Yesterday, Edward Abela was wondering how many artists are interested in why people buy their art. Ed wrote, “At a recent show I found varied reasons: a visitor from England wanted a painting to take home as a souvenir; a young couple bought a painting because it fit in with their social ideals; others needed paintings as wedding or anniversary presents, gifts to colleagues or community VIPs. As usual, a few regulars just liked the work.” Edward feels this knowledge is an added bonus to direct selling as opposed to selling through a gallery. He asked if artists missed this aspect by using galleries.
Thanks, Edward. Some artists don’t give a darn about such mundane thoughts. But, like you, I’ve always been curious. Working with dealers, I’ve found show openings give ample opportunity to try to read minds and overhear remarks. At a recent show I asked a woman why she had bought a particular painting. “I like that spot there,” she said, pointing to an orange brushstroke about the size of an aspirin. A lot to pay for a spot, I thought. It’s been my experience that many folks are unable to explain their true motivation.
While rationalizations are legion, it’s often personal experience that connects them with the work. “Climbed those mountains, seen that condition, felt those feelings,” they sometimes say. There’s something totally genuine about these kinds of sentiments. Also, it’s obvious to me that some folks simply take pleasure in spending money. As well as connection, their faces tell the joy of money well spent.
Commerce is full of examples where people say one thing and do another. Even intended wedding presents may be rationalization. Many planned gifts go home instead. Reading between the lines, you might say they buy from an innate human desire to uncover what they think is uniqueness and quality. Many of us think we have this perception in shirts and steaks and spouses. Sometimes we’re wrong, of course, but that’s the game. The art game includes connection, friendship, joy, love, sentiment, experience, taste, honour, acquisitiveness, the collecting instinct, social acceptability and investment. That’s why the experience is so rich, varied and, yes, mysterious. When leaving my openings and heading for the local bar, I often think of George Bernard Shaw‘s remark: “When you know the artist you think less of the art.”
Esoterica: A significant number of buyers are influenced by the herd instinct. Sales of popular artists such as Erte, Itzchak Tarkay, Peter Max and LeRoy Neiman, for example, happen partly because others are seen to be purchasing. Theres safety when the same art is on other peoples walls. Before condemning the herd phenomenon and the baser instincts of our fellow man, artists need to realize that small but effective herds thunder in modest galleries and for “local” artists as well. Andy Warhol noted, “Success is what sells art.”
Empathy and Karma
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
Many of the people who buy my paintings do it because there’s something about my style that reconnects them to something in themselves. I love to buy art myself, always on impulse. My favorites: Lennie Kesl, Norman Jensen and Ken Kerslake. I’ve purchased original art since my ‘starving artist’ days. My first acquisition was a small sculpture by Dennis Kowal. I paid $50 for it. Took me almost a year to pay it off, at $5 a month. I have a theory that artists who collect art have an easier time selling their own work. Maybe it’s karma. Maybe knowing what it feels like to be on the buying end of the transaction makes it easier to relate to patrons. Maybe it’s a bit of both; empathy and karma.
Suddenly the herd appeared
by Lorelle Miller, CA, USA
People passed by not really being blown away by what they saw, when suddenly “Wham” there was a microphone in my face asking me my thoughts about winning “Best of Show.” I woke up from my trance then suddenly the herd appeared. Who was I, what was the painting about, do I have my work in a gallery, on and on. My work and I were exposed and placed in the limelight. Strange how transient it all is. For a brief second you are it, then as quickly as the attention is drawn to you, it fades like a fairy tale into dust. I want to find my success within my own satisfaction not by the whims of a judge or an audience. I am certainly not naïve nor am I a true rebel. I simply want to feel the glory on my own.
Why they buy art
by Roger Cummiskey, Dublin, Eire
People buy because they are sold — either by someone else or themselves. They buy because they want to enhance their lives. Because what they see reminds them of something. Because there’s a story behind the art or the artist. Because they want to get rid of money — sometimes lots of it. They want to invest. They need to make a gift. Their neighbors have something like it. They want to look smart, sensitive or clever. They want to have something on the wall. They want to encourage somebody or become a benefactor. And last but not least, they may actually buy because for some unknown, deep-seated, atavistic reason they can’t explain, they just can’t live without it.
