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3 Things Artists Can Learn from Salespeople

I know there are two sides of the brain, one which is geared toward the creative and expressive types of thinking, and the other which is better at organizing, mathematics, and such. I'm hoping actually that my persona is not so easily described, and that I'm more complicated and sophisticated than that, but I think I can safely say that there are different parts of our brain that have differing functions and strengths. I bring that up because we humans are amazing creatures, and we don't just function in one way or another. We're a hybrid of all kinds of tendencies, competencies and desires. And just because I totally sucked at math as a kid, doesn't mean that I can function as a "grown up" ignoring those disciplines and skills.

As creative types, we love to paint, write, sing, sculpt, and dance. We explore, nurture, and celebrate those expressive and creative parts of our psyche regularly, and with any luck, hone our skills in those areas toward perfecting our artistic career goals.

That's the fun part. But as I've said many times, we do a great deal more than paint pretty pictures. I'm not suggesting that there's anything illegitimate or inadequate in creating beautiful images. Please do. But although the creation of art can be a rewarding and at times a cathartic experience for the artist, we really do create work that can be seen and appreciated by others. Be honest, if the act of creation were the only objective, we'd just keep repainting the same canvas again and again. We do want our work to be seen. A piece is not ready to leave my studio unless there's a wire across the back, or a frame around the edges. Music and dance should be performed. A painting should be hung on the wall...

Monotone vector created by -

So let's take that metaphor and run with it. To put a wire on the back of one of my paintings is the most rudimentary form of marketing. It signifies that I intend the work to be hung on a nail, and displayed in some way. It gives the painting a chance. It facilitates anyone with a blank wall and a hammer to hang my art. The trick is to find further strategies to determine who has a hammer, and where there are blank walls.

All of our marketing and promotion must center around finding those who want or appreciate art, and connecting them in some way with our inventory. This is where I think many of us fail as artists. We don't seem to recognize that once our work is created, and our wire is affixed, a whole new journey begins. I was just watching one of my favorite vlogs, Rafi's Rambles, where he and Klee were commenting on how the Mona Lisa was not considered a particularly exquisite artwork until it was stolen, and gained international attention. The exposure and press it received catapulted it to rock-star status, where it has remained ever since. Our art is like any other product out there on the marketplace. It must enjoy its own deliberate promotion and marketing.

Here is where I think we as creators can learn a lot from marketers and salespeople. I know we have emotional relationships and attachments to our art, often referring to our work as our children. (Really a pretty disturbing comparison by the way. Hopefully we'd never have a silent auction of our family members). But the makers of widgets understand that the whole purpose of creating a product is to sell it. Even something elegant and particularly exclusive is marketed to an elite consumer. Private jet manufacturers sell their airplanes. The trick then is to find out what marketing plans and strategies work on those who are buying art.

I'll be honest. I'm not completely sure how to do that effectively. I spent years being convinced by family and society that one could not make a sustainable living creating art, and now I'm facing an army of creatives who feel like I'm somehow mercenary for trying to do just that. So I'll wade through the sea of doubters, and haters, and forge ahead with the conviction that the most important thing to me as an art business owner, is how to market and sell my art. I don't have any illusions that sales will make me a better artist, only a better fed artist. I can distinguish between my craft and my business. So in my next post, I'll start to explore the most significant tools I need as an artist, to market my work to the world.

So what then are the three most important lessons I need to learn from the sales world? I believe the answer to that is quite clear.

Objects photo created by -

I must know what my buyer wants. What is their pain point? What is the problem I am solving? In the case of a collector, that may mean they want to beautify their home or office. it may be a sense of pride or a potential investment. It may mean that they're in search of a tribe or a group that offers a sense of belonging and meaning, and it may have very little to do with a particular work of art they're viewing. What the buyer wants will likely vary between demographics, so it's really important to know who's looking at your work, and understand their likely motivations for shopping.

I must also establish trust with the buyer. People want to shop with people they know and trust. Most buyers are not art experts, and don't want to be fooled or taken advantage of. I need to offer them a space, an environment that projects professionalism, luxury, and I need to develop a relationship with all my collectors. That relationship extends beyond any sales. I must offer my collectors an experience of art, not just a storefront. I must establish and nurture a relationship that will last for many years to come.

Three fingers photo created by freepik -

Finally, and this can be tricky, I need to be able to close the sale. That may sound awful to anyone who is trying to develop long-term relationships, but don't get stuck on the terminology. There's nothing sneaky going on. Have you ever taken your best friend to help you buy something? I don't believe I would ever go to a car showroom without some sort of support. Heck, I don't even want to buy shoes without someone there to say; "Nah, lose the sparkles." No one wants you to trick customers into buying something they don't want to buy, but often people need obstacles removed to feel comfortable with a sale. For example, let's say a collector you know well is obviously taken with a piece of art. She struggles and then says, "I really love it, but just can't pull the trigger before next month." At that moment, I need to be able to remove the barrier. I might suggest that she can take the painting now, and I won't bill her until next month. I know artists who let collectors take work home for a while, and they they can decide to buy it after living with it for a while. I just need to find a way to ease the way for them to make a purchase now. No one is tricking or pressuring anyone. Let's face it, when I go to the shoe store with a friend, I really do want to buy a pair of shoes.


“Art Life : Blog” is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. Bogdan is a videographer and fine art photographer who constantly seeks to stretch the boundaries of traditional photographic work, with the added flare of his artistic eye.  Both artists’ work can be seen online, or at their studios at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, in Houston.

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