The aggressive artist


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Bill (Bosque) Redondo of Fresno, California, wrote, “I know quite a few artists who are really serious about marketing and selling their art. However, it seems like they are not aggressive enough and I wonder if that might be the reason for their lack of sales? Do artists need to ‘wine and dine’ potential customers or should they trust their art to sell itself?”

Thanks, Bosque. While selling is not the Holy Grail to many artists, the greatest thing that sells art is art. An artist can be a mute, knock-kneed nerd, incompetent in the selection and even pouring of wine, but if his work is exciting, he’s already partying on down to the bank. Sorry, but all this stuff about aggressive marketing is not worth a prayer if the work is substandard.

Artists’ sales are made in their studios — that is, when they make the art. My observation of artists, whether gallery-represented or private sellers, shows them doing best when they are simply on top of their craft. Quality is always in style. There’s no such thing as an undiscovered genius.

Long ago I learned a valuable lesson: Putting work in front of the general public and appearing eager to sell it can be the kiss of death. Better to be in the background, maybe even a mysterious figure, and let yourself be discovered. Artists need to be in their studios or furtively moving around outside with their paintboxes. The idea is to get good, rather than get commercial.

This does not mean that artists should avoid listing potential connections, having discreet and tasteful websites, or, if the opportunity arises, giving well-controlled interviews. Potential connections need only to be alerted when fresh bread comes out of the oven.

Simply put, creative folks need to succumb to the love of process. This spiritual transformation softens poverty and eventually buys success.

Ideally, an artist needs only two things: excellent art, and someone, other than your Mom, who knows it’s excellent. Also, this someone ought to be a dealer (or dealers) — in other words, someone who is in a position to do something about your excellence. That’s the long and short of it, Bosque: no ballyhoo, no wine and dine (no cheese), and no aggression.

Best regards,


PS: “It is astonishing how little one feels poverty when one loves.” (Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton)

Esoterica: We need not act like insurance salesmen with our contracts hanging out. There is a better way, but it takes a student’s mind, hard and repetitious work, and a generous amount of faith in yourself. For artists, keeping the wolf from the door can mean going to your room. Funnily, the money eventually just wanders in. “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.” (Woody Allen)


Going bananas
by Leslie Kruzicki, Orange Park, FL, USA

I’m a 50-year-old “born again” artist. I hadn’t done much painting since college until two years ago. I just sold my first painting in over 30 years. It was a small piece, part of a miniature show, and sold for a whopping $40. But I was so excited by the sale. I mean really excited and thrilled that someone liked my painting of a banana enough to buy it. My goal now is to always remember that feeling and yes, hopefully to relive it. Not for the money’s sake, but just to feel the joy of sharing my vision.


Best of the biz
by Rose Moon, Sedona, Arizona, USA


“Tea ceremony”
original painting
by Rose Moon

I love how you always bring it back to becoming more accomplished at your craft. I am a shy artist and I don’t make many sales but the people who buy my art feel they cannot live without it. It has meaning for them. I do get my art out there in shows and sometimes in galleries, but I’m a firm believer in getting better at doing it. I met someone recently who was the best con artist I’ve ever met. Lots of people buy his work. I know a rich artist who opened her own gallery and can afford to run all the ads she wants to and people buy it. Another gallery owner serves only the best wine and no food at openings so people will get loaded and buys the less than wonderful art she has to offer. I don’t think any of my buyers will be waking up in the morning wondering what on earth they have done.

There are 2 comments for Best of the biz by Rose Moon

From: Mary Lewis — Jul 23, 2009

I love your attitude and your style!

From: Anonymous — Jul 26, 2009

You are on the right track! And success now may NOT mean anything in the long run. If you have to con, or ‘drug’ your buyers, really… how can you sleep at night?


Author’s message
by George R Robertson, Mississauga, ON, Canada

Today’s letter brings to mind a story, undoubtedly apocryphal, about the world famous author who was invited to address a room full of aspiring writers at Hart House on the University of Toronto campus. He strode on to the stage, tapped the microphone and asked, “How many of you want to become writers?” Almost every hand shot up. “Then, why aren’t you at your desk writing?” And with that he left the stage and the building.

