What sells art?

January 23, 2021
by Susan J Mumford

This is an essential question to answer if selling art forms part of your income. While there is no single way to go about it, people often forget to do the blindingly obvious.

So then, some ideas…

The buyer is a personal friend or family member and has a space to fill. This gives them an opportunity to support you while filing that space with art. 

Credibility sells. You might have been featured in a national newspaper, popular blog, radio programme or TV show. Or, you are exhibiting with an internationally renowned gallery. People will buy because, well, if it’s good enough for that journalist to cover or for that gallerist to show, then it must be good… In short, this is endorsement by tastemakers.

On a practical level, suitability can play a significant role. In essence, the art presents a solution to a problem. This naturally leads to the most important factor of what sells art…

Short and simple, the visibility of art (and possibly the artist him/herself) is vital. Many talented artists have confessed to me that they don’t understand why their work isn’t selling. Often this is because no one but them is seeing it. The works are tucked away in the studio or at home (or in the shed). Today, even if there aren’t any imminent exhibitions or open studio events, pieces can be presented via online marketplaces, where works stand to reach entirely new audiences from all around the globe.

That said, the experience is also important in selling art. This includes face to face communication as well as email correspondence, telephone calls and the like. Someone is far more likely to make a purchase if they like the seller, be that the artist, curator or someone else handling this important part of a potential transaction.

All said, I’ll add one more facet of selling: the story. What’s the inspiration behind the piece, the series, the maker? It is the ‘hook’ that can draw in a viewer – and furthermore, buyers of art love to have a story that they can then tell at home with a piece on display. Consider this: You’re looking at a gentle landscape. In speaking with the artist, you discover that it’s the location of a battle 300 years prior, where the artist’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather played a role in the country’s independence. While the story can work wonders in selling, be forewarned that sometimes, viewers read something else that is personally meaningful to them. Don’t take that away from them, as doing so can turn away someone who was ready to buy.

Ask yourself: How will you get art in front of prospective clients? What will you say to engage them? How will you display your own credibility as a creator or seller of art?

Remember that overnight success takes years to achieve. Do the above, and slowly but surely you will sell. 

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Susan J Mumford

SUSAN J MUMFORD is a serial entrepreneur in the art market. She ran a gallery in Soho, London, from 2006-11, which was followed by the creation of the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD) in 2009, an international network with multiple chapters. In 2012 she launched Be Smart About Art, an online-accessible professional development platform. Then in 2018, she embarked upon her latest enterprise, ArtAML, which unites technology and art market know-how to help dealers keep dealing and buyers keep buying in the face of anti-money laundering legislation that hit the art market in 2020.

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