are not making money, yet dedicating themselves to the art with a passion an determination, IMAGINE what could happen if we get the audience and marketing tactics correct? 

  2. KathrynHansen says

    there’s a lot of things I could definitely polish up that are on your list…such as the mailing list…I’ve got to make that more of a priority!

  3. creatorinchief says

    Interesting results! One interesting fact is that social media is the route of choice for so many yet it seemingly contributes to absolutely no sales or recognition for the artist.  It would appear that Facebook “Friends” simply do not translate into sales. So why waste time with something that obviously doesn’t work? Real flesh and blood friends are more likely to further one’s career. Another factor is that so many artists are unwilling to invest any of their money in their own careers yet expect others to do so.  I have also always believed in developing excellent and ethical equal business partnerships with galleries and other artists and this has brought me some success.  Simply put an artist cannot make it alone!  

    • says

       @creatorinchief thanks for the comment, and yes, creating real, one-to-one relationships is far more effective than FB fans. I’m working on a blog post now that will outline how Facebook may be systematically de-valuing artists’ FB fan pages. oi.

  4. Ramona Roush says

    Pinterest question: I post my work on pinterest in a directory that I created. How do I get it to show up on the main “art” list? I go to pinterest daily and like or re-pin other art that I like and it inspires me. It also helps me understand the art style that I’m attracted to. I would like to see my work on the main art page however.

  5. Angela Gray says

    Hi. I am in the process of writing my business plan and gathering statisics and information on the present trends and seasonal factors of a web based marketing site for art lovers and buyers/investors to meet artists of many genre.
    Your information above has been the most helpful to me yet. I am presently writing down my ideas and doing some financials to get (hopefully) the bigger picture before I begin building my web site.
    If you wish to send any other writings, surveys or helpful info my way – I would very much appreciate that.

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