There is 1 comment for Author’s message by George R Robertson

From: Barb — Jul 23, 2009

This reminds me of a story my dad told me about the first day he entered the university and the dean was giving a speech to the new students. The first thing he said was – we welcome all of you future engineers, as well as farmers, bakers, truck drivers, and people destined for other trades. Only a few will stay on their chosen path.


In the public eye
by Cindy Sturla, Winter Springs, FL, USA


“Spring’s Beauties”
watercolour painting
by Cindy Sturla

From my experience I think it’s absolutely vital to keep in front of the public as much as possible. You never know when someone will come along who absolutely loves your work. Having a website is great, but I think you have to look for opportunities to be out in the public eye. You don’t have to be a salesman, as you said, but your work has to be out there. Fortunately there are so many venues besides galleries to do that. Some Hospitals, restaurants, banks, real estate offices, libraries, and many other places are happy to carry art of local artists. Join a club whose members have a show at a business or other venue. There are so many opportunities out there. You will never be “discovered” if you are not looking for opportunities to show your work.


Beat your own drum
by Barbara Meikle


original painting
by Barbara Meikle

I’m afraid I’ve had the exact opposite experience that Robert has had, in terms of selling my own work. I took control of my art career by learning how to sell, yes, blatantly promoting myself and my work to people so they would buy it. And buy it they have! I own a gallery now with another successful “aggressive” artist, and I really have little time for artists who wait for that “knight in shining armor” (i.e. the galleries of old) to rescue them from the dragons of poverty and obscurity. You don’t have to be obnoxious to beat your own drum. You must be shrewd, flexible, bold and modest all at once and the collectors (at least in Santa Fe) love to meet the artist. I believe I am doing so well in this economy because I am running the show, not in spite of it. The other key to the story is major studio time, discipline, working hard to make my work better with each painting. I am never satisfied, only happy with a certain passage of color, line or form. Staying hungry doesn’t mean staying poor!

There are 3 comments for Beat your own drum by Barbara Meikle

From: Rose — Jul 24, 2009

Some people have it, some do not…love your spirit and your painting.

From: Dorothy in Ontario Canada — Jul 24, 2009

WOW! Love that painting!

From: Kelley MacDonald — Jul 26, 2009

I’ve seen your work in your gallery, and it’s beautiful. I think your work stands on its own, and THAT’s a major reason why it sells. You are smart to be your own ‘gallery owner’ because you can follow your heart. You GO!


Successfully aggressive
by Jerry Spangler, Deltaville, Virginia


“Stingaray Point Light 2”
oil painting, 12 x 16 inches
by Jerry Spangler

I think I’m an aggressive artist. Even though I’m retired, I paint every day, I do art shows and Farmers markets just about every week, I sell prints and cutting boards of my art as well as my originals. The cutting boards are made of tempered glass; a picture of my painting is mounted on the bottom using heat and presser… I email pictures of new paintings from my web site every week. When things are slow I go out and paint river houses, farm houses, and boats, then I go knock on their door and show them the painting — 4 out of 5 times I’ll sell it. For the last two years, galleries have not been selling as much. I thought you would like to know how one aggressive artist works.


Following advice
by Jennie McBride, Grant, AL, USA

My husband Jim is a metal sculptor. We’ve been on the show circuit for almost two years now and we’ve gotten every random piece of advice any artist was willing to impart. And we tried most of it. One photographer said you can’t ask questions like “Are you enjoying the show?” to a potential customer, because all that requires is a one word answer. Advice in magazines also encourages immediate interaction with a potential buyer. In two years, we’ve tried it all. But what seems to work best is Jim’s innate nature of staying in the background and only coming to the customer who seems interested. They buy his work because it is different, because of the form, because of the passion and/or humor in the piece. They buy a piece called Contemplation because it speaks to them. They buy the violin player because they enjoy music. I don’t consider Jim a salesman, and neither does he. But his quiet ways give buyers confidence and the quality of his work is what they want. Artists are not insurance salesmen. Their product is a piece of themselves.


