Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Kind of Art Sells

I frequent artist discussion websites and frequently see posts from midlifers looking to get into the "art biz".

Of course, think that's great. Many of us are finally tapping into the creative sides of our personalities that have long been pushed down by work and family demands. And selling art is a thrill. To know that someone parted with THEIR hardearned dollars to own something you created is an incredible feeling.

But it saddens me when I see the cart before the horse.

I see people with 5 year business plans, who work diligently on getting their "brand name" out there, who work on pricing like it's a widget (let's see, if it takes me 10 hours to paint, plus $20 in supplies, plus overhead, plus my salary per hour...I get $___ per painting!) who want to maximize the profit by producing the most salable art...whether they like it or not.

This makes for some very bad art.

If your heart isn't in it, it shows. Trust me. I've seen abstracts done by people who honestly believed that a monkey could do it...and don't sell.

I've seen landscapes by people who never go can you possibly capture the feel and mood of the outdoors if you never experience it? One of my favorite painters is Florida painter, Linda Blondheim, and I love her work because I was raised in Florida, spent a lot of time in nature with my parents, and swear I can smell and feel Florida outdoors when I look at Linda's work. Now Linda is not strictly a plein air painter, she combines both outdoor work with studio painting to make her magnificent paintings, but you can tell...she's been there, felt that and best of all, loves that and it comes through.

Same with animal art. I've actually seen people say they were getting into the pet portrait business, because they see that artists like me who specialize in pet portraiture have lots of commissions. But they always seem to fail. A few samples, and no customers. Why? Somehow their lack of genuine interest in the subject matter shows.

I can't tell you how, I can't tell you why. But artists who love what they do...who are drawn to the subject or genre they produce not by money, but by genuine interest, can't help but to let this emotion come through in their work.

I have an online artist friend who draws "portraits" of antique cars and has a ton of business. But his genuine love of old cars shows through. I might TECHNICALLY be able to draw a car, but his have that extra something that shows through and can't be faked.

And the funny thing is...the buying public sees it. Again, don't know how!

So "what kind of art sells" isn't the question. The question is "How do I sell my art that I love to create?"

If you are producing art and marketing it and it's still not selling, it might not be the economy, it might not be that nobody buys originals (untrue), might not even be your technical skills. It might be that you haven't found your art true love yet. It's certainly something to consider.

Want to see more of my art that I love so much? Check out my website for animal portraits and my blog about animal art And if you happened upon this blog entry and want to read more about my rantings about the midlife artist, just click on the banner at the top of this post to access all of my blog entries.


Linda Blondheim said...

What excellent advice Robin,
There is no substitute for time at the easel and all the marketing in the world will not sell bad art; or at least it shouldn't ;>).

Good work sells!! That takes hard work and time invested. You are so right. Paint what you truely love and it will sell.


Tina Mammoser said...

Linda sent us your way and this post sums up the biggest problem I have with questions on some forums. I always say you have to paint what YOU love first and foremost. :) To me the best art is clearly the work where the artist has passion for their subject.

I'm not sure if I'm a mid-life emerging artist? Depends how long I'll live I suppose. ;) I started later than some (30) so maybe I can join in?

(Hi Linda!)

Robin said...

Ha, ha, Tina, I have you in mind for a post on this blog, so I would say you qualify! Yeah, that's exactly what I mean by midlife. I think when you're a little older with some other life experience under your belt, there's a different mindset. Especially if you're basically self-teaching.

Robin said...

Linda, thanks for your input. Stop by any time!!

Michael Bailey said...

For years I have been trying to find the "right" moment to make the jump into art full time and an opportunity has come which now allows me to go for it all. As a member of the mid-life group hoping to emerge successfully into the art world I am faced with all of the daunting forces every artist has at the start, how do I market my art, do I try and land my art in a gallery, am I better with an online presence to introduce my art around and work at getting my art into shows and competitions? And of course all the questions of how do I finally price my work when I have it complete, am I too high or too low, will my customers perceive my work as an actual item of worth to spend money on? Bottom line is the 'biz' part has to be a learning process and we'll make a lot of mistakes at first but by carefully listening to customers, galleries, attendees at shows, etc, we start to glean the info that will set us straight (if we are actually listening)
Robin's fact of life comment that if your heart isn't in what you do it will show and people pick up on it. I have the good fortune of working in retail sales and managemnt for almost forty years and have learned volumes about buyers habits, selling styles, and marketing your product and I would have never have been successful had I not listened to my customer, had I not known everything I could about my product, and mostly, had I not loved what I was doing. My customers could feel that, they knew I liked doing what I was doing, knew I was very good at doing it, and trusted my integrity. Our art has to reflect the same thing, we love it, we are good at it, and they will see that helping you overcome one of the biggest obstacles to selling, earning trust.
I've a lot to learn yet putting all the biz part toward my art career but I know I will accomplish it because I love what I am doing now, I am very good and will only get better, quite simply, I believe.

Dougie said...

Nice topic. There's a slight caveat to the "paint what you love first". The reality of the situation is that you have to paint what you love and do some paintings that sell. For me, although I love abstract, science-fiction type of artwork, it really really does not sell in my local area (Burlington, Vermont). What sells are flowers, landscapes and birds. However, although I don't love painting any of those topics, I do really like creating a colorful kind-of-abstract piece of those topics. Those sell. That is still interesting enough for me to make a painting that will be semi-popular and sell. Since I've really just started out (less than 3 years as an artist, part-time), I've still got a lot to learn.

However, I do hear a LOT: paint what you love. You'll find the market someday. I totally agree with that.

Cat-in-a-Box said...

I absolutely agree that your heart ha to be in it - and that viewers can tell between a painting that is forced from one that is 'born'.

But I also think there's a range - to create art JUST because there is a market will give flat, unappealing art. But to just follow your whims - unless your whims happen to be particularly marketable - may not be viable as a career (if that's your goal).

Fortunately most of us enjoy more than one specific thing - so by taking some of the things you love - Like Dougie's enjoyment of color and abstraction, and applying them to a different subject you may find you fit into a market... and you may even find new things that you like to do in art that you may not have tried otherwise!

~ Pam