THE BIG WON
ART BIZ COACH
- Art Marketing 101
Fun & Profit
Long It Took
is the process of defining, locating and refining the very best
marketplace for your individual art. No matter how comprehensive your
training in the arts, if you don't learn to market your works, you can
get crowded out of your home by a daunting accumulation of unsold
works. To develop the knack for marketing, start
thinking in terms of a) What You're Making and b) Where It's Going to
When galleries ask, "Are you a PRODUCING artist?", it means they want
to know if you made your half-a-dozen paintings in six days, six weeks,
or six years. In the happy event that they're able to sell your initial
works, they need to know you can replace them PRONTO. If you're
thinking of marketing a closet full of your college projects, or the
two paintings you did last summer, it's time to do some serious studio
time and build up a pace before you bug the galleries. In the meantime,
enter your works in group shows and art fairs (see "THE
FAIRS: Market Research for Fun and Profit).
- observe they present the art they've already got. Study the most
attractive displays of individual artists' works, and note that
intangible "finished" look. You may also start to recognize "Not Quite
Finished" works. Assess your
own body of work, and make it progressively more finished looking.
If you're in a difficult medium, continue your training; if you work
with a difficult subject, continue the Process of Observation. Even if
your day job insists upon monopolizing your time, MAKE
TIME TO MAKE ART. As with
polishing a stone, the longer you spend with it, the more it will glow.
like to clump related works together in similar style, theme and
medium. Even if an artist's studio is bristling with, say, a watercolor
seascape, gouache rendering of Washington Skinny-Dipping in the
Delaware, acrylic Mud-Wrestling Aardvarks, and a Play-Doh bust of
Plato, some weeding and pruning must be conducted to tie together a
cohesive exhibit. (In the above hypothetical collection, I'd save
Seascape for a group show). So work toward a continuity of theme and
of your frames and/or bases is also vital to a professional
presentation. When an artist who's also a professional framer got the
chance to exhibit with a museum, she was so eager to show off her
framing skills that she used a different style of frame on every single
painting. The museum curator, surveying an eclectic array of gleaming
chrome, antiqued oak, and red velvet insets, decided the overall effect
was chaotic. There wasn't time to change to more uniform frames, so the
show was relegated to a "Dark Hole of Calcutta" corner.
Galleries and craft shops will be happy to tell you which price ranges
sell the fastest for them. They'd love it if you could develop some
good bread-and-butters in that range. By all means, accommodate them!
Think of it as a challenging exercise: Can you develop a collection of
smaller, simpler versions of your Epic Masterworks without repeating
yourself to the point of boredom? Some artists enjoy starting
the day with warm-up sketches or small-scale paintings
til the coffee hits home and the Creative Muse shows up for work.
Not only are these works immensely marketable (Nickel-Bag
Theory: impoverished students
who take home a small work because it's all they can afford will look
at it with great love and longing as they fantasize about the major
work to be commissioned after the professional degree's been earned),
but also instrumental in exploration and growth of your serious work.
There are loads of formulae for calculating your prices by totting up
your overhead expenses (rent, materials, etc), the time it takes you to
make a standard item, and what you think an honest wage for that time
should be. Put it all in the Waring Blender, and Presto! Pancake batter
all over the ceiling...
Forget the formulae. Get out in the field and research
the price range for works in your medium and at your level of competency.
If you're just starting out, don't price your work at the lofty level
your gut-level says; you're too close to be objective yet. Flex, Flex,
Flex!!! Place it at the very lowest price you can stand; it takes time
to build up prices along with production. This is your "personal
apprenticeship" phase. Hit the fair circuit to get invaluable feedback
on ways to improve the presentation of your work, and float your prices
on the market. The final word on pricing is the Mercenary Artist's
Mantra: "The Value of an
Object is the Price that it Will Bring."
If 99% of a gallery's art collection is paintings, take your 3D
somewhere else. If they're representational and you're abstract, keep
looking. Even if you can persuade the gallery to try you out, their
clientele will be pretty locked into what they've got. So instead of
wasting vital energy trying to force a fit, use
your resources to find the right environment for your works.