Location, location, location
by Patricia Riley, La Paz, Mexico


“Hummer and monkey”
watercolour painting
by Patricia Riley

I have been painting for close to 40 years. I have been trying to market my work for about 30 years. I occasionally sold a painting over the years. In my present location I have only had sales and shows in the last four years after a friend encouraged me to ask for a show at the local theater which has a lobby gallery. Before that, few of my acquaintances even knew I painted. Since that show I have had a number of other one-person, two-person or group shows. I have sold a few paintings; a couple a year. Usually the smaller, less expensive ones. I could conclude from your words that I am just not good enough yet and I think you may be partly correct. Good work sells itself, but it does not sell in a location without many buyers or buyers with any money. Part of the job of selling art is to find a location where it will be seen, appreciated and purchased by a large number of people. My town just isn’t the place. The successful artists of my city market their work in a resort town 135 miles away and manage to make some sort of living. It’s just part of the reality of where we live.

There are 3 comments for Location, location, location by Patricia Riley

From: Anonymous — Jul 24, 2009

beautiful watercolor!

From: Jan Verhulst — Jul 24, 2009

do you have a website?

From: Maria Reinhard — Jul 27, 2009


Meeting the artist
by Claudia Roulier, Idledale, CO, USA


“It’s What’s Under The Hood”
original painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Claudia Roulier

I disagree to some extent; you assume that aggressive means being a car salesman. While the work speaks for itself, people like meeting the artist and having that person able to articulate about his art. I believe that you don’t have to be the best in your field. In the end, as long as the product is good it’s who knows you that often pushes success. This could be defined as aggressive (as in getting your name out there).




Public participation
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA


“Got A Bite!”
original painting
by Brad Greek

I agree to some points that you’ve mentioned. I feel that artists can be the best seller of their own work, however, if for no other reason than the buyer gets to meet the artist and be able to ask questions about the work. Sure it’s great to find a dealer who’s excited about your work and has an outlet for your work. But we all know how few and far between they are. Not to mention the closures of a lot of those outlets. I’m seeing more and more galleries joining forces, artists getting together and doing a sort of co-op. Personally I’m not in favor of co-ops, but they seem to be working out in this economy. More work for the artist, having to pull shifts at the gallery, but again, getting a chance to meet the buyers. I’m in an outside gallery; we display all work outside. It’s in a high foot-traffic area with a lot of vacationers and locals alike. It’s mostly seasonal, but I believe this is a great structure for selling artwork. For me, painting on location, en plein-air, demonstrations attracts attention, attention attracts interest, interest attracts desire, desire attracts action, action makes sales. I’m growing in this economy.

There is 1 comment for Public participation by Brad Greek

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Jul 24, 2009

Good post. I like your last comment – so true. Marie


Taking time to talk
by Jean McLaren, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada

I live on an island with about 4000 residents so l know lots of people and in the summer we have lots of tourists and family visiting family. Our Art Group which meets twice a week to paint had its annual show last weekend and I still feel that in a situation like this with 20 plus people showing their work you have to be there. I do not promote my work per se but when someone seems to be hovering over my work, I usually walk over and ask them if they have any questions about my methods. I do abstract with a lot of layering, using alcohol to rub back the colours and using gel for surface interest. People are very interested and often buy because I took the time to talk to them. This method works for me as I sold several paintings. I started painting at age 70 and am now 82 and still enjoy every minute I paint and am always looking for new and better ways to learn more.

There are 2 comments for Taking time to talk by Jean McLaren

From: P.K. Cravens — Jul 24, 2009

I love that you started painting at 70! You are my inspiration to keep doing what I love.

From: Marie Pinschmidt — Jul 24, 2009

Good for you. My father-in-law started painting in his 70’s and he told me just before he died that his greatest regret was that he hadn’t started painting earlier. It’s never too late, but sooner is better.


Bit of both
by Elsha Leventis, Toronto, ON, Canada


“Seeing Grey II”
original painting
by Elsha Leventis

As in any other field, we have all heard of artists who have made it big, if only for a while, by being audacious. Walking naked down University Avenue, for instance (one promoter even suggested doing that!). There are some dealers who like to be courted long and hard — they seem to take perverse pleasure in recounting how an artist visited them 90 times before being accepted.

