Yesterday, Pat Weekley of Clovis, New Mexico wrote, “I’ve been a member of our art league in this conservative community for years. Our last art auction was held in a beautiful ‘arty’ situation — we had perfect weather, good local publicity and practically no attendance. We offered wine, cheese and other goodies so that all attending could be satisfied. There was a lot of interest in the wine. A group sat in the back and made frequent trips to the wine and offered us no bids. Our paintings went for rock bottom or received no bids at all. Several of my paintings went for less than the cost of framing. I’ve heard it said that if one wants ‘good’ art then it’s necessary to go to ‘real’ galleries in Santa Fe, Taos or Albuquerque. What can we do that we have not done in the past to raise the realization that there is good art available right here in Clovis?”
Thanks, Pat. I often feel a touch of sadness when I see the earnestness of artists in sales venues in out-of-the-way places. Sometimes I see the work of really excellent artists and try to help them or make recommendations as best I can. I call these folks “flowers blooming in a desert.”
But as you know, New Mexico is the place where you can see some of the best art in the USA. Shooting from the hip, I’d say if you want to make sales in New Mexico, you have to have really top quality art. It could be the competition.
Further, I suspect that most of the locals in Clovis have other priorities than the collecting of art. You might try busing people in. You’d round them up on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Sure, some of your local wine-drinkers and cheese-eaters (great cheese made in Clovis, by the way) will throw peanuts at you to “give you encouragement,” but if it were me I’d rather be kicked in the head by a heifer. Fact is, even if you had a flying saucer over from Roswell you’d probably get only a bunch of saucer-eyed non-art-lovers.
I’m guessing, but I think the way to raise the realization that there is good art in Clovis is to make better art. Make it so damned good that collectors drive out Hi-way 60 in their Caddies and Lincolns. Let them bring their own wine and cheese.
PS: “Good merchandise, even hidden, finds buyers.” (Plautus)
Esoterica: I’m sure many of our readers will tell us in the clickbacks and live comments about systems that bring people into these sorts of events. Further, there are probably systems, short of forced public lobotomies, that might encourage cattlemen and ranchers to become enthusiastic art buyers. We’d sure like to hear about those, too. But it’s going to be an encounter of the fourth kind — about four percent of the population are making art, and two percent are buying it.
What excites us?
by John Crowther, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Years ago there was an advertising slogan that went, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Clearly we can’t judge work without seeing it, but there’s always a tendency to blame the buyer, not just among artists but everyone. It’s easy for relatives, friends, and colleagues to offer praise, but the marketplace is our most unerring critic. While we have to take this as a positive, there’s a caveat. It’s a mistake to do what I call “chasing the market,” trying to dope out what kinds of work sell and attempting to produce it. Rather, we have to constantly try to understand what it is in our subject matter that excites us, and ask ourselves to what extent we are communicating that excitement. As Robert Henri says in The Art Spirit, “Each man must take the material that he finds at hand, see that in it there are the big truths of life, the fundamentally big forces, and then express in his art whatever is the cause of his pleasure.”
Big fish in a small pond
by Tobe Muir, Toronto, ON, Canada
Living in a small area with an overabundance of aspiring artists, it’s very difficult to get involved in the local scene. People are so busy boosting one another’s egos they don’t have time to learn the tools or work on what they want to say. I don’t paint whatever comes to mind but stick to what I do best. People know what to expect and buyers come to see it. One Toronto gallery offhandedly said I was one of the best flower painters in Canada, and that was the best affirmation I’ve ever received. It’s a small niche market, but being a big fish in a small pond is better than being plankton. One must self-promote and have a coherent body of work to even start in the gallery scene. Then, have a show ready at all times.
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Understanding your market
by Jack Dickerson, Brewster, MA, USA
Emphasis on excellence is right, however…
1) You must know your market. Artists are not unlike other people selling products. We need to have a good understanding of what our buyers like, want, and buy. It is a fact of life.
2) Low price never will assure you of a buyer. Be careful not to under price your works. It devalues your art in your buyer’s eyes.
3) Do some research and better understand the different venues. Clovis may very well not be the market, and auction may very well not be the venue that will work for you.
