Art Selling Myths (And Why not to Believe Them)

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.

Why You Shouldn't Believe These Art Selling Myths

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.

Art Selling Myth #1: If you make it, someone will buy it. Otherwise known as the Field of Dreams mindset.
Image by WhiskerFlowers from Pixabay

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.

Just.

Stop it.

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.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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.

Image by annca from Pixabay

Myth #5: I can market without spending money.

Isn’t that what social media is for? Free marketing?

Well, yes.

Sort of.

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.

For now.

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.

Art Selling Myth #5
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

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.

Sign up for Carrie's Free Newsletter

7 Replies to “Art Selling Myths (And Why not to Believe Them)”

  1. Thank you for this, Carrie! Here are my responses about each myth.

    #1 No kidding! I’ve learned to actually tear up drawings and paint over oil paintings. Those things can multiply in the dark if you don’t pay attention.

    #2 Sometimes pieces don’t sell because they truly AREN’T good enough. When it takes a long time to sell something, I scrutinize it and then make small improvements. Then when it still doesn’t sell, I feel so irritated and puzzled!

    #3 It does help a bit to pay attention to what is “hot” for an occasional boost. I got quite a bit of mileage out of the adult coloring book trend–designing, publishing and selling 5 different ones of local things. But I had to recognize a fad as a fad, and participate in my own individual style, or “artistic voice”.

    #4 What tasks do you do that actually qualify as marketing? This whole aspect of an art business is so nebulous, as are the results.

    #5 Free things are usually worth exactly what you paid for them.

    1. Good points, Jana. Thank you for pointing them out.

      There are always exceptions to every rule, and there will always be people for whom the things I mentioned as myths actually work, so I’m not surprised to hear what you have to say. I actually thought of some of them while I was writing this post.

      But overall the myths did seem to me to be myths for most artists and serious problems for some. Some of them still give me a lot of trouble and I’m sure they hold me back.

      So thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough comment! I do appreciate having you as a reader!

  2. Very good article, Carrie and oh so true! I have many ‘friends’ or followers on Facebook who claim to love my artwork yet only a few are really good customers. Living in the middle of farm country in a small town probably doesn’t help much either. I do appreciate you sharing the link to a free website that might help me market my wares some. I belong to Deviant Art but haven’t spent any $$ to make any $$ but might do so in the future.

    1. Thanks, Richard!

      Living in a rural area was probably more of a hindrance when I was getting started in the 1970s than it is now. No social media. No email. No internet!

      But it’s also an advantage. The people around you know who you are and what you do. So start local and work your way into larger markets. I went to a lot of horse shows both to pass out flyers and take pictures for future paintings. Gradually, I started going to equine trade shows and expos. By the time the internet rolled around, I’d already established a name for myself within the state, at least among horse people.

      So find events that are a good fit for your subject and style. Start small where you are and work your way into larger and larger markets.

      And if you have a blog or a website, work that, too.

  3. I’m ba-aa-ck! That Easy Digital Downloads won’t allow me to set up an account & I don’t know why. It keeps telling me “Invalid Username” no matter what I try to use. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your difficulty with Easy Digital Downloads. It’s been so long since I started using EDD that I don’t remember what I had to do other than install the plugin on my WordPress blog. Contact EDD support. They’ll be able to help you.

      1. Thanks again. I’ll try that later. Right now my brother is taking me out for my birthday so I’ll have to come up with a place that will really cost him! Ha ha! Just kidding. I can eat cheap. đŸ˜‰

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *