image by Jack the Ripper
There’s this fantasy of overnight success. We hear about artists who were painting away in their studio, then someone somehow magically found them and now they’re famous and they just live off of the sales that they magically get.
One artist told me that he just posts his work on eBay and he makes a living wage from that, and that artists should spend more time on improving their art and less time on marketing. Good for him. Another artist told me that art doesn’t have to be better than mediocre to sell. Which is it? Art dealers will tell you that they will do all of the work for you and you can just paint. Marketing consultants will tell you that if you just purchase their system, your art will fly out of your garage.
Good Art Sells Itself
One would think that this is just obviously not true, but the idea persists. Besides that, what does ‘good art’ mean anyway? What if you are an artist that lives in the middle of nowhere Montana? What if your style isn’t ‘commercial?’ What if you make doilies with dirty words on them? If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?
These are not just existential questions. What good is art if you don’t tell anyone about it? You want people to see your work right? You need to tell them about it in the most effective, efficient way possible – that’s all marketing is at its base level. The artists who are the best at this actually know their collectors and have great friendships with them as well as business relationships.
Just Put Your Work on Ebay
Or Etsy or Fine Art America or Artfire or … well, you get the idea. Each of these sites give you the impression that all you need to do is post your work on their site and their millions of customers will find you. Of course, you’re also competing against millions of sellers, many of whose art is…well, probably about as good as yours, right?
As if it weren’t enough that millions of others are also selling on those sites, their work is frequently shown to a shopper right on your page! You don’t even have control of your own real estate. In order to succeed, you need to spend time and effort driving traffic to your store. All the while you are building their brand, while doing little to raise awareness of who you are as an artist. You might not even get the customer’s contact info when you make the sale. That’s rough stuff.
The best thing you can do is use these art malls as distribution tools to let people know you exist. Sell a few items there, but keep your full inventory on your own site.
Galleries Are the Key to Success
I’m not sure where some artists get the idea that a gallery owner or art dealer can enable the artist to do nothing but luxuriate in their studio all day, painting and looking artsy – but even gallery owner Laureen Marchand told me that artists still need to do some work. You need to show up at the gallery for openings (painful, I know). You need to communicate with the gallery owner. You need to let your own contacts know about the shows. You need to be available for consultations. There’s work to do, folks!
Also, not every artist is going to be a great fit for galleries. There are only so many quality galleries, and you might need to find a way to make a living until you get into a high quality gallery.
You Should Accept Every Commission
Seasoned artists know that there comes a point in your career when you have to stop working for chicken scratch and actually start making a living. Some money is too expensive – it costs you more in materials and lost opportunities than it does to take the commission. Melissa Dinwiddie has written several great pieces about pricing lessons that she’s learned. The upshot is that if you are feeling resentful and unhappy about doing something for the price you’re at, you need to figure out a way to charge more!
If you continue to do commission after commission for less than what you are worth, you will eventually dry up creatively and begin to resent your collectors and your art itself. Your art business will implode. Don’t make that mistake.
What other myths do artists believe about working in the field? Leave the best ones in the comments below.