4) The word auction usually means to average people, discount. Also, other than Christies or others like them, auctions attract people who think they can get something for less. Understanding and knowing your market is the most significant element (other than quality) in the art market.
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Quality is everything
by Susan Lenz, Columbia, SC, USA
About ten years ago I overheard a few artists complaining about area gallery commissions being raised from 40% to 50%. They protested, “It’s not like we’re in NYC.” Their solution was to raise their prices. My mentor, a self-supporting landscape oil painter named Stephen Chesley, was also listening and offered his advice: “If you can’t afford the commission, you need to improve the quality of your work.” The grumbling artists simply continued to bicker. They even quipped back that Stephen’s prices were so high that “of course” he could afford the higher rates. They never considered his suggestion. Ten years later, Stephen is still selling work. Some of the complainers are not even producing. Quality is everything.
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by Lyn Asselta, St. Augustine, FL, USA
Here where I live in Florida, I have endured dozens of “Art Walks” over the years, only to find the majority of patrons to be out for a free happy hour. With wine and snacks available, I watch sadly as hoards of people wander through local galleries, rarely buying but having an enjoyable night out at the galleries’ expense. Although disheartening, it does bring home the idea that you just have to continue to make good art until it becomes excellent art… and if it becomes the goal of a community of artists to make really excellent art, the public will start to take notice. It is a long process, and the wine and cheese are part of the package. One simply has to persevere and somehow remain enthusiastic. On a smaller scale than cities like Santa Fe or Taos, other cities have managed to become notable in different regions of the country, largely through good advertising. Perhaps Clovis should invest in a highway marker that reads, “Clovis: the Best Little Art Town in NM!!” People will want to see why… but you’ll have to be sure you’ve made it worth their while to stop.
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Relocating for success
by Kim Rody, Bahamas/FL, USA
In the year 2000, I was living in Dallas, TX, painting fish. I had a gallery show, did the show circuit for two years, and hung in numerous high end restaurants who gave me beautiful receptions. I could not sell a fish to save my life. I started doing a show in January 2001 in the remote out islands of the Bahamas. That went so well that in 2002 I moved to Florida and started commuting to the Bahamas. Right now I am sitting on my sailboat in beautiful Hope Town harbour reading my morning email. In about an hour, I am going to take the dinghy down the island to my rented studio on the beach to prep for my 12th annual art show coming up (the show that got me here). My point is, I had to go where the people were who bought my art. Years ago, a metaphysical art teacher of mine went to go get her “geographical reading” done. Seems like the stars can tell us where we need to physically exist in order to be successful. I never got a reading, but I was certain Dallas was not where I needed to be.
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Mysteries of the art world
by Andrew Judd, Toronto, ON, Canada
Being represented by a gallery in Santa Fe does not guarantee sales, either. I had two sell-out shows in London, England, and the same gallery in Santa Fe never sold a single painting! The gallery owner was left scratching her head.
If you want to sell paintings, I would suggest you host a Charity auction. Patrons sometimes buy work to feel good about a cause. That is a wonderful way to contribute on many levels both for the artist and the purchaser. A silent auction works well, too. If someone is truly interested in your work, they will write it down on a piece of paper and make a commitment. The purchaser can come back when the crowds have gone to look at the work.
Also!! Start your auction with a reserve price. Why are you giving your frames away? You either bought or made your frames, so charge for them. Alternately, offer another price unframed so you can use the frame again. Let them buy their own frames. Frames can be a deterrent if they aren’t suitable for the environment they hang in.
Your reserve price should include a nominal fee that assures you aren’t out of pocket or unhappy when the work sells.
I don’t agree entirely with Robert regarding quality of work. I’ve seen people pay big money for something I’d turn to face the wall. Perhaps the name sells, or it matches the couch. That is one of the great mysteries of the art world.
I do agree you should make great art. That is the ultimate quest and people will find you. And as Robert says, “Let them bring their own wine and cheese.”