My experience is that you need a bit of both — you need to spend time in your studio honing your craft, developing your own voice, and producing a body of work, but also need to put yourself out there because no one will knock on your studio door unless they know you have a studio. I am always amazed at how many artists tell me they avoid entering prestigious shows because of the cost — yet being there could take their career on new paths.


Talk about art
by Danielle Lawrence, Taos, NM, USA


“Spiritial Warrior”
sculpture by
Danielle Lawrence

I don’t “hustle” my art but I do show up, greet the public, enjoy the contacts and “sit my booth” at local and national art fairs. Yes, street fairs! I have a number of galleries who sell fairly well for me, but I find it’s also important to present the work myself. Good to get positive feedback — inspiring. Even smaller, less impressive art fairs I do well in. People say, “Thanks for being here, it’s great to see quality work.” My work is unique and high quality, so is my genuine appreciation of the customer! I notice the artists who hide in the back of their booths do not sell well. It’s a delicate balance, being present and knowing when to say something, when not to!

My favorites:

What do you think? (Also a customer favorite)

Is this the first time you have seen my work? (Usually the answer is yes… get them saying yes!)

Which one is your favorite?

Keeping the focus on the work is important… so easy to digress and talk about their dog, where they are from, where you are from… (I answer briefly and then say what a great place Taos is for creating art… back on track.




Cotton Candy Afternoon

original painting
by Barbara Lussier, New England, USA


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Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The aggressive artist



From: Marti O’Brien — Jul 20, 2009

So, am I understanding correctly in that an artist shouldn’t do shows?

From: Charles Peck — Jul 21, 2009

Good Morning Robert,

This may well be not only one of your more timely letters as per recent internet discussions on various Art sites and an Artist’s maturation trajectory but also one of the finest written in my mind. The whole thing gets at the core of being an Artist in a time of rampant media screeds about everything from the most profound to the most profane.

I find one statement so worthy it has already added itself to those quotes I find unforgettable: ” Simply put, creative folks need to succumb to the love of process. This spiritual transformation softens poverty and eventually buys success”.

From: Charles Peck — Jul 21, 2009

I read it again Marti after reading your comment and could not find that which suggested one should not do shows – maybe you could help out with that part (if you read these submissions).

From: Carole Pigott — Jul 21, 2009

AMEN!!!! this has worked for me for thirty years, I have been able to keep my self respect and my love for the creation of art. Believe me, if you do high quality work, collectors will come. An artist needs to keep faith and belief in what they are doing.

From: Rene Wojcik — Jul 21, 2009

There is an old phrase that in order to be successful in catching fish you have to use bait that the fish like, not what you like. This, I think applies to those who want to make a living with their art. You paint what your customer wants not what you like to paint. That is what commercial art is all about. With that said, if you do want to sell a few pieces you cannot sit in a studio and not eventually come out of the closet. You have to put your product out to the public. If your work does not sell (like Van Gogh) or not be accepted; then maybe your descendents will profit.

From: Gene Martin — Jul 21, 2009

Art does not sell itself, it must be sold. There may be a few rare exceptions but art rarely sells itself.

From: Kay Smith — Jul 21, 2009

Very well stated, Robert, and so very true. If you love your process it will show in the final work.

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 21, 2009

There is a balance in trying to sell your work. Without being redundant, your work has to be good and well done. You have to sell it when the opportunities arise. I see being “aggressive” as like a salesman who storms over to you the minute you enter the store. Nothing turns me off sooner than this approach and I never buy. People can smell desperation and don’t want to be bullied. If you are pushy and agressive, you might as well sell shoes and not art. You can catch more flys with honey. Take this time to paint well, learn more, make better work. I have to believe the times will change and get better. When they do, I will to be ready with great work to sell to those who can afford to buy it.

From: Dustin Curtis — Jul 21, 2009

Good article Robert. Looks like everyone has their own opinion about it though. Gene Martin seems to think you said art sells itself. I didn’t read it that way. You just said the artist isn’t always the one who should be selling it. The other side of this is that a great salesperson, as they say, can sell anything, so there are people who can sell mediocre or even bad art because they are good salespeople. I’m sticking with what Robert says; “Quality is always in style”.

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 21, 2009

No one is going to see your art if you don’t get it out there in some manner. Passively expecting someone to seek out a reclusive artist is a movie script, not the competitive world of art.

