How not to be a hopelessly tragic romantically poor artist (why you should buy art, the value of art and how to sell your art)

Today I got an email message from the site Nurturing Creativity. It’s a beautiful site with a good message, and I support Denise’s main aim of nurturing creative entrepreneurs.

But something about this message struck me wrong.

Rather than an inspiration to artists, it’s a confirmation of some very bad messages about what art is.

It’s rooted in the fundamental frustration and fear that struggling artists face as they try to figure out how to get people to buy into their own personal creative exploration.

It’s a depressing and needy attempt to lure buyers to invest in a piece of art that they have no interest in, for all the wrong reasons.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, here’s the quote that sparked the conversation:

Basically, the artist is saying “Even if you don’t like, want or need my work, you should be generous and donate money to me so I can keep on playing artist instead of getting a real job.”

This is a hopelessly romantic definition of art – that artistic creation has its own inherent value and is a worthy pursuit even when not immediately tied to economic gain.

It’s also the very reason so many artists are angry and frustrated.

Artists today think they can just paint with their feelings and explore and that what they produce will be worth something. It isn’t.

If you are are painting something nobody wants, you have no right asking them to buy it from you.

This is charity. Successful artists don’t ask for charity.

Selling paintings is a lot like dating

The message above comes from the guy who’s in love with the girl who doesn’t love him back. He says “Why won’t you love me! I want you to love me!”

His desire for her is not attractive. His need is not attractive.

Be the flame, not the moth

You know what I see when I read the quote above? A desperate artist who will never be famous or successful.

Fear is not sexy. It’s a turn-off.

Why should I hand out money to an artist simply so they can keep producing art? Everybody has creativity inside them. I’d rather invest the money in art lessons for myself or a vacation in Italy.

Buyers buy art for two reasons

1) They like it

If they like it enough, they will buy it if the price is right. I won’t get into pricing art in this post, but here are some key points to remember:

  • You need to develop a consistent, recognizable style of painting that you like and stick to it. If you haven’t gotten there yet, and you’re still experimenting, don’t pretend that you’re ready to be a professional artist.
  • If your work is good enough, people will like it. You can’t convince someone to like your art. Liking something is immediate.
  • What you can do is increase their desire to buy. There are lots of ways to do this. You need to learn some basic rules of selling. Show them your work is in demand. Show them your career is hot and you have a great resume and history of exhibitions. Create Scarcity. Offer an incentive or sale that will make them want to buy right now. These fundamental rules of selling apply to everything.

Don’t be the gloomy love-sick starving artist who begs people to buy his paintings so he can pay the rent. Be the genius entrepreneur who allows people to buy his paintings at a reduced price, but just this once, and “only because I like you.”

2) For investment purposes

If you were already at the level of your artistic career that people were buying your art as investment, you’d know it. Galleries would cheerfully represent you. You’d never have to work to sell a painting. The way to get to that level, is to keep painting amazing things in a consistent style, with precision, professionalism, and skill.

You are not “experimenting with your emotions on canvas”. Buyers don’t buy experiments. They won’t pay you to play with paint until you figure out what you’re doing.

Your artistic education is not the responsibility of potential clients – it’s YOURS. Far too few artists these days have any actual painting skills.

You should be perfect, driven, deliberate. You should know exactly what you’re doing and why. Everything you paint needs to have a purpose, a reason, a statement.

You should have developed a carefully crafted artist personality, which is represented consistently. These are all things galleries and clients expect from you.

Of course, you can still develop your own platform and sell directly to clients, but they will fall in group #1 (They buy the paintings they like. Not because they think it will be worth more someday).

Be enthusiastic, energetic, poised and confident

Talk about your art with authority and confidence. Know where you’re going. Know what your art means to you. Write down a statement, an explanation of what you’re trying to do with your art, and get it edited. Memorize.

Repeat it. Put it on your business cards.

The quote above is right about one thing: Your paintings alone won’t sell your art. It is also about YOU; your life, your vision, your dreams. But not about you surviving.

You need to create the aura and impression of creative abundance and success. You are selling the dream of the artistic lifestyle.

Show pictures of you working (on art), on vacation, reading literature, in your garden, drinking wine with friends – your visible persona should be of the satisfied artist, full of creative joy and exuberance.

Should artists support other artists?

Denise’s response to the quote, by the way, is that artists should support other artists:

“Whether I buy or simply appreciate the work of an independent artist, it isn’t just about supporting them, but they are supporting me as well. Because it’s the work of other artists that remind me of what’s possible if I get back to work. Being blown away by someone’s hard work and imagination is a huge motivator to put your own imagination to work. When I appreciate, or am “swept away” by a piece of art, that feeling directly fuels my own creativity. So, as an artist that supports other independent artists, I can tell you… The exchange between artist and buyer/supporter runs deeper than simply putting food on the Artist’s table. It’s not just about buying into what an Artist is creating.  It’s also about buying into something that will inspire me to create as well.”

I absolutely agree with this message.

Too often artists feel competition or scarcity. They don’t want to share their contacts or clients. They are possessive of their exhibition successes and jealous of all other artists.

But a successful artist, more so today than ever before, is a social artist. He creates collaboration. Groups. Networks. Events. He creates the buzz of artistic passion that draws the crowd of potential clients. The majority (maybe all?) of the famous artists you’ve heard about were the center of a movement. They got involved in the idea that they were forming a small band of uniquely talented individuals, that came together to promote and extraordinary purpose.

(This is another reason most artists today don’t make it. We live in time of apathy. People paint and try to sell their paintings, just because it’s fun and they might make some money from it. Where is the supernatural hubris of the modernist painters, the zeal of the Futurists? You need to believe that your art can and will change the world.)

Action Steps

Things to get you started:

1. Write a manifesto.

Write down, in your words, the purpose of what you’re trying to do with your art. How is it necessary? How is it radical and unlike anything that’s been done before?

2. Write a definition of “artist”

Where do you see yourself, when you imagine becoming a “successful artist”? What does success mean for you? What’s the biggest, juiciest, most liberating goal you can possibly imagine? (For, it would be cruising around Italy, in my own boat, dressed like Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley, on nearly permanent vacation, with a nice little summer apartment and a handful of close friends).

3. Write a “Call to Action” to summon your co-conspirators

Start a group, a Facebook page, a community blog. Invent and manifest and opportunity, a space, for artists and like-minded people to come together to dare and support each other to do amazing things. Make friends. Share your definitions.

4. Go join Kickstarter, pick out an artist, and support them.

It’s good Karma. Giving and supporting other artists generously really will improve your creative career. Make a substantial gift. (If $50 feels like a LOT to you, then do it. You should feel a little bit of pain and anxiety about the giving, otherwise it’s a sum too small. Make a sacrifice. Teaching yourself to let go of money and that art is worth paying for is the best way to allow more to come to you through your art.

I plan to write more tips for artists soon – if you let me know what you’re interested in, or what challenges you’re facing in your art career, let me know and I can write a blog post for you!

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

Pin It on Pinterest


Share This

Share this post with your friends!