Time to talk about a few art selling myths, and why you shouldn’t believe them.
A few weeks ago, a reader asked me about selling art. She wanted to know specifically if I’d noticed oil paintings selling better than colored pencil pieces or vice versa.
That post got me thinking about some of the common myths we artists tend to believe about selling art. Since understanding what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does work, sharing a few art selling myths is a great place to begin a discussion on selling art.
And before you start thinking this is an academic discussion, let me assure you I’ve wrestled will each one of these myths for years. Some of them are still a struggle. So I speak from personal experience.
There are a lot of art selling myths in circulation, so I’m going to focus on the five that gave me the most trouble.
I’ll also offer a suggestion or two to help you overcome each one.
Art Selling Myths
Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it.
This is the field of dreams syndrome. Remember that movie? Throughout the story, the lead character, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) was told all he had to do was build a baseball field, and players would come.
He did and they did, stepping out from rows of corn like magic.
A lot of artists seem to be of the same mindset. I know I thought that way for years. All I had to do was make art and people would flock to buy it.
The problem is, it never worked. It didn’t matter how many paintings I painted, most of them languished in the studio (or under the bed, since I painted in a corner of my bedroom for years.)
It still doesn’t work. In most cases, art does not sell itself.
Not even if you put it on social media.
What to Do
This is a mindset problem, so the only way to deal with it is changing your mindset.
How do you do that?
Experience changed my mindset. Years of painting without marketing or selling eventually taught me the importance of marketing. That time wasn’t wasted because I continued making art and my art improved.
But if you can sit yourself down and reason out the link between marketing and selling, you’ll be yards ahead of the game. Hopefully a lot sooner than I was!
Myth #2: If my art isn’t selling, it’s because it’s not good enough.
I suppose it’s natural to reach this conclusion if you believe the first myth. After all, if art sells itself and your art isn’t selling, it must be because it isn’t good enough.
It makes sense, but it isn’t true. All you have to do is look at the sales records for places like Christy’s to see that art that looks bad to you (meaning you don’t like it,) sells all the time. Sometimes for a ton of money.
Even art that’s technically bad—that is, poorly drawn, poorly rendered, created with non-archival materials and so on—can and does often sell. Sometime for a lot of money.
What’s my point? You may not think your artwork is good enough, but someone else will. All you have to do is find them and that’s called marketing!
What to Do
This, too, is a mindset problem. Every artist I know has moments of thinking their work isn’t good enough. Some of us (yes, me) never think our work is good enough.
But we are usually our own worst critic, and the solution is the same as the solution to Myth #1.
The fact of the matter is that your art IS good enough to sell to someone somewhere.
Myth #3: If I follow the trends, I’ll sell art.
No, no, no, no, a thousand times, no.
Unless you can create complete works of art in a day (or perhaps several of them a day,) you’ll never be able to take advantage of trends. You just won’t be fast enough.
Sure, you’ll gain skills you wouldn’t have otherwise gained, but you’ll also gain a ton of art that can’t be given away.
What’s worse, you’ll end up with a collection of art that fits no particular style. Your work will not have a common thread. It will be all over the place.
And that makes marketing very difficult.
What to Do
If you tend to chase trends in art, the first thing to do is stop it!
Figure out what you’re most interested in drawing, how you most enjoy drawing, and what motivates you most.
Then draw those subjects in those ways and have fun. People who see your work will come to recognize it, and sooner or later your work will begin to attract people who like the same type of work.
And if you must dabble with trends, make sure to incorporate something recognizable into the trend-following artwork. Something that connects it to the other pieces.
In other words, stop following the herd.
Myth #4: Marketing takes only a few minutes a day.
Oh, how I wish this was true!
Do you know, when I’m doing marketing right, I spend at least half of my day marketing?
The percentage is actually higher, because there’s a lot more to marketing than just, well, marketing. There’s all the business administration that goes with it.
So when I consider bookkeeping, order fulfillment, correspondence, inventory control (someone has to buy art supplies,) and all the rest, 80-90% of my time is spent on marketing or marketing-related things.
Granted, not all those things are directly related to marketing, and you might not consider some of them “business” because they’re fun. But they still factor into the equation on some level, so must be considered.
What to Do
The best remedy for this myth is intentionally setting aside time to market every week. It doesn’t matter whether you market day-by-day or week-by-week. It is important to get into the marketing habit early.
Also pay attention to the types of marketing that work best for you and spend most of your marketing time there. Take email lists, for example. It’s a proven fact that the people on your mailing list are far more likely to buy from you than almost any other group you might imagine. It makes more sense to work on building your mailing list then your Facebook following.
Know which marketing activities yield the best results, then make those activities priority.
Myth #5: I can market without spending money.
Isn’t that what social media is for? Free marketing?
You can promote your work on social media and get sales. But if your percentages are the same as general percentages, you won’t make many sales.
According to the studies I’ve read, only about 1% of your social media followers actually buy something from you. Of the people who make purchases through social media, they appear to be more likely to buy small things or services. Things like coloring pages, collectibles, or courses.
There are also services you can use with a blog or website that allow you to sell without spending money. I use Easy Digital Downloads to sell and deliver tutorials, for example. It does what I need it to do.
But it does take money to make money, and if you really want to do marketing right, you will need to spend money sooner or later.
What to Do
If you’re like 99.9% of artists, you’ll be working on a shoestring budget when you begin marketing. That’s normal!
So make use of those “free” marketing tools like social media and word of mouth.
But get rid of the notion that you can market forever without spending money by starting to set aside money for paid marketing opportunities. Start now.
It doesn’t have to be a lot of money either. A few pennies set aside out of every dollar accumulate faster than you might think.
There’s nothing quite so liberating as finding a paid marketing opportunity for which you already have money set aside. Money that doesn’t have to come out of the household budget.
5 Art Selling Myths that Don’t Have to Hold You Captive
Which of those art selling myths is holding you back? Identify it, then overcome it. Start with the solutions I suggested, but don’t stop there.
Work at changing how you deal with any of these problems or any of the many other marketing myths currently in circulation. Yes, it’s hard work, but you won’t be sorry.
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