Another aspect that should be recognized is there is a culture in art. With some work, it doesn’t matter if a patron meets the artist or not. They can go to a gallery or see your art Online, buy it, and enjoy the piece.

With others (portraiture) meeting the artist, nay, even liking him or her is crucial. A person commissioning such a work will simply not invite an artist to their home (the usual venue), and spend hours with the artist if they are uncomfortable with them.

Marketing is too aggressive if the artist is known more as a celebrity than being known for the work itself – that would be the ultimate kiss of death. We’ve already discussed art as a lonely pursuit. If you spend more time marketing and networking than creating, you’re doing too much.

Moderation in all things, including marketing.

From: Gail Harper — Jul 21, 2009


From: Karen Atkinson — Jul 21, 2009

I just wanted to add two cents to the discussion. It is not so much whether you market your work or not, but how you do it. There are so many options for artists, but most artists follow a traditional trajectory. Using your creativity for how you get the work seen can be very useful. For instance, do you use the full “real estate” on your business card? Does it say artist on it? When you send out announcements, does it ensure that the viewer will go to your show because it looks too darn interesting? Do you only use email to market your work? It is now special to get an invite in the mail. More expensive sure, but I don’t know anyone who puts an email on their fridge.

Just like there are many kinds of places for an artist to show work, (such as public sites as well as galleries) there are many ways to get the word out so to speak.

So, use creativity in all aspects of your life, not just the artwork you make. or

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Jul 21, 2009

I have taken several Art Marketing classes and seminars. And in the end, I must quote Bill Wyland, of whale and dolphin fame, “Oh! You get someone else to sell your art!

And Sue Viders, “The artist is the worst person to try to sell their own art.”

From: Jim Carpenter — Jul 21, 2009


Charles Peck pretty much said it all for me. When I got to the part about “loving the process” I felt that all was right with my world. And, your *PS* totally rocks! Thanks for expressing so well exactly what I wanted to hear.

From: Katie Hoffman — Jul 21, 2009

Thank you. In what seems like an ever growing avalanche of art marketing info and art business coaches and art sales seminars, this was a breath of fresh air and just what I felt like reading today.

From: Anonymous — Jul 21, 2009

It is a numbers game. The more your work gets in front of people, the more opportunity you have. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with how good the art is, as much as we would like to believe that. You must hone your craft simply because you love it, not because it will sell art.

From: Brad W. — Jul 21, 2009

I agree completely. I have had the privilege of watching another artists’ journey run along side of mine, they are marketing savvy and have a bright bubbly disposition and thoroughly enjoy marketing /selling their work directly to the public (and they do a great job of it). We have very different ideas on quality but work in the same medium/subject matter. Initially they seemed to be doing better than me with sales etc (which made me doubt my approach) but this has all changed over time. My approach, after several years is starting to pay off for me. Quality has always been my priority even if my time ended up being charged out at $1 an hour (I looked upon the process as study rather than chargeable time), I had a feeling in time it would turn around to my advantage. I have improved constantly and am proud of what I have accomplished, my prices continue to climb, and I leave the majority of the marketing up to the galleries I work with, they should be earning their commission after all. A GREAT gallery knows it is in their best interests to increase my profile and demand for my work, that is what they are being paid to do, I am their client too, if they don’t deliver I may be better off looking for a new gallery to represent me. I play to my strengths, which is not marketing or direct selling, I am slightly off centre, and a somewhat reclusive type. I feel rather uncomfortable selling myself and my work, so will leave it up to the experts. In hindsight I feel I have made the right decisions for myself, one of those rare occasions. And Robert’s letter sums up my views perfectly in relation to MY journey and what I have seen happen around me over the years. Some great advice Robert!!.