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Arts Tour makes town ‘artsy’
by Judith Bush, Deerfield, NH, USA
Here in Deerfield, NH, we have the Deerfield Arts Tour every year. We have about 20 artists, inviting those who live in Deerfield to join us. Some of our artists are nationally known and some not and the artists use a wide variety of creative talents: from unique bird houses, quilting, photography, and beading to painting and pottery and more. We have been advertising on TV statewide and put out a classy brochure with a map, which we distribute within a 50 mile radius. The Art Tour brings in folks from around the state for two days. Artists are either in their studio or grouped together in some larger sites. We serve goodies and have a raffle. Businesses in town support the effort and are mentioned in the brochure.
We will be working to put together our 9th tour for October. Of course October is beautiful in New Hampshire which always helps. All participating artists come to meetings, make decisions and do the work. Major expenses are brochure and advertising. All volunteer work. I suspect that how well artists do depends on the pricing and quality of their work. But I know of many artists who sell after the show as folks can’t get something out of their mind and then go back and buy.
If nothing else this tour has brought together artists in town who support each other and have created a bond. And now Deerfield is seen as an “artsy town.” We probably don’t have any more artists than another town, but the tour has brought them positive attention.
You can see the brochure on my website.
Suggestions for Clovis Artists
by oliver, TX, USA
Nothing substitutes for good art and in tough economic times cash for decoration and collecting for many is scarce.
Try to improve your list of people attending. Art leagues in and of themselves are places where people may want to donate money, but make sure the buyers/donors know how the money is being used and that the buyers can get a deduction for the works bought. As I recall, the deduction is the amount paid over fair market value — so keep the fair market values down and make sure the league is a qualified entity for deduction. Find a tax accountant or lawyer to help with this — many bar and accounting associations have volunteers for artists. Here in Texas there is an association: Texas Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts. Your area may have a similar association. Get them to help you with the organization and tax stuff and to mail out notice of your fundraiser to their members and volunteers… a two fer… lawyers and accountants may have cash to buy art and they can help you with advice for the fundraiser. Business people may have cash to buy art for their homes or offices — remember, many artists aren’t really buyers of work — they often have a lot of their own and it is rare that they have lots of money to spend on others’ works. Students, similarly, may love art but do they have the cash? Probably not. Over the years I’ve seen lots of artists and non-profits cater their fundraisers to other artists, students etc.
That said, if your art league also had some programs to bring art to children or elderly in the community, was helping to decorate schools, hospitals etc, then the donor/buyer may feel more inclined to donate/buy. You can even split the funds, 80% of fair market goes to the artist, 20% general purposes of the league and funds above fair market will be used to support one or more of these types of community programs.
Make sure you advertise where the people who may buy art will see it. The community business journal may be much better than the university newspaper or even the general paper. The entertainment paper is probably okay, though papers of all types are in decline. Seems like this is a Facebook or Twitter type of thing but you got to get to the right people… 500 college students may give wonderful feedback, eat the snacks, drink the wine, make it a nice party, but may not buy much art… but then you can maybe raise money on the food and wine…
Make sure the fundraiser is a good time and consistent with the attendees’ aesthetics. Remember, while it may be great art, not everyone is going to want to support certain themes, etc., but some may. Know your audience. New Mexico has recently had great finds in natural gas, and these may be a source of people with money to spend as well. However, they may not be inclined to support political- ecological-oriented art that paints the industry and the mineral owners as ecological villains. Not everyone appreciates a cross in a bottle of urine… etc. Know your audience and cater to them… very, very occasionally, if done right, you can tweak (not insult) them, but be careful! That said, in the right group, some of this type of work may sell and sell well. You may want to develop a following over the years, so if you are in New Mexico my guess is being known for oceanscapes and New England fishing village landscapes and occasionally other things might not be the best, but mountainscapes, etc., might work well. Conversely, if you are on the coast of New England…
Get a known guest artist to donate or help. In some ways this goes back to nothing substitutes for good art. But if you have a well known piece(s) offered at a great value, you may get real buyers to attend (back to improve the type of attendees). Advertise the right lead piece, the low reserve or bidding start amount to the right people who would be interested in that piece, and make sure that much of the supporting work would appeal to the same buyers, and see what happens…
Coordinate with a season or other event and make it fun! Many communities have very active times of the year for certain types of things. Make sure you are consistent with that but not in conflict with another event. Summer in Houston is not the time to do lots of things — hot, humid, and people like to travel away if they can to beat the heat! Lots of charity balls and fundraisers here are done in the fall tapering off dramatically after the first of the year. People are usually “spent out” after the holiday season and those with disposable cash are figuring out the first pass at their taxes and may need a deduction. After the first of the year it is usually too late. The weather can be really cold and wet — a time to stay inside, enjoy a fire and wait for spring to arrive. However, the inside art and craft fairs in November, I heard, did really well this year even in tough times.
