You can be the most talented artist in the world but if you don’t have an audience, you can’t succeed. I’m not saying you have to make a lot of money to be a successful artist. Everyone’s definition of success is different. What I am saying is if you want to make a living off of your art, without having to scrounge around for money, you must connect with your audience. Here are seven reasons why connecting with your audience is vital to selling your art.
1. Your audience gets to know and like you
Building your audience is crucial to being a successful artist. As the saying goes, your best customers are your current customers. These are the people who have already fallen in love with your work. They are the ones singing your praises to anyone who will listen. They are the ones who are most likely to buy from you again. If you aren’t staying in touch with your audience, you are missing out on an enormous opportunity. Regularly communicating with your audience allows you to stay in contact with them and keep them up to date on your art and life. They will get to know and like you for who you are. Otherwise, you will fall off their radars. How many times have you forgotten the name of an artist you like? It happens to me all the time. Don’t let it happen to your audience.
2. People help those they like
When you build a connection with your audience, they will like you more. In fact, there’s something in psychology called the mere-exposure effect. This effect occurs when people develop a preference for something because they are familiar with it. This is why companies advertise. Just by placing their company and brand in front of you, you will have a bias towards them. Studies have shown that the more often you see someone, the more pleasing and likeable that person seems to be. I’m not saying you should blast your audience with advertisements of your work. That is not the point. You want your audience to know and like you. Talk about your life and experiences and how they relate to your work. Talk about how your audience can relate to your work. Become a helpful and important part of their lives. When you build a connection with your audience instead of blasting them with messages that scream “Look at me!” you are strengthening your bond and becoming more likable. People want to help those they like.
3. The principle of reciprocity
There’s another principle in psychology that explains why people want to help you when you provide them with value. It’s called reciprocity. Reciprocity says people will respond to a positive action with another positive reaction. In other words, people want to help those who help them. If you are constantly providing value to your audience, they will want to help you in return. The key here is to give them something of value. That doesn’t mean you need to give away your art for free or sell your art at a discount. This will only de-value your work. It means you need to find problems your audience is having and help them solve those problems. As an artist, you have the unique power to elicit emotions from your audience. When someone is down, you have the power to lift them up. When someone needs inspiration, you can provide that too. The point is, your art helps people feel something. If you can help your audience with your art and your words, they will be eternally grateful. Use your gifts to help people and they will want to help you too.
4. Build a passionate fan base
One of the great joys of creating art is being able to share it with other people. I know many artists want to create art for themselves or for the love of it, but art is something that should be shared. If you can create work that moves people, it is selfish to keep it to yourself. It is like withholding an amazing recipe or a life changing product. When your work resonates with another person, you are building a bond with them. You are showing them that there is someone out there who understands them. Then there are artists who do share their work, but they don’t engage with their audience. Art can be the beginning of a wonderful conversation. Why end the conversation when it is just getting started? As an artist, the greatest gift you can give is sharing your work with others AND starting a conversation with them. If you don’t, you are missing out on an opportunity to build relationships with like-minded people. There are no greater examples of this then Austin Kleon and Amanda Palmer. One is a blackout poet and the other is a musician, yet both have built passionate fan bases. Their fans support their projects and are eager to interact with them. Just check their Twitter streams to see what I am talking about. Connecting with your audience can lead to wonderful things. Don’t miss the chance to make those connections.
5. You can grow your network
You may not know it, but you have access to an enormous network of people. Even if you are only friends with a few people, you still have access to dozens of other people. As you get to know more people, your network grows exponentially. That’s because every person you know has connections to other people. If you add one person to your network, your network grows by the number of people that person knows. Someone who has become a master of building networks is Jayson Gaignard, the man behind Mastermind Talks. Jayson went from $250k in debt to becoming one of the biggest connectors in the business world. I highly recommend listening to his story on the Unmistakable Creative. He is an example of what Malcom Gladwell calls connectors. These people have the special gift of bringing people together. If you become a connector or find the connectors in your audience, you can make a tremendous impact on your business. Once you’ve created a strong network of influence, you can accomplish so much more in your business. Even if these people don’t buy your art themselves, they can point you to people who will. You never know which connections will lead to success, so treat each fan with kindness and respect.
6. Become a thought leader
When you are looking for advice, where do you turn? If I had to take a guess, I would say you look to the people you know and trust. You seek out guidance from those who have proven they can get you results. Sure you could try finding the answer on Google, but those results come from sources you may not know or trust. Are you willing to put your trust in an entirely new source of information? Trust should be earned not given. It is earned through the relationships we build. It is earned by repeatedly providing value. If you provide enough people with value, you will become a thought leader in your industry. Thought leaders are those who are recognized in their industry. They are sought after for their advice. They command the respect of their peers. The best way to become a thought leader is by connecting with your audience and providing them with value. It is not a quick or easy process, but if you are willing to put in the time, people will look to you for advice. When you are seen as a thought leader, new opportunities come your way. People respect your time and value your thoughts. If you want to grow your business and become a respected for your opinions, become a thought leader.
7. Let your fans inspire your work
As artists, we want to believe everyone should like our art. We slaved over it for so long. Why wouldn’t people like our work? I can guarantee you there are people who won’t like your work. And that’s okay. It’s not that your art is bad, or you did something wrong, it’s that everyone has different tastes. No matter how much you want everyone to love your art, it will never happen. Even the most revered works of art like the Mona Lisa aren’t universally loved. So your art won’t be either. Contrary to what you might believe, this is actually a good thing. It is much harder to create art for a general audience than for a specific one. In fact, world renowned architect Frank Gehry’s design for the Disney Hall was inspired by the constraints he had to work with. You might be wondering “How do I find constraints for my work?” That’s easy. Look to your fans. These people already love your work. Giving them a voice in the direction of your work will make them feel even more passionate about your art. If you want to build a more passionate community of supporters, give them a say in your art. Not only will it help strengthen your bond with them, it will also lead to new and differing ideas for your art.
Connecting with your audience is one of the most important things you can do as an artist. Sure these points apply to business in general, but they are especially true of artists. What artists must realize is, if they want to succeed and make art for a living, they need to learn to become a business. This may have negative connotations but it doesn’t have to. Since the rise of the internet and social media, companies have undergone a massive shift in how they interact with their customers. Instead of just blasting people with coupons and deals to get them to buy, they have begun creating connections. You can only fight on price so long before a customer leaves you forever. That is why connecting with your customers has become so important. Your audience is looking for something that sets you apart from everyone else. You can do this by listening to your audience and providing them with massive value. Start conversations with them. Understand their hopes, dreams, and fears. Make yourself accessible and become an important part of their lives.
Kevin Chung is the creator of Marketing Your Art the Right Way, a site dedicated to teaching artists how to market their artwork and build relationships with their audience. He has spent the past seven years designing and developing websites and wants to use this knowledge to help artists grow in business and in life.