Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Selling Art: Three Key Factors that Emerging Artists Should Consider

Selling Art: Three Key Factors that Emerging Artists Should Consider

When it comes to selling art there are as many ideas about pricing and selling artwork as there are artists, gallery owners, and art consultants-- each individual has his or her own opinion on the matter. In other words, there is no set rule for how one should price or sell his or her work. Some artists are able to cash in with the traditional route of gallery representation while others bypass the traditional market in order to carve out their destiny one their own terms. The hard definitions of how an artist should sell are broken all the time. However, for emerging artists I feel that it is important to be realistic about pricing and to consider three main factors that can help or hinder the process of selling art. Thus, I will offer my humble opinion on these factors.

Before going into detail about these three factors I feel that I must include some information about art pricing in general. When pricing art an emerging artist must consider details that might be uncomfortable to think about. For example, the emerging artist must look at what his or her art has accomplished from an objective standpoint. He or she must acknowledge a lack of exhibit history if there is one and the connections that come with it. He or she must acknowledge that in the bigger picture his or her artwork has yet to make a cultural impact.

One can have an ego that matches the ego of some of the top selling artists in the world, but that does not mean that he or she will be able to realistically demand the same prices. In other words, the emerging artist must acknowledge his or her place in the art market as a new face who has yet to be tested. Pricing should reflect this. In other words, don't expect to sell art for $20,000 a pop. True, there are exceptions, but most of us are not so lucky. Thus, in order to improve status one must take the initiative to do so.

With that said, there are several factors to consider when understanding why some artists can sell their work for several thousand per piece. I think three factors are the most important-- exhibit history, cultural impact, and social networking. Fortunately, emerging artists can take advantage of-- and improve upon-- these factors by utilizing the internet:

1. Exhibit History: The exhibit history of the high selling artist is one of the top three factors concerning demand for high prices in my opinion. Where the artist has shown can debatable prove the importance of his or her work as a financial investment on top of raising the value of his or her art in general. True, there are exceptions, but most high selling artists have exhibited actively throughout their careers in prestigious galleries, museums, and institutions. The thing to remember is that most of them started off exhibiting in smaller venues. Thus, it is important for an emerging artist to strengthen his or her resume by taking part in as many exhibit opportunities as possible. Don't expect everything to just fall in your lap.

"Don't be fussy about the shows you are asked to be in, although still aim for bigger and better shows. The more exhibitions you are in the more likely you will be offered venues that are more prestigious and you will get a better deal." --
Derek Ogbourne

Each exhibit brings with it new connections that the artist can utilize in order to push further into the market. Fortunately, the internet can be used as a point of contact. By utilizing aspects of the internet an emerging artist can learn about exhibit opportunities that he or she may not have been aware of otherwise. This can come in the form of discovering online juried art competitions or curators who are seeking emerging artists. Thus, it is important to take some initiative and make things happen. An emerging artist should not wait for ’it’ to happen-- an emerging artist should try his or her best to make ’it’ happen by improving upon his or her exhibit history. Think of each exhibit as a step up a ladder leading to the next step or as a machete that can slice into career obstacles.

2. Cultural Impact: The impact the artist has had on popular culture can be a factor in why he or she is able to demand high prices. A perfect example of this would be the art of Shepard Fairey. True, Fairey was well-known before creating his iconic image of Obama. However, that single image launched him into mainstream culture. That impact has made it possible for the artist and his work to end up discussed in a rural gas station as much as it is on the streets of New York. That impact, which spread like wildfire on the internet, has no doubt increased the value of Fairey’s work in the mindset of art collectors. Thus, it is important for emerging artists to make as much of a cultural impact as they can AND to utilize aspects of the internet in order to spread the flames, so to speak.

"Everybody uses labels: they give you a handle on things – an over-simplified handle, sure, but without labels, without ads, without words, the world would be an indistinguishable mass, a blur. You can hope, maybe, that people ascribe so many labels to you that none wins out…" --
Vito Acconci

Making a cultural impact involves fostering discussion about your art by taking specific actions that can help improve your chances of being successful-- or at least notorious. This does not mean that the emerging artist must fight for a specific political cause, but if the artist does have a statement to make he or she should probably make it very clear. Fairey’s HOPE is an example of how easily work by a specific artist can become recognizable by utilizing the internet and spreading the word. True, an emerging artist may not be able to make the same national impact on visual culture that Fairey has accomplished, but it is very possible for he or she to make a regional impact on culture. As I’ve mentioned before… it is very important to build a regional audience for your work and this specific factor can play a role in that.

3. Social Networking: Who the artist is associated with can be a major factor in why he or she is able to demand high prices. Traditional social networking is still a solid foundation for exposure. However, there are other options-- such as online social networking. By social networking online an emerging artist can meet and build connections with individuals who have the potential to drastically improve the exposure of his or her work.

"My students have almost all made networking sites part of their daily life. I seriously wonder where they find the time. Young artists have great opportunities to see what is out there, to form connections and communities and to promote themselves." --
Holly Hughes

Today an emerging artist can utilize social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, and myartspace in order to build rapport with gallery owners, curators, art collectors, and fellow artists. Establishing good rapport with fellow artists is one of the best ways to open doors later down the road, so to speak. Online networking and the interaction that originates from it can foster exhibit involvement and other opportunities for the emerging artist. Social networking online is social networking without the expense of travel or a hangover.

In closing, that is the three main factors as I see them. My opinion is that if an emerging artist improves on these three factors he or she will have a better chance of demanding higher prices in the future. Until that point is reached he or she will have to be realistic about pricing. True, an emerging artist can be successful in grasping these three factors and still not achieve the standing of pricing that he or she desires. However, by taking initiative and improving upon them he or she will stand a much better chance of improving upon his or her market.

As the saying goes, “You only live once.”. In other words, spend your time wisely. If you want to view art as a career-- and if you strive to sell art you most certainly do to some extent-- then you must realize that you will need to do what you can to foster it just like any other business entrepreneur. If you can’t think of selling art as a business… than you should probably not bother selling your art. It is as simple as that.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor


Unknown said...

Fantastic article... Another great art business 101 knowledge post. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Another great post. So when are you going to write that book?