Many communities have coordinated gallery night, or artist open studio night, and depending on how the bidding is set up you might be able to work with one of these. This might be a place where Facebook/Twitter would work. Bidding closes at 9pm and all interested people are tweeted or messaged when a new bid arrives. A jpeg copy of the work is sent with the new bid amount and people stroll the community on the open studio night, etc.
Set reasonable expectations consistent with your environment and the economics of the times. Be able to report success and report it with thanks! No one really wants to support a losing cause and everyone likes to be appreciated — but make it honest. Report to the buyers/attendees what was done with the funds raised. Some of the above may not work in a small area like Clovis — Wikipedia indicates the statistical area is 63,000 so this is where setting expectations appropriately and perhaps coordinating with some other event — the county fair, etc. — may be appropriate.
Find someone who knows about fundraising to help you. Back to the lawyers and accountants above, they may know someone. There are also professional fair organizers, etc., who may be able to help for a portion of the gate or, if you are really lucky, to donate some time and their mailing list.
High quality Gala
by Jo Watts, Smithville, TX, USA
I, too, live in a small town about an hour’s drive Southeast of Austin, Texas. Each spring we have an event that has grown bigger and more successful each year. It’s a garden party held on the grounds of a “stately home” in the historic district of our town and has become “the place to see and be seen.” Everybody dresses up; the ladies and many of the men wear hats (we are in Texas, of course) with their Sunday go-to-meetin’ outfits. The gourmet food is catered and there is always something different and delicious. The food and wine, beer and soft drinks are circulated on trays carried by servers wearing black and white. The tables are covered in colorful cloths with beautiful centerpieces (which are offered for sale). It’s all very elegant. Several tents are set up with the largest one holding the live auction which takes place toward the end of the event with champagne being served. Another tent holds items for a silent auction.
The art work is strictly juried and is very high quality. Only about 15 items are selected out of maybe 50 entries (yes, I have been rejected) so artists hold back their best of their best for this show. We are now planning our 6th or 7th Gala and the word is out that the work is of high quality, the food and drinks are top shelf and that they’ll have a good time or they will regret missing it.
Having said all this, I think that one reason that this event is so successful is that it’s exclusive. Not strictly by invitation only, but there is an admission of $35 to $50 per person and even the exhibiting artists pay to attend. It’s become almost a status symbol to be seen there. It’s covered by the newspapers and people feel privileged to be included. By not opening it up to the general public, so to speak, we don’t attract those who are looking for free wine and snacks, but rather people who love art and love helping to promote it while having a good time. Attendees also like to be seen bidding and outbidding their friends (and sometimes, their rivals).
Selling art is never a sure thing. We all know that the public tastes cannot be predicted but we keep on keeping on, don’t we?
oil painting 30 x 40 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Helen Opie of Bridgewater, NS, Canada, who wrote, “Trying to make people want to buy art is like teaching pigs to sing; it is a waste of time and annoys the pig. Get your work out to where those who are interested in art will find it – or make some sort of event that is geared to art-explorers and follow Robert’s advice about letting them provide their own wine.”
And also Teresa Chow of Vancouver, BC, Canada, who wrote, “If the artworks are of superb quality, the venue is in the wrong location. Marketing is crucial in any business, even art.”
And also Mary Spring of Rochester, NH, USA, who wrote, “We are our own worst enemies. It is crazy that we would sell a painting for the cost of framing! I would rather keep my work and enjoy it on my own walls than compromise my integrity of what my paintings are worth.”
Enjoy the past comments below for ‘What can we do?’…