If you're still wrestling to master your medium, don't be shy: there's
plenty of room for growth at the fairs, and most towns of any size have
"entry level" stores and galleries that show emerging artists.
If you've been at it long enough to have a reasonable opinion of your
work, even if it's not as "perfect" as you expect it to be in a few
years, it's time to head out fishing. Start local
and decide which of your town galleries seems the best fit for your
work. Work with that gallery to develop art that sells; this will be
your home gallery.
If you're flexible, non-temperamental, non-time-consuming and quick on
the uptake, you'll gain incomparable experience for working up to
out-of-town galleries. Mind you, I'm not claiming your home gallery
will be kindly, virtuous, humanitarian, or even necessarily
good-smelling. I'm claiming that if you can learn to work with them
diplomatically in a way that benefits you both, one side-effect is that
you can trade up from your day job delivering pizzas to maybe assistant
managing a store. Diplomacy
can take you anywhere. Without it, you're quite literally your own
If you can get your home gallery to take a few things on consignment,
for heaven's sakes, don't wait til they sell your Nude Descending an
Escalator to start work on your next wonder. You
should ALWAYS be in some stage of production;
if you're chained to a desk at your day job, take a sketchbook outdoors
on your lunch hour. If you're walking the floor at 3AM with a teething
baby, daydream the soothing colors you'll experiment with in your next
spell of respite. But the idea is to invest in your future by banking
up more works. Your home gallery will be delighted to have you freshen
your display by rotating in new works; customers may wake up and buy
some if they notice the disappearance of others.
have a surplus of art, you have marketing options:
head for a fair, or think seriously about trying an out-of-town
gallery. Fish around for something within a half-day's drive; once
established there, cast further afield. Due to the perversity of human
nature, the further from home you can ship your work, the more exotic
it will seem when it arrives there. Take advantage of this fluke!
At the library, look for art magazines in general and specialty
magazines for your medium. You'll find advertisements and listings for
galleries your work might do well in. Most will take time to get into;
they may jury slides only two or three times a year, and the
competition will be fierce. One of my favorite methods of broadening my
horizon is to ask friends and
family who travel fetch business cards from galleries
THEY think my stuff would fit in.
Many galleries consider what they describe as "The Length and Breadth
of the Artist" to be of equal importance with what the artist has
produced. If you don't have a resume because you're SURE you don't have
enough worthwhile stuff to put on it, don't sell yourself short! Get a
clipboard and write out every single dog-and-pony show you remember
doing. Give yourself at least a few weeks, and dredge through old
papers to jog your memory. Try to minimize Excessive Regional Buildup.
So Beastly Aunt Bertha skipped across country while in possession of
your blown-glass Wassoon she pocketed in a fit of kleptomania?
Congratulations! You now have Collectors on Both Coasts! You got Best
of Show at the Dogtown Valley Art Club, membership 27? Add to list!
As with job-hunting or any other form of marketing, you must maximize
yourself to the point of attracting serious consideration by your
target, yet remain within the bounds of credibility in case you
actually GET the job and have to live up to the credentials you've
assembled. Think of it as conceptual art. The ground rules are that you
can capitalize on ANY background experience that has a reasonable grain
of reality, so long as you can back it up under close scrutiny. And of
course, you want to keep on showing in interesting places to the point
where Dogtown Valley falls off to make room for the Tupperware Gallery
I've been trying to get Monolith Museum to give me a show, but they
keep saying they're looking for artists with a longer resume that lists
shows with other museum shows. Vicious Circle!
As long as you think the museum owes you a show because you deserve it,
you're expecting THEM to fill YOUR needs. Do things the other way
around! Look in your Yellow Pages and count the museums in your own
back yard; you'll be surprised. Now call and ask what exhibit themes
they're working on in the year to come. Jot down any that remotely
relate to themes you can work with.
Ask if the museum has special needs for that exhibit, and offer to
create something special to meet that need. Museum budgets being as
stripped as they are, they can use all the help they can get. If you do
well, they may invite you to show with them later on, or even refer you
to other museums! Add to resume...
Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931
· email firstname.lastname@example.org
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