I’ve seen so many artists feel rejected when they decide to market their art and it doesn’t sell. I’ve felt it, too. It’s this stinging sensation that brings up a much larger, more vulnerable question: is your art any good?!
The first time I exhibited art in Dubai I was so excited to show work at Tashkeel. I didn’t even think about pricing until I was asked to fill out a form with a spot for cost of artwork. I felt this wee bit of panic: what should my art cost? What was it worth? How the hell was I to know?! I wrote down a number after chatting with a few people and tried to forget some people come to the exhibit to purchase art. The show came and I wanted to hide during the opening. I also observed I priced the work lower than my peers. It didn’t sell.
An artwork can make it to exhibition or even to a museum like the Smithsonian for a temporary exhibit, and not sell. Does this mean the artwork is no good?
An artwork can be gifted to a loved one, made with all the skill and care in the world, and never be sold. Does this mean the artwork is no good?
It’s a beautiful snowy day outside. The snow has landed like a soft curtain over your yard. It’s perfect packing snow. Like kids on a snow day you don a big, bumbling snow suit and build a snowman. You even get some sticks, a carrot and black rocks to give him (or her) buttons. Satisfied with your efforts do you plant a price tag next to your work?
It’s finally spring. Your local ultimate frisbee league is back up and running. You buy new running shoes and the team uniform. After each practice there are a few snacks, or brews, depending on the day. Your team makes the finals. It’s great fun, but there is no professional league in your area. Since you can’t earn any money, you quit.
Gardening is one of your favorite activities. You love getting your hands dirty, transplanting bulbs and mapping out what your garden should look like each season. When flowers blossom, you take in that sweet scent, then promptly clip them to sell at a local farmers’ market. I mean, it’s your only way to justify gardening.
I am SICK and tired of hearing excuses or put downs that make artists feel art is only worthwhile if it sells. Why is art held to such a ridiculous standard when other hobbies and interests are not?! All hobbies have the potential to be someone’s profession. We seem to have NO problem with someone being a good gardener who also has a day job. Since when does that make for a “bad” or unskilled artist?!
It’s time we all choose our words carefully. Because every choice we make as a creative can either encourage this silly and unreasonable cultural mindset OR we can be the artists who model the world we wish to live in. But this also means taking the time to decide for yourself: what do I want for my art?
Why do you want to sell your art? I personally feel called to share my work with others. I also want to spend all of my days either talking about or making art. Having my art be part of my income stream allows me to do this AND teach as I do through Artist Strong.
Why do you want to sell your art? Is your art ready to be sold? If you are measuring successful art by your number of sales, you are on the wrong track. Ask Van Gogh.
Does your art have to be good to be sold? I’ve heard assorted artists and non-artists marvel at the prices for art by Thomas Kinkade, Damien Hirst, and Barnett Newman. Our definitions of good are as varied as our names. And we choose to measure artistic success and value by an ever changing definition of good! Why?
I grew up thinking my art was only good if it sold. Well meaning family with retail and sales backgrounds were always giving me advice (still do 😉 ) about the kind of art I should make to sell my work. The clear but unsaid understanding was if it sells, you’ve “made it.”
Our whole society is commercially and market driven. Our advertising and social messaging communicates to be of worth is to have wealth. One can argue many of our institutional structures reward the same. Why would it be any different for art?
The artists I admire and learn from don’t always sell their work. But when they do, it’s art that comes from the heART. Their art is not created with a market in mind, driven by a bottom dollar. It’s created because we are born to create and as an artist we can visually explore and share the world around us. Creation always comes first. We don’t ask anything more from our interest in books, TV, movies, sports, traveling… why do we from our art?
I implore you today to sit down and really assess your goals for your art. Do you want to sell your art? Why? Do you want to have creative play integrated into your life? Why? What choices do you make that stand by your art? What choices should you make?
I didn’t exhibit my art to be sold. So in the end, I felt joy in the privilege of sharing my art with more people outside my own circle of influence. I had the fortune of sharing my story, my work, my curiosity with others. And I learned a little more about myself, and my definitions of art, in return.
Be Creatively Courageous: Why do you choose to sell or not sell your art? I want to know. Let’s talk in the comments below.
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