Grateful for the sales
by Susanne Kelley Clark, Dallas, TX, USA
Recently I heard that if one wanted to sell they should not paint dead trees, or work in dull colors, or work small, don’t make paintings which are too personal, and on and on. But then the public shows up and completely surprises you with what they respond to and as with everything, you cannot predict how people feel or think, or how they “feel” your painting because that response is more about them than you and that is why they buy it. And yes, I watch and listen too and find that some people just love to buy paintings, just as we love to make them. I am grateful for the sales, no matter why they happen, since it allows me to continue doing what I love to do.
A collector’s rules for buying
by Phil Taylor, Halton Hills, ON, Canada
My wife and I are collectors of contemporary art — that is work by living, working artists. The first thing we look for in an artist is technical mastery of their chosen medium. This eliminates about 90 percent of all artists out there, since mastery in art today is not considered too important (though it seems that may be slowly changing). The second thing is that the artist must have a strong personal artistic vision and esthetic; when you see his or her work it must be unmistakably his or hers. Thirdly, the art must speak to us on a gut level. This is purely subjective and cannot be explained. Fourth, we only look at artists who are not yet well known in the art community — they do not have a reputation. This way we are only paying for the art itself and not the reputation. We are not made of money, but are not afraid to spend significant sums on quality work. My wife and I have to agree on any purchase, and we both have veto power over any proposed buy — no questions asked. We both have to live with it, so we both have to love it.
Delight in buying
by Shelley Grund, KY, USA
In the past 3 weeks I opened my very own Art Studio with gallery in this small town in South Central Kentucky. I’ve already sold 5 paintings — and the buyers all had their personal reasons. Two paintings, plein air field studies of the area, were purchased by sisters who no longer live here. Buyers say they love my style and the paintings brought back memories of growing up here in the hills of Kentucky. It’s so wonderful to hear them speak with delight about their purchase.
Life’s a beach
by Roger Asselin, St. Petersburg, FL, USA
As a former sales person I learned early on that targeting your audience is one of many important keys which produce above average sales. Living in St. Petersburg, Florida, affords me the privilege to sell my paintings on a weekly basis at local beaches. This time of the year marks the influx of millions of tourists. Many if not most come for sun and fun at the beach. They spend millions on souvenirs and paintings are high on the list. I cater to the beach crowd and it is usually the 45 and up that buy most of my art. Needless to say it does not take a rocket scientist to decide who your audience is going to be and what they will be looking to buy. While I carry a mix of 100 paintings for each sales day of various styles and subject, I am keenly aware that seascapes, sunsets, local fauna and beach scenery are the top sellers in that particular order for me. My last sales day at Pass-A-Grille beach netted me the sale of 5 paintings in a 6 hour sales day. We operate from 8:00 AM until 2:00 PM. Yes, we catch the breakfast crowd at the beach. Every painting sold was a beach scene of some sort. Five “point of interest” paintings are set high on tall easels behind my sales area (10 by 10 feet). They range in size from 20×24 to 24×36 museum grade wrapped canvas. They are big ticket items. Smaller paintings are on canvas or watercolor paper mounted to foam board and matted ready for framing. Displayed on racks on my table in 5×7, 8×10, 11×14 and 16×20 sizes, it is usually the 8×10 and 11×14 which sell best… Why? They can be slipped into a travel bag or easily shipped. I offer shipping for a nominal fee. One more selling point… I sell no prints. My customers are guaranteed to be purchasing only original paintings.
Recycling frames at sales
by Corrie Scott, Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados
Gallery shows can be overwhelming. I sometimes hide in the kitchen. The added list of why people buy is “it matches my walls,” “it matches my rug,” “it matches my…” It’s all upsetting, but it makes a sale and allows me to carry on painting, which is my life. I have learned to have the frames easy to remove as quite often the frame does not match the person’s taste and this way they may see it without the frame, which often closes the sale. This way I also get back a frame to use again.
