Why Does One Artist Sell Better Than Another?

There are two artists. Here's what we know about them:

  • They work in the same medium.
  • They live nearby one another.
  • They have similar styles and sizes.
  • Their work is priced similarly.
Ellsworth Kelly
The Ellsworth Kelly gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Deep Thought Thursday

One of the artists describe above is consistently selling more work.
What are the 3 primary factors that lead to this artist's work selling better than the other artist's?
Just 3!

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65 thoughts on “Why Does One Artist Sell Better Than Another?”

  1. 1. They display it more professionally (not crowded, tastefully framed, etc.)
    2. They engage, but don’t push the potential buyer.
    3. They take credit cards??

    1. The paintings connect emotionally
      The artist’s personality
      The artist has “created a future” that the buyers want to be part of.
      (I realize 3 is vague, perhaps an example would help. I once attended a reception in Bakersfield for a teenage boy the local paper praised as a prodigy. I quickly discovered the local paper and I have different tastes. But when I could, I asked the young man what he planned to do with his life, AND ART WAS NOT A PART OF HIS FUTURE. Would you buy a car from a salesman about to quit and open a sandwich shop? I don’t need an artist to be a genius, or the next Kinkade when it comes to marketing, but I do expect an artist good enough to sell to at least be committed (parttime or full) to the field.

    2. That is a logical and reasonable expectation from an Artist. That is why people prefer to buy from a Professional Artist or someone who has a Passion for Art…even if that passion is a part-time thing. It is understandable that most of us Artists need a full time job to make the ends especially if we have a family to feed and support our passion to continue being an Artist…which can get real expensive real fast.

  2. Cool question, after some thought I’ve come up with the following as possibilities.
    1. One artist is better at DISCUSSING their work than the other, such that the viewers are better able to identify and find value in their work.
    2. One artist MARKETS their work more than the other or as been able to better identify their market unlike the other artist.
    3. One artist EXHIBITS their work more than the other leading to greater exposure and awareness of their art.
    4. One artist has greater EXPERIENCE than the other which can sometimes be a factor for serious art buyers who may prefer the work of well established artists.
    5. One artist PRODUCES more work than the other such that their portfolio is updated more frequently offering a greater body of work.

    1. A standout commentary! What you say is backed by other contributions. For example, the earlier comments about energy explains work quantity, and surely likeability/personality would help with marketing. But your exacting tone poem is something we all should embroider and put on pillows in every room!

  3. Great post, Alyson! Here are my thoughts:
    1. The successful artist knows and understands their target audience.
    2. They communicate effectively with their target audience using the methods that audience prefers.
    3. They make it easy to buy the work.
    … and #4 – they read and put into practice the principles taught on Art Biz Blog 🙂

  4. The successful one:
    1.The successful one is more out going, promotes his or her work well. Speaks well on art and politics. Gives artists’ presentations on ocassion.
    2.Uses better framing
    3.Is represented locally in a couple of galleries and even the frame shop.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Roselynn: I want you to tell me what you believe, not what you think I would say.

  5. Exposing the work to potential viewers in a variety of ways, personal connection to current and potential collectors, showing leadership in the arts by teaching, advising, etc.

  6. Where you are showing your work (is your gallery enthusiastic about your work and ‘selling’ or are they just letting it sit or the wall…..or worse, in the closet!)
    Have your galleries developed a collector base for you and do they stay in contact with them?
    Do you promote yourself outside of the gallery?

  7. great question! love how the variety of answers may indicate us not spending our energies in the most impactful ways if we want to build our sales. here’s my go:
    1. grow a mailing list and share consistently on works of art AND personal glimpses of the process and life.
    2. show work, get it in front of people’s eyes, be it a laundromat, gallery, or online.
    3. be present, show up at viewings to talk about the work and put a face and personality with the work. share stories and discussions about the work.

  8. 1. A professional on-line presence-website, blog, etsy, facebook
    2. Quantity and variety of work to appeal to different buyers
    3.. Marketing or promotion

  9. The selling artist’s work:
    1. Contains more movement, visual tension.
    2. Looks more expensive.
    3. The shape of the overall piece is more “unique” (i.e., less predictable)

  10. I agree with Nat.
    1. Has identified target market. (Internet provides unparalleled opportunity to target niche audience.)
    2. Markets effectively to target market. (Consistently, building relationships.)
    3. Easy for customers to buy. (Easy to work with, easy to buy, professional and responsive)

  11. They don’t buy into any marketing myths. There is no such thing as “targeted market.” Anyone and everyone is your market, when they are ready to hear your message and want your product.
    The artist has a plan, a strategy that includes more than one stream of income. (this helps abolish that myth of targeted marketing.)
    The artist that sells also understands what a sale really is, it’s not what you think. It is a transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.
    The artist that sells is also easy to work with, even when dealing with difficult gallerists, curators, and customers. (This does not mean be a doormat, it means clearly communicating your terms and boundaries.)
    The artist recognizes the necessity for advertising, marketing, and p.r. (and never believes their own press). The artist practices all of this daily.
    The artist also practices their creative efforts consistently.

