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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.
This discussion was particularly pertinent today as I was lamenting that not a one of the four paintings I have in the gallery I just signed a contract with have sold. They’ve been hanging on the walls a whole two months! Whoa! A couple of family members strongly suggested I advertise myself online as a pet portrait artist as I’m especially fond of painting cats and horses. The thought of doing that strikes me the wrong way. The mere idea of painting under the direction of someone other than myself takes the passion and joy out of painting for me. I paint what moves me. Horses are more than the individual; they are symbolic of freedom, sexuality,and power. Cats, I love for their independent take me as I am or not nature, and the fact that although domesticated, they easily meld into the wild. It is that juxtaposition of wildness and love of creature comforts that intrigues. Despite the fact that cats and horse are two creatures that people love to love, I will not succumb to having someone other than myself dictate what I paint due to the lure of money. If what I chose to paint moves someone to the point that they wish to pay to have it with them forever then fine. I want that painting to have a good home. So I guess I’ve answered my own question. I like your thoughts on the subject. I like the metaphor of gardener with flowers. What it all comes down to is love of self-directed creativity, that ever present urge to get what’s inside out. The only real reason money enters the picture is the need to pay for more watercolor paint and paper.
Paulette, boy do I relate to your story. Remember when people offer advice to ask yourself: do they have more or less experience in the arts (and selling art) than I do? It’s amazing to be me how many feel license to give us advice on an art business with little to no experience in it themselves. I would never presume to give advice to a gardener because I am not a gardener!!!
I love hearing how you describe your work. Knowing your why is powerful. Paint what you want to paint and you will find the people who wish to buy it. I’ve heard of people partnering with agencies where they do a showing/fundraiser and like 5-10 percent goes to an animal shelter, who then helps you promote your art, for example. The artist still makes money and has found an audience who connects with animals, for example. You will find your collectors if that is important to you. And that should never come first in my mind, the art always comes first.
Thank you for sharing your experience! Best wishes to you.
Thanks for the support and the understanding! You had some good advice there about partnering with animal advocacy groups. I was once a volunteer side-walker, groomer, and horse handler with Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding. I might just contact them and have a chat.
You are most welcome. And if any partnership develops, I’d love to hear about it! Happy art-ing <3
We don’t ask anything more from our interest in books, TV, movies, sports, traveling… why do we from our art?
Thanks Sue 🙂
I create my art because I love to do so, and I enjoy the feedback that sharing it brings. Any sales are a bonus that makes it easier to get materials, but I’d keep making art even if I didn’t sell a single piece.
Amen sister! 🙂 You and me both.
I have been exploring the concept and reality of starting a community art center and questioned what we would be creating to contribute. Artist create creativity, expressionism, and communication. We create social change and progress. Our value will never truly be understood or appreciated by society but within an artist community at least we can understand and appreciate our differences.
Thanks for sharing Tony I hope your community art center is realized!
Last time I posted was a couple of years ago when I first began seriously putting in time painting after a very long absence due to having to earn a living. I retired as a librarian thus began painting once again. Since that first post where I lamenting not selling, I have sold 36 paintings in three years. Selling validates you and it also pays for more art supplies. I do not paint to meet a market. I paint what I like. it just happens that what I paint resonates with some people and they want to take it home. I in turn want to share my art, want validation, and want to move it along as I do not have space to store it. I am a prolific painter believing that you learn by doing and I am forever learning and in the process getting better at my trade. I have not reached the proficiency that I seek, but I love the journey and I love that some people want to jump on board for that journey along with me.
Paulette I LOVE hearing about your progress and journey congrats on those sales! Even more valuable: I am so pleased to hear you are enjoying the journey. <3