Showing up at shows
by Harlan Hoffman
I sometimes think I sell more art when I am not at the gallery openings. I wonder what you think about the artist being there at the openings and talking it up, hosting potential clients, etc?
(RG note) Thanks, Harlan. At openings I rely on the dealers and try to avoid commercial conversations. If they start one up I point them in the direction of the dealer. If they ask my opinion whether this is better than that, I give it careful thought and an honest answer. I try to give factual information about time and place if they ask. Many artists I know also feel more comfortable talking about motivation and the idea behind works. I have absented myself from a few shows and they seemed to go okay. Showing up is really a courtesy to the dealer, and they appreciate it. My friend David Hagerbaumer, famed for his sell-out wildlife shows, amused a lot of people by always saying he would be there, and not showing up. It seems he just liked hunting, fishing and painting better.
What is the luring mystery?
by Louise Francke, NC, USA
What is it that attracts many buyers to the same work? Recently, I had several potential buyers for one painting. Why this painting instead of another? What is the luring mystery? Some said it was the rabbit and the myths about what a rabbit represented. Others thought it was the mystery or the weird juxtaposition of things they loved. Here it is and I would appreciate more input as to why anyone might be attracted to this painting?
(RG note) Thanks, Louise. (1) It may be the best one in the show. (2) It may have created a buzz and the buzz went viral. (3) Seeing it sold generated further interest and talking points. Keep in mind that sold paintings are easy game for praise because they are already taken. The first reason is the interesting one. Some paintings have a sort of mysterious moxie that makes them stand out and connect above all the rest. Curiously, I’ve noticed shows where all the works are somewhat similar or equally mediocre can be sellouts. One excellent work in a collection can stop the interest in the others. It’s like a dance floor with one particularly pretty girl.
One delicious stroke does it
by Karl Leitzel, Spring Mills, PA, USA
Your quote of the woman who bought a painting because, “I like that spot there,” struck a chord with me. There have been many times when, either in my own finished work or that of another artist, I feel as though the strength of the painting comes most fully together in one or two perfectly placed brush strokes. Yet, that perfect brush stroke would be absolutely meaningless were it not for the context created by the painting in its entirety. Everything else works together to set up the perfection of that stroke.
Introducing mood and passion
by Carol Morrison, Oakville, NS, Canada
Having gone to the show in Washington, D.C., I had not realized before that J.M.W. Turner was very concerned with financial success, and was very good at having it. His paintings are designed to arouse feelings. Some, such as his painting of the death of Nelson, are designed to arouse patriotic feelings, whereas some show the horrors of war or disasters at sea. He also raised the stature of landscape painting with his “sublime” landscapes, in which he is a master of using theatrical light effects, for example in paintings of ruined castles, mountain passes, the burning of the Houses of Parliament and historical scenes such as Hannibal crossing the Alps. I am used to interacting directly with the scene in front of me, as a plein-air landscape painter, but this show made me realize that clients may relate more to my work if I am not afraid to introduce mood or passion into a painting.
Falling in love
by Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA
Over and over, people have let me know that the reason they bought my work was because they fell in love with it. Maybe the subject matter had something to do with why they bought, but in the end, it was how the piece was made — it was ambience, personality, something expressive in the work that connected with them. One of my most memorable sales was a small cat sculpture. The woman who bought it told me she hated cats, but somehow the piece was irresistible to her–she simply loved the way I had done the piece. It was one of my favorite pieces and came out unusually well; if she hadn’t bought it I would have been happy to keep it.
(RG note) Thanks, Theresa. Hundreds of artists wrote and mentioned “love.” The question is, “Why do we fall in love?” This goes for falling in love with others, cats or paintings. Whether we admit it or not, we’re all trying to get to the bottom of this mystery.
by Barbara J Carter, Valencia, CA, USA
When a person sees my work, they either love it or hate it. A select few fall so much in love that they have to buy it. When it happens it is amazing to see, and frankly I don’t understand it. I still feel very humble and grateful whenever it happens. I do it too, occasionally. Out of all the art that I see, I love only a tiny amount. I’ve bought a handful of paintings from other artists. Always it’s because I fell in love with the painting.
