on buying art

One of the challenges of being an artist is trying to convince people to actually buy your art. There are a tons of art fans out there, but not so many art buyers it seems. I’ve had so many people visit my studio, appreciate my work, and fall in love with one particular piece, only to turn around and leave with just a thank you and a handshake. Sigh, it can be a little frustrating! I think this is because most of us just don’t really think of art as something you buy. I put myself in this group — so many times I’ll visit an art show only to walk out with nothing more than a postcard. And I’m an artist — if anyone should buy art, it should be me!

Why does this happen? Why do so many art lovers never buy art? The Washington Post recently did an experiment that I think sheds some light on this. They asked a world-class violinist to take his Stradivarius and play for change in the subways of DC. The result? People pretty much ignored him. But Seth Godin wasn’t surprised:

If your worldview is that music in the subway isn’t worth your time, you’re not going to notice when the music is better than usual… it doesn’t match the story you tell yourself, so you ignore it.

I think the same is true for visual art. Even if you see a piece you love, for a price you can easily afford, it would never occur to most of us to actually buy it. I think this is because most people consider art buying to be something that other people do. We are quite comfortable with going into a bookstore to buy a book, or buying a ticket to a concert, because these activities are part of our world — something normal people do everyday. But for some reason, art feels different. Buying art feels like something only the wealthy or elite do. It’s not that people feel they can’t or shouldn’t buy art — it just falls outside their normal experience, so it doesn’t occur to them to go ahead and do it. The challenge for an artist is what to do about this. How can we reach out to our fans, and encourage them to be our patrons as well?


Maybe Seth Godin can be convinced to become a private art marketer….thanks for the post, it was fascinating. I recently had a woman comment about this subject on my blog, referring to how people make up a budget every year to go to the theater 2 or 3 times and do this or that but it hadn’t occurred to her before to do the same for art collecting. One artist at a time we have to just keep doing our best to bring out awareness.
ps. thanks for the link!

This is such a great post!! I have had many people tell me they love my art…yet the sales don’t reflect the enthusiasm. AND I try to make my art affordable so that people can see, that art is something not exclusively for the elite. I offer prints so maybe it seems a little less intimidating then purchasing an “original” and of course it helps keep prices low. Well, I’ve got a sale going on at etsy this weekend…so let’s see if that brings some people in and realize that art can be part of your everyday life.
Now I just might have to add you to my blog links…you smart artist you!

I’m not sure that price alone creates the “elitist” feeling many associate with buying art. Certainly in some markets (I’m looking at you NYC art scene!) But many who are completely comfortable spending a lot of money on vacations, meals, clothes, etc. will balk at buying art, even if the price is low. I don’t think it is the price that keeps them from buying… just the idea.

I have always thought it was a fairly significant jump between showing verbal or written appreciation for a piece of art vs. actually purchasing it. I really don’t know all the reasons why. Maybe they are just distinct groups of browsers versus buyers, which makes me all the more flattered when someone purchases one of my prints. Maybe wall real estate is in short supply for most.

Growing up in a household strongly influenced by artists, I always remember there was quite a bit of trading of art between artists, particularly painters or other physical arts. Sometimes they would even buy each others works. Strangely enough, I have not found this to be the case with the many photographers I know. They either have their own images on their walls (including myself), or other pieces like paintings, etc. Perhaps that is an entire subject to itself. I have bought paintings and drawings, but very few other photographs.

I agree about the price. In face I know that plenty of art buyers wont take the art seriously if it is too low. I really believe that pricing art too low hurts everyone. It can demean your work if is too low.

I have work in a gallery and I can’t have work on my website for sale for $300 and then take it to them and bump it up to $600. You have to find a price and stick with it and feel good about it.

Well what about trying to sell your art as something else?

Same prices (I agree that low pricing will demean your work). Only a different name for it or approach.

Some of the best portrait and wedding photographers sometimes create work that could be called “art”. But they never sell it as art. They sell it as something that makes their clients “feel good”. People buy “things” because it makes them feel good first, and because they need it second. Affordability comes 3rd or 4th…

How could we sell art as “feel good” stuff?


PS: I have no “scientific data” to backup all this. Just my personal take on this… 🙂

Interesting post, Dan! I do some trading, and was actually thinking the same thing just this morning. I had bookmarked some other artist’s sites to go back to when I felt flush. I think that art purchases are either impulse buys or well thought out ones that take time.

I remember last year when I had a booth at the Summer Art Market, this couple came into my booth 3-4 times over the course of the day. Each time they came in they would hold one of my pots, talk quietly. Put it down, stand back, look at it from afar, leave and then come back again.

They finally purchased it, but it took them all day. I think the immediacy of the event put pressure on them to make a decision. I had all I could do, not to just give it to them because I could tell how much they wanted it, and knew that money had to be tight.

And, what was one of the tenents of Alyson’s class? People buy the relationship with the artist as much as the art. That takes time as well.

A friend recently told me about the Fine Art Adoption Network (www.fineartadoption.net)–it’s a pretty radical concept, because the work is given away by the artists as a part of the “gift” economy, but what I think is very cool is that it allows people to own works of art who might not normally take the leap to buy. The more people see the value of owning an original piece of art as opposed to a poster, perhaps more people will be willing to pay.

Interesting post, Daniel.

“We are quite comfortable with going into a bookstore to buy a book…”

So put your art in a book! hahaha… I’ve thought about putting my own photos in a book in the past, but just can’t find the motivation. If you put out – let’s say – a leaf book, I’d buy one. I do appreciate your work, but i won’t buy *one* either 🙂 …but a book?

I think there are two mind-sets. That of creator and that of marketer. It is frustrating to have to wear both, switching back and forth doesn’t come naturally to most and I think there is a lag time too, getting back in the swing of either role.
I have noticed that lowering the price does not increase sales. If they want it, they will pay $150 as easily as $50. Someone who will only buy if it’s cheap isn’t really collecting or supporting you with repeat sales. I have both a book and a DVD. The DVD does well with my captured audience ( my passengers on my charter airplane), but the book costs so much for each print that unless you get it done overseas forget about mark-up profits.
If you want to make money with art then enter the commercial side. If you want to make art, then the best thing you can do is focus on your own voice and let the dollars fall where they may.

I should take my own advice, but like most … I do not. I just did my taxes to prove it.