Believe In Your Art

Patrick Howe, Yellow Leaves. Oil on canvas, each panel is 18 x 18 inches. ©The Artist
Patrick Howe, Yellow Leaves. Oil on canvas, each panel is 18 x 18 inches. ©The Artist

In 2004 I received a phone message from an alert member who had stumbled upon the current episode of “The Apprentice” and said I had to see it. Knowing that I was two hours behind her, I’d be able to catch it. Fortunately, I got her message in time.

The weekly competition in that episode was for each of the two teams to arrange an art opening for a single artist of their choosing. Whoever sold the most art at the opening won the stage. It was that simple.

The teams visited four artists and each selected the one they wanted to work with. One team ended up selling over $13,000 worth of art, while the other sold a single work for $869. Why the big difference? The losing team selected the artist based on the price of her art. No one on that team seemed to like the artist’s work, but it commanded higher prices. So the logic went that they would have to sell less of it in order to win the competition. Big error!

In the boardroom, the Donald took to chastising the losing team. Over and over again he said, “You have to love your product in order to sell it. You have to believe in your product.” That was the failure of the losing team. They had no interest in their artist or her artwork. How can you sell something you don’t believe in or care about?

Until you produce art that you believe in without question—art that you know is your best effort, art that you’re proud of, art that you can’t wait to share with people—you are going to have a hard time selling it to collectors or to galleries. You might be able to make a little money from your art, but you won’t be able to earn a living from it.

FINAL WORD: You have to believe in your work.


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15 thoughts on “Believe In Your Art”

  1. That’s good advice. When I complete a painting, if I’m not satisfied with it, I’m not going to be able to sell it. For me the main point isn’t business. I paint what I love and have a passion for my art. I’f I’m unsatisfied and it’s an oil I will paint over it and start again. Or if it’s a watercolor I will just trash it. But there has to be love for the art. I have seen private galleries where paintings that don’t do something for the gallery owner are just put off in a corner and never sell. You have hit on an important ingredient in selling art. Thanks! I always enjoy your blog posts.

  2. Alyson,
    This post is so timely for me. I began to love my art when I started combing all the things & technques I love into one piece. Cowgirl themed original drawings, vintage & original photographs – all combined & altered in digital form. I was advised a number of times that I was “too branded” – that I needed to do art in a similar vein to other artists in the mixed media world to be competitive. I stuck to my passion. Fast forward to the present – 6 years later – and I am licensing my artwork to manufacturers of shoes & handbags, and a wonderful card company! You must be passionate about your art, and you must love where it takes you. If you do, your art will eventually become not just a passion – but a successful business. Thanks for this great post, Alyson. You always hit the nail on the head at exactly the right time for me.

  3. Whenever they do movies about artists they seem to fall back on the “passionate romance between the artist and his beautiful model” formula.

    The truth is artists of any quality spend mind-numbing hours doing and then re-doing their work to get it just right. It is about as cinematic as watching grass grow, but underneath it all our passion definitely is there, just not in the recognizable Hollywood form.

    Of course we have to get our work out to an audience where it can be seen. It is the thousands of hours that precede that stage that make it possible to have something we KNOW is worthy of showing. We first earn our self-respect the hard way, then some of that respect starts to come back to us from the outside.

  4. Alyson
    Way to hit the nail on the head.

    I wonder how you do grow to LOVE a piece or series of art though? I am not sure if it is a personal love for the piece or the reaction I get from others that helps my love grow? Perhaps I have never fallen in love with a piece I have done (hot off the easel). Perhaps when I do, a new world will becon. Or maybe it’s just like boyfriends – if you are not sure, you haul them around to friends and family for feedback. But when YOU know it is right, you need no critic to tell you so.

  5. This comes at a good time – I LOVE the art I’m presently making, even though it hasn’t gained wide acceptance yet. One dealer told me she really missed my old style, which was radically different. I told her that I don’t see the world that way anymore; I had to move on before slipping into “formula” painting. It hasn’t been easy, this “redefining” process, but I’m enjoying my art more than ever, and am seeing infinite possibilities just around the corner.

  6. So very true! Thanks for this. If you don’t believe in your work, why should anyone else? I got my first exhibition largely because I had the guts to apply for one straight out of school. I also had the guts to call myself a formalist, which the curator seemed to find very amusing! Very much enjoying this blog, thanks again!

  7. So true. This also speaks to the fact that those who sell your work must love it also! I sell most of my work through galleries, and have learned the hard way that the ones I have to persuade to carry my work rarely sell much of it. The galleries that are excited about my work are the ones who move it, and this is why!

  8. Oh indeed! I know we are so often our own worst critic but I have never seen the advantage to that when it comes to promoting your work. Certainly, hold a standard to yourself in order to grow as an artists, to expand techniques and improve your skills, but believe that everything you create has worth and value because you created it.


  9. I LOVE THIS! Sales 101. I am a new artist (only 4 years fulltime) and now that many of my available paintings, while good, don’t get me excited because I see too many things I would do differently today. HOWEVER, when I get that 1 in 5 that makes me smile…THAT is a good feeling, and one I can ‘sell’. had a friend of a friend over for a drink a week ago and he purchased FIVE paintings…some of my favorites!

  10. I was a fan of the Apprentice just to gain some advice and insight on marketing and selling myself and my art to potential clients. And it worked. I’m not going to wait for my ship to come in. I’m swimming out to meet it half way. Or as they use to say back in the day “You snooze you lose!”. If I don’t sell I don’t have a “pity party” either! I suggest reading his books on business even if they’re not an art business book. The ideas can be applied to your art marketing. And yes I believe in my art wholeheartedly!

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