From: Wendy Edsall-Kerwin — Jul 21, 2009

I agree that if you focus on constantly improving your art using your own vision rather that making art for the sake of selling it that it will help to sell your work. But how can you find the people who want your work created your way if you don’t leave the studio? Good art doesn’t just sell itself, you need to find the correct market for your work through networking and research, just like anything else that you would want to sell. It’s great if you can sell your art magically through word of mouth, but most people need to work to make the connects that will help them do this. You don’t need to me an infomercial pitchman to do this and you don’t need to “sell out” either, but you do need to spend time selling in order to make any money. I find it somewhat demeaning to think that if you actively work to sell your art that you must be not in it “for the art.” What good is your vision if all it does is sit in your studio while you continuously create more work, that sits in your studio? An integral part of making art is finding the audience for it. Michelangelo sold his work. Do you think that he compromised himself to do it? I’m not saying that I’m at his level, but it’s hard to finance an art career without finding patrons.

From: Rick Smith — Jul 21, 2009

I once had a gallery owner tell me, “I’m a gallery owner and I sell art. You’re an artist and you make art. I have found that most artists do not enjoy being salespeople.” You would not believe how much of a weight that took off my shoulders. Unless an artist really loves selling their work I’d say the best idea is to let someone do it who knows what they’re doing.

From: LT — Jul 21, 2009

Yeah, but Rick, something tells me that that gallery owner did not just show up at your studio door ! Unless, of course, you are very very lucky. I constantly strive to do better and better work, but also have to be out there working to sell it or to find someone to sell it.

From: Suzette Fram — Jul 22, 2009

There’s no such thing as an undiscovered genius.

What drivel. No matter how good your art, if it sits in your studio or garage, no one will see it. You will not be ‘discovered’ simply because your work is good.

Getting someone else to sell your art for you? What a great idea, except that gallery owners want to see a proven sales record before they will even look at you. In other words, you have to be able to sell your work yourself before anyone is going to be willing to sell it for you. Furthermore, there are a lot more eager artists than there are galleries or agents, or buyers for that matter. I don’t care how good you are, it’s not that easy.

Please stop saying that if your work is good enough, you will make it. Because you are really saying to a lot of us out there is that if you’re not making it then your work is not good. And that is an observation that, while it may be true in a lot of cases, is far too generalized and without basis in fact, to be worth making. There are a lot of very talented artists out there, actors, musicians, painters, etc. who will never experience any real success because they just didn’t have the right breaks, and because supply exceeds demand. It’s that simple. And all we can really do is strive to improve our work all the time and show it any chance we get, and maybe we will achieve some measure of success…. and then, maybe not.

From: Anna — Jul 23, 2009

No need for the drivel comment! At no point does Robert say to all you genius’s out there, stay in your studio, chuck your finished work in the garage and wait for a dealer gallery to knock at the door, he even mentions some subtle marketing ploys such as online portfolios/websites to help you get noticed. While reading Robert’s letter common sense told me that an email to the odd gallery to introduce yourself would be required. If your art is REALLY good and has a point of difference, galleries won’t ask for a “proven sales record” they know when they are onto a good thing when they see it. Circumstance may dictate the size of an artists’ success, but if you are that good, the odds of your talent being recognized will probably be very high indeed.

From: Anonymous — Jul 23, 2009

Income seems to be the bottom line for most. Did you know the average income for painters in America and Canada together is somewhere around 20K! Robert gave us the figures a few months back but I don’t remember the article date.

How many of us who respond to letters such as these would be willing to come on line as anonymous and disclose honestly there annual net income from painting as a way of showing your success rate?

From: Kathleen — Jul 23, 2009

Quality art is great, but it has to be marketed in order to sell. Wishing for someone to discover it or stumble upon sitting in your studio doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m in a couple of galleries, have a web presence, and blog. In my opinion, you have to market your work.

From: Anonymous is suppose — Jul 23, 2009

It’s interesting how people interpret Robert’s letter differently according to their own take on things. Robert is responding to the question, should I market and sell my work more aggressively (my take of course). His answer being NO. Where people get the idea he said don’t market your work at all I am not sure.

From: Chris — Jul 23, 2009

I used to push myself with marketing, competitions,galleries, etc. I ended up burning out and losing the joy to create. Now I’m painting mostly for myself these days and am enjoying painting again.

From: Tom — Jul 23, 2009

If your art is good enough, market it!! Most artists don’t know what good is. They wonder why marketing is not working for them. Do you think Richard Schmid would be refused by many?

