After I posted Selling Your Art #1, some comments came in on Twitter that revealed a lot about why artists often have a difficult time selling their work. These are real comments and they raise some good questions:
- If the art is in a gallery (or other venue) and the artist is not there, how can this storytelling be done?
- I would rather the viewer make up their own stories about the art than me decide it for them.
- Anyone else ever feel the business side of being an artist sometimes gets in the way of creativity? I need to find an agent/gallery
Do these sound familiar? The funny thing is, you could apply them to almost any creative endeavor — writing, music, acting, etc. I’ve met so many creatives who hold on to a mythology about art making vs. art selling to their own, serious detriment.
In the first post, I talked about the importance of storytelling. Today, I’m going to expand on that and hopefully answer the first two comments.
Storytelling is not supposed to replace the expression in your work. It is supposed to engage a potential buyer on a deeper level.
Here’s an example.
This sculpture is entitled Time Stream. Yes, it made sense to me. It also piqued the curiosity of many potential collectors. In addition, they loved the shape, flow, and tension.
The original piece was nine feet tall and imposing. It was also pricey.
Now you are in the collector’s seat. You’ve met me, or my representative. You are intrigued by the work, but wow, that’s a lot of money to spend. As one of my collector’s said, “I could buy a car for that price.”
I’m watching your face, reading your body language, and noting the quality of your shoes. Yep, you qualify as a potential buyer. (Any time you want, insert your agent or gallery rep in place of me. The setting is irrelevant).
Seizing an opportunity, I ask my potential buyer (you), “Do you want to hear the story behind this piece?”
Some of you are nodding your head. Other’s are skipping to the bottom of the post to see if they can find some useful information. That’s okay. They are like the schmoozers who go to art openings for the wine and cheese, interested, but not serious about the work.
For those of you nodding, here it is: The morning I started this piece I was sitting at breakfast with my husband and one of my sons. We were all reading the paper and it was filled with doom and gloom about the financial collapse. My son had just turned 18 and didn’t know if he wanted to go to college. “What’s the point?” he asked. Cynical, lacking confidence, and terrified about the changing world, he didn’t think it was worth it to pursue a degree. This worried me, but at breakfast, I didn’t have an answer for him.
In my studio that day, I kept trying to figure out a way to tell him, and myself, that it was going to be alright. Time Stream evolved from that worry. In many of my works, I use an inverted triangle at the bottom to represent the fact that anything worthwhile has an inherent risk associated with it. We have to take that risk and balance on that point to get anywhere. In this piece, I used the inverted triangle twice, but in the second one, I used the semi-sphere to represent the seed of an idea. It could be my son’s aspirations for his future, my sculptural intentions, or your decision to start a new business, get married, etc. The next section of the sculpture is smooth, easy, and safe. Things feel good here. There’s even a window and I can see where I want to go. Then, as I continue my journey, life throws me a curve. I hit a block. I can’t go any further until I realize that I have to ride the curve and incorporate it into my vision. When I do, I flow and the seed becomes a full sphere, a realized dream. The only problem is that when it does, the process starts all over again. The ball drops to become the seed of the next idea. Time Stream is a look at the cycles of life and how we are constantly in process as we pursue our dreams.
Okay, end of story. What do you think? Did the story interest you? Did you scroll back up and look at the piece again?
My collectors did. Versions of this sculpture sold repeatedly (both through my efforts and those of my representatives). Every one of the clients, including the City of La Quinta, California, insisted on getting a written copy of the story with the sculpture. The city manager told me specifically that it was the story that compelled her vote in favor of acquiring the piece.
The point is, when you give your potential buyers a chance to know you and you inspire them, connect with them, or validate their experience, you enrich their experience of your work and deepen your rapport. They might not buy this piece, but they will buy from you in the future (more on this in another post).
If you are not selling your work directly (or face to face) giving your galleries the story about each piece will help them to connect buyers to you and your work. The stories don’t change the personal meaning collectors derive from the art, they simply open a door for collectors to engage with their own feelings about it.
Recently, at our non-profit exhibit space, an artist who had never shown her work before sold 7 pieces in a month long show. How? I asked. “I just told them the stories,” she said. For her, the stories weren’t about meaning. They were about the mixed media objects she had collected to create the works. Personal, funny, and moving, they helped buyers connect with her and her art.
This post has gotten pretty long, so I’ll stop here. In the next post, I’ll address the comment I didn’t have time to get to today.
I’ll also talk about finding your market and give you some tools to do that.
What do you think? Do you have stories you can share about your work? I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below.