How To Get More Work Selected (and Sell)
While we always start by saying that art is never one size fits all, and the process of curating and displaying works can also be much the same. However, there are several general principles that in an ideal world should guide the process of establishing your brand, and how a for-profit gallery should select works (if only we lived in a bubble). Notice that we say “for profit galleries”. These make up a large amount of privately held galleries around the world, where works are, as you can imagine, displayed for sale. If “profit” to you is a dirty word, this might not be the best approach for you. For now, let’s unpack the new and improved (drumroll) VCG “SIX P’s of Art Marketing”.
In the basic world of all marketing and sales, you may already be familiar with 4 P’s. These foundational elements are Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. We elaborate by adding 2 more to this for the sake of art: Presentation, Personality and as an added bonus Performance. One might argue that Presentation is a part of Product, and Personality a Part of Promotion, but let’s break everything down for the sake of discussion. Before we begin, may we suggest studying these rules, and then forgetting about them. Why? It will ruin the fun and spontaneity of making art.
The foundational layer that without, we would not have the other components. Let’s be real and say that art is a product, just like a tube of toothpaste, or any other widget. This is not to say that art isn’t special- it most certainly is. Stemming from the imagination of the creator, art is so truly unique in that no two products are ever alike (although themes and subject matter are not always unique). Even editions, as close to each other as they may be, all have some inconsistencies between them. Strive for too much “product” perfection, and the art becomes less like art, and more like an item. There are lines here, and another lines between arts, crafts, and kitsch. Fortunately for those who struggle with over-perfection, the world of ultra-realistic art is an immediate “wow”, but typically lacks a “why?” Additionally, the more “product-y” and gimmicky your art becomes, likely the less desirable it becomes at the lower levels of the art world, albeit there are plenty of consumers with little to no taste and plenty of supply for that (and on the higher levels, just as we say this, Jeff Koons is planning to launch an NFT on The Moon). Artists like Koons however, are masters at the product/art game, whereas, the work is understandably a product of the idea of art as a product.
Going back to the concept of branding, a portfolio that is consistent and sometimes replicable, will add to your appeal. Replicable here does not mean that it needs to be mass produced and identical (it falls more under the idea of Editions). Product is mainly an awareness that art is a product (if sales interest you), and less of the dramatic aspect, whereas you feel that every painting is a divine masterpiece that should enter the market in the $10-15K price range. Let’s face it, this is a rarely seen case, and rarer to land yourself with art dealers who operate in the higher dollar ranges. If you do, we say no more. This brings us to the next “P”: Price.
This is the question that has perplexed so many artists and galleries alike, and in short, there is no right answer to this, only our experience on how to price your art (and you probably might not like this). For starters, Price does not equal Value. Art is inherently valuable, but the majority of artists regardless of their skill level, hold no immediate value. Value is another topic of discussion that surrounds all of the other P’s… or as Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, “it binds us, and it holds the galaxy together”. We have reached a conclusion that most emerging art, from unknown or semi-known artists, is worth $1,000 and under, and valued at roughly equal to the sale price, or less. This doesn’t mean that you should start pricing everything at $1,000 to maximize your returns. The “per square inch” mathematical thing is not worth much to a seller or a buyer, and artists who try to explain their strategy in these terms and in relation to other trades with hourly rates (such as mechanics and plumbers) are often met with a subtle eye roll. Remember these two valuable pieces of information:
1.) Art is not “needed” by consumers in the same sense as mechanics and plumbers, therefore unless you do art as an hourly job, you don’t have an hourly rate.
2.) If you could sell it yourself, you wouldn’t need the help of an art gallery. Therefore, don’t be shocked when the gallery takes a commission from the sale of the work, and don’t mark up the the price of the work with the amount of the commission. When this happens, you are only upsetting the person you tasked to sell your work by making their task harder, and don’t then wonder why your work is always returned at the end of a show. We call this “tourism” and most galleries will still show the work and list your over-price, but more-or-less leave it to the Gods to decide whether it actually sells or not. Evidence of “tourism” is usually a shipping box with dozens of return labels stuck to it. If tourism is your things and you just “like to show” work for fun and overprice it, that’s fine, but don’t expect to be taken seriously.
Pricing art should not look like this:
Next, we also like to suggest “the random phone call test”. Imagine you have artwork off in a gallery somewhere, you’ve set your price tag, and you are firm. How “firm” are you? Well, you are sitting at home at the dinner table… and the phone rings. It’s the art gallery. They are standing there with a Buyer who is interested in you work. They offer you a price below your firm price. You do the math, the commissions, and you must then consider that you could walk away with that amount- or nothing at all. What would you do?
Promotion and Place
Promotion and Place are two concepts that are interchangeable in their order. Strictly speaking here, place is the physical art gallery. It can also mean an online gallery or hybrid. This also includes things like, what city, what neighborhood, what market, and the more ubiquitous “time and place”. Promotions and marketing now come in so many forms, it would be impossible to describe them all in the span of this discussion. In the age of the Internet where ads are constantly being pushed that “you don’t need art galleries”, let us retort by saying that if you want your work to physically show and be promoted, art galleries are among the few options available. Part of the responsibility of the artist is to vet out which galleries are good for them, and in turn, the responsibility of the gallery is to vet out what art is showable, (i.e. “good”) and what is not. For if we had no art galleries and purveyors of fine taste in this case, every person would be calling themselves an artist and the marketplace would be flooded with endless amounts of garbage, which is often the case with the Internet. Galleries exist to prevent the cheapening of the experience and to actually put tangible products in front of audiences.
“Good” galleries can and should offer promotion in many different forms, both online, and in-person. Their word about you matters, as it matters then to the audiences who may potentially invest in your work. In addition to promotion, are more basic things like “does the gallery have open hours?” On top of that, the gallery has to promote itself, and often, the arts and cultural scene surrounding the area in which it is located. Nearly every work of art has a potential buyer, it’s just a matter of reaching that specific of a buyer for the work.
However, as a final thought in Part 1, it is not the sole responsibility of the art gallery to create your promotion for you. As we have stated in previous posts, artists that have something to go by will often succeed more than those who don’t. A good gallery will be able to enhance the promotion and ideally, have an audience to see it both online, as well as in-person.