    1. I agree with you Niclole. Relationships/Connections is the most important factor. When people get to know the Artist personally, it creates MAGIC. Suddenly they find themselves becoming a part of the bigger picture and they learn to appreciate the Art and the Artist for not only for what the Artist has created [hopefully of excellent quality] but where that creation is coming from. Can they relate to what the Artist is trying to communicate visually. When it comes to the ability to explain work in person and on paper, that too is very important. If a potential buyer does not feel connected to the Artwork, there will be no sale. The Communication factor goes beyond just having a body of Artwork in front of your face. It is what and why that body of artwork exists. It is sort of like a pre-meditated crime. The more well-thought, well-composed, well-executed the work, the higher the intensity of response. Also, what the artwork is communicating. People usually like to see Art that brings joy or delight to thier life. It is rare people will buye something that will drag them down in the dumps. I know that I would not buy a sad miserable piece of artwork to hang it in my house.That is what museums are usually for. The Exhibiting Artwork Factor is the result of previous two factors as well as what makes the sale. It gives people a chance to own a piece of “Time Capsule” of thought, dedication, beauty, emotion and hard work. If the price is right, there will definately be a sale. And hopefully, the Artist has read Alyson Stanfield’s “I’d Rather Be In The Studio!” and learnt from it the importance of being a professional and showing the genuine gratitude to the Art Collector by sending a hand written note to seal the deal.

  12. Hmmm. Let’s go back to a question from a few weeks ago about possible discrimination… (I’m kidding in part, but have seen this in real world situations.)
    The artist who does better is:
    Younger (though it doesn’t seem to work against men to have grey hair)

  13. 1. Knowing their target audience.
    2. Ensuring their artwork matches their target audience’s couches.
    3. Using a lot of blue and brown to go with neutral wall colors, or work can be altered by computer for perfect matching. (am gagging)
    And that’s it! Tah dah! 🙂 Perhaps there are much better answers above and below this one. Thank you to those who have shared their wisdom!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Belinda: There’s no right answer. That’s why it’s a Deep Thought. I want to know what you all think.

  14. I agree with all the comments about marketing and connecting with potential buyers but I’m not so happy with the implication that the more successful artist is male!
    What’s up with that?!!!
    Are there statistics to back it up or just an impression? It seems that more artists are women, (or at least more members of art associations) so if the raw numbers indicate more men sell then it’s really depressing!

    1. WOW..this is the most profound thing I have read in a long, long time. It is definitely true for painters and it is really all it takes, as you say Anya. If artists did this in a deliberate and focused way, everything would fall in place for them.

  15. 1. Attitude*
    2. Attitude**
    3. Attitude***
    * attitude towards one’s self
    ** attitude towards POTENTIAL (non-buying-at-this-time) clients
    *** attitude towards buying clients.
    One must have a rockin’ attitude despite anything else going on.

  16. I think the 5th element that was not mentioned : Is the artist’s work being sold in galleries, art fairs , online or other.
    Hubby gave me a good parallel question: Toyota makes a car, one dealership sells the heck out of the cars, the dealership down the street sells nothing. What’s the difference?
    I paint. That’s my job. I contract with galleries to sell my work. One sells, the other doesn’t. Why is one gallery selling and the other isn’t?

  17. Reputations of the gallery where the artists are showing: one big and established with lots of foot traffic, parking, and a strong sales staff? The other new, maybe a coop with limited hours and amateur sales staff?
    Personality? Alyson, are you assuming that:
    1 – the artist is present most of the time while his/her work is being shown?
    2 – even if that were the case, what type of personality sells art?
    3 – if it would help me sell and otherwise get my work out there, I would work on my skills and behavior (as you often recommend), but I do not think I can do much to change my personalit. ;^l

  18. 1. exhibit your art as much as possible and get the word out
    2. personality (smile & greetings) and being able to tell a story about each piece or just being able to talk about your work in general
    3. professional presentation of self and art

  19. 1. The artist produces consistently at the same (or an improving) level and communicates/shares consistently with the public
    2. The artist is personable generous with sharing information, whether it’s story specific to a particular piece, process specific to their work, or of general interest to their collector/fan base
    3. The artist is always professional, courteous, easy to work with, and offers the highest level of customer service before a transaction, during one, and long afterwards.

  20. One artist is serious about her studio practice. She shows up.
    The other artist is often distracted and unorganized. She has no regular studio hours.
    One artist has a style that comes from habit, it makes her work cohesive and unique.
    The other artist keeps experimenting with her style, always seeking the next new technique.
    One artist has followed leads and created inroads at various venues.
    The other artist has her work in one single place where it is not selling.
    The two artists bump into one another at a coffee shop staring at the same piece of art. They begin chatting and the first artist invites the second artist to join the local artist alliance.