Possibly dangerous connection
On a darker side, sometimes clients purchase work because they have lost their sense of who they are. Often wealthy, lonely and without family or friends, the only definition they have of themselves is through the “stuff” that they buy. Innocent enough, a client called to say hello, then told me how much they enjoyed my work. This was gradually followed by invitations to lunch and other outings, then by gifts of appreciation. The manipulation was very subtle, as he was so very charming. Please be forewarned, that your own natural need to reciprocate can eventually lead to feelings of indebtedness, being emotionally burdened and even stalked. When a person such as this one calls to befriend you, say thanks, and hang up.
(RG note) On the other hand, I have had a few of these lonely, undefined persons enter my life and I feel I was able to enhance their lives through letting them purchase my art and be apprised of my comings and goings. In time a deeper friendship came along and we were both rewarded.
Signing by incision
by Charles Morris, Grand Junction, CO, USA
On the subject of signing, since I have been unable to paint my signature with any degree of style in the manner in which I write it, I have started inscribing my written signature with a metal stylus into heavy fresh paint. It appears less clumsy and amateurish to my eye. It is also quite legible and it seems to me to be pretty permanent. What’s your opinion (and other readers) of this method?
(RG note) Thanks, Charles. I think it’s a good idea. Anything that gives a signature texture or the feeling of imprint adds permanence and authenticity. Even chops and dies driven into dry oils as an adjunct signature seem to add authority and probably, in the long term, provenance.
Painting on a black ground
by Larry Todd, Calgary, AB, Canada
I was wondering if you have any ideas and advice about painting on a black canvas. I am an oil painter and generally paint landscape. I am intrigued by this and would like to try the technique.
(RG note) Thanks, Larry. Working on black or other dark grounds has its creative values and its technical problems. Dark grounds gradually darken lighter colours placed above them. Over time whole paintings can be ruined. Consider isolating the ground with a well dried, clear varnish before starting to paint. This precaution can also be taken for medium grays and strongly coloured grounds, and applies to acrylic as well as oils. Dark grounded acrylic canvases should be isolated with a clear mediumeither shiny or matte.
Fishing at Eleven Mile
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 Wendy Miller of Clinton, WA, USA who wrote, “You didn’t mention encouragement as a reason to buy. When I appreciate someone’s art, if I can afford it I buy to encourage. I always love the piece too, but often, when an artist I like has a show, I buy a piece to say ‘You do terrific things — keep going.’ ”
And also Daun Miller of Tampa, FL, USA who wrote, “Aren’t there still people left in the world who buy art for the sheer beauty of it?”
And also Karen R. Phinney of Halifax, NS, Canada who wrote, “The herd instinct: ‘This is a good thing, I’d better get into it’ seems to be the thinking. If those people went as individuals and were alone with the art, they might not be so hasty in buying.”
And also Norman Ridenour of Prague, Czechoslovakia who wrote, “The herd instinct is a negative factor. People are afraid to follow their gut feelings for fear their peers will turn up their noses. ‘WHAT is that?’ ‘I hope you didn’t pay over $100 for that thing.’ ‘My brother does better work.’ ‘Trees don’t look like that!’ ‘What a cute ducky.’ These kinds of comments can kill a buyer’s soul and willingness to risk again.”
And also Claudia Roulier of Idledale, CO, USA who wrote, “Perhaps buying is as mundane as the title. I think it is important to think carefully about titles.”
And also Daryl Jensen of Brentwood Bay, BC, Canada who wrote, “I acquired a virus in my computer and was forced to wipe out all my saved emails from you and would like to replace them.”
(RG note) Thanks, Daryl. Every letter and clickback is archived and print-friendly. The index is here.
Enjoy the past comments below for Why do they buy?…