  21. A person who is more (financially) successful at ANY career/job/avocation/livelihood/craft/skill (I can go on) is really at an advantage over others for one significant reason: marketing.
    That’s marketing with a little m and a big M. Marketing themselves, Marketing their skills or talents, marketing their tangible and opaque values to a buying public. Marketing the intangibles and transparent is equally important. Marketing in such a way as to actually CREATE new markets where it never seemed possible.
    Marketing is such a huge, huge force within this discussion and perhaps is being shaded by more colorful “ideals”, but in the end: one of them is better at marketing. And whether it is via a totally independent venue (internet) or dependant on galleries or a combination, in each case their understanding of marketing (sales is part of that genus) is what will move them to the front of the stage in the bright lights – standing out in the crowd. I have watched from the side stage and seen remarkably talented and clever (and highly trained and/or degreed) individuals just be ignored (or go unnoticed) for many, many years and for most of them: I hold little hope. If they were “forced” to make a full time living, that might (might) inspire a bit more entreprunerial spirit, but alas – they still (after years of saying they will get around to it) have no web presence (or a 10 year old website with nothing current on view) and have yet to “get it together” to do a mailing of any kind and have never even thought of doing a press release.
    If your marketing is done well, it will not matter where you live or what you create or even how much you charge (to a point) compared with others who are in similar genres. YOU will be seen, known, and recognized – IF you actively MARKET your offerings.
    Marketing. It’s a verb. Just do it.

  22. maggie winnall

    Ha Alyson ! I’ve arrived at the bottom of the page and still haven’t found the answer…
    seems I have to think now……and from this post I would say the more successful artist
    1.loves making her art
    2.loves sharing her art with people and is always searching for new ways to engage people
    3.helps others

    1. Re: the artist who consistently sells more work…
      1. Her/his subject matter is more appealing and is varied (to suit more buyers’ tastes)
      2. The artist discusses her work in a more engaging way.
      3. The artist seems very likeable.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Maggie: If you’re expecting “the answer” from me, you won’t receive it. Deep Thought Thursday is for YOUR answers.

  23. 1. Makes selling a priority (puts time/energy into it).
    2. Accompanies their work with a “story,” so it’s not just a visual experience.
    3. Has a cohesive, visible, and memorable presence.

  24. It seems that most of you think that the artists has to hang around the gallery all day long and engage the collector, tell stories, and dazzle them with your wit.
    When do you have time to paint? How many days do you spend at each of your galleries? What happens on the days you aren’t at the gallery? Why have a gallery if you have to be there to dazzle the collector?
    Do you think that the top selling artists hang around the galleries and chat all day long?

  25. I have noticed that most successful artists have paintings that have a distinct style. Something like a BRAND that Alyson has mentioned in her book. I completely agree and identify with that. It is like finding that style and being creative with the content that comes from one’s heartand thoughts. After all as an Artist it is my DUTY to bare my soul by using visual communication. When I create a painting, I am giving away bits and pieces of what makes me who I am even if I am painting a STILL LIFE. So here is what I believe: 1. The Artist is PASSIONATE about what he/she does and does so consistantly with a distinct style. 2. The Artist takes time to develop and maintain relationships with close friends, family, as well as Art Collectors by posting blogs about what is happening in their lives Professionally and sometimes even Personally and updating their websites with new works periodically with good resolution pictures. 3. The Artist takes time to organize Art Exhibits as well as keeping the prices reasonable enough that if someone really likes their work, the collector does not have to think twice about how it will drain him/her financially.
    Having a FACEBOOK Page as an ARTIST is a MUST. In the end it all boils down to how PROFESSIONAL an Artist comes across as.

  26. Coming late to the party, but I’m thinking:
    1) The artwork evokes emotions.
    2) Artist has a mailing list and is able to write stories which connect emotionally.
    3) Artist (and/or gallery) *uses* email list and sends newsletters with stories and images to clients and their followers.
    Sorry, but an artist who is less skilled at painting technique (including style and composition), but has good skills at connecting, will sell more.
    As with any sales, it is a people business.

  27. 1. Gets people to believe in the art and they have to own it.
    2. Builds relationships with people.
    3. Enjoys what they do and it shows in the art they produce.
    Believing in yourself is more powerful than anything, people will gravitate to your energy and the art you make. Putting yourself into your art with all your energy, learn about art, improve your skills. Put yourself out there on the line, create quality art. Do painting demonstrations or paint in front of people. Last of all, COMMUNICATE both socially and on social media. Have an up to date interactive website, enewsletters and blogs.

  28. 1. The artist has a wider reach (contacts, friends, galleries, markets to sell to)
    2. The artist has a higher reputation (good image, his art works are talked at grapevines and traditional mediums)
    3. The artist produces quality art.
    Number 3 is the x-factor. They can have the same styles, size, pricing, but it is always the quality of work that tips the scale.

  29. I have found the best thing to do for yourself as an artist is to communicate with the world- for starters no better way than on the internet. Here you can reach Goa, India, if you care to or Amsterdam, Holland.
    Being an artist on the other hand I find taking the effort, going to art show openings of colleagues, wishing them well and connecting with admirers of the visual arts, makes my life richer and more meaningful. I love meeting others, learning and exchanging views. Don’t be afraid to travel!-Learn other cultures.
    Most of the collectors of my art are interesting, educated people looking for the unique and genuine. They enjoy conversing with me and more enjoyable to purchase a piece of my art.
    My website is http://www.jarmolinski.com (check out my blog-)/blog. I hope you enjoy taking the journey with me through my art. God Bless and Namaste’.

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