From: R.Ychai — Jul 24, 2009

thanks you

From: Jill Paris Rody — Jul 24, 2009

Marketing comes in many forms. Each of us must at least look into finding what ‘might’ work for us. For some, staying in the studio would be fine if you have enough people stopping in to visit and view… that would be “your market”. For others, living on a mountain top with no one to visit means you need to go into the city (or at least the town) and find a ‘market’ (or think rather: ‘audience’) so they can see what you are up to (that is, if you want to sell in the first place!)! I used to shun the work of marketing, thinking it would be too much work, or, it would spoil the ‘charm’ of my reveries into the creative time. Now I see it as just good sense. Do a little at a time. “Don’t dive into the pool before you know how to swim” so to speak. I started with joining a small, local painting group. They have a few simple shows a year; nothing fancy, but fun, communal, and visible. From there, since that was painless, I moved on a little further. I have a long ways to go and – wonder of wonders – I’m enjoying the process of marketing my art! Slow and easy and the work is not overwhelming. One only needs to find what works for them. Your friends and family, and other viewers WILL promote you, if your work is worthy.

From: JR Vondrasek — Jul 24, 2009

I find that my ability to show and sell my work increases in a direct balance to how hungry I am. . I love to work, create and eat. So my Art goes on, For those that hunger for it.

From: Ed — Jul 25, 2009

“love the process”… to me he means enjoying the complete loop of the creation of the art AND it’s being placed with a new owner. And somewhere in there is the constant learning and improving our work… and maybe learning more and improving getting it out to market, and enjoying that, even if it’s the gallery doing the ‘sales’. You know, it’s the whole process.

From: Charles Peck — Jul 28, 2009

This may well be not only one of your more timely letters as per internet discussions and an Artist’s maturation but one of the finest written in my mind. The whole thing gets at the core of being an Artist in a time of rampant media screeds about everything from the most profound to the most profane.

I find one statement so worthy it has already added itself to those quotes so good they are unforgettable for me: ” Simply put, creative folks need to succumb to the love of process. This spiritual transformation softens poverty and eventually buys success”.

From: E. J. — Jul 28, 2009

Either I missed your point or I understand it and totally disagree. I could give you plenty of examples of the mundane, redundant and trite “art” that sells like mad. I know one painter who cranks out dozens of pictures in a single session, each one a formulaic “happy accident” watercolor that involves masking off the horizon, doing a saturated wash on what will be the sky, flipping the picture and doing a heavy wash on what will be the water, and either using gouache or a resist to make a small white sail on the horizon. She has several galleries who foist these things on the buyers who are looking for something to hang on the wall near the dining table.

Another painter I know does faux-Pollocks. The list goes on and on, as I’m sure you’re well aware: paintings loaded with gimmicks, paintings of the same subject matter that’s been painted literally millions of times (watercolor florals, rusted vehicles in weed-strewn lots; portraits of wizened old men; uninspired views of yet another canal in Venice…..). Until you get to the top end of the retail art market, quality isn’t what sells, at least not the kind of quality that implies the work of a creative artist. Quality might never go out of style, but if there’s quality at the average galleries that clog any mid-to-large sized city it’s well hidden and lonely.

I’m fortunate in having never sought to sell my paintings, despite occasional urging from other artists I know. I’m not a genius, of course, but I hope I’ll remain “undiscovered”. I’ve given enough of my work as gifts to those who admire the paintings to prove that it’s not some silly attachment to my work that keeps me off the market. It’s probably something akin to not wanting to feel I’ve whored myself if I were to ever sell a picture for significantly less than its value to me.

From: Eileen. — Jul 28, 2009

I am volunteering to look after the demos for the South Delta Artists Guild and I am aggressive enough to ask you if you are able to do a demo or any sort of presentation for the Guild during the coming months starting from September. The address is the Longhouse, 56 Ave. in Tsawwassen. The Guild has about 160 members and meets at the first Mondays of the month except Holiday Mondays; therefore September falls in the 14th of the Month. The time for demo will be after its meeting between 8 pm to whatever time. The honorarium is $100. Post demo workshop can be arranged.

From: Mary Bullock — Jul 28, 2009

First you talk about how the artist doesn’t need to do marketing, just paint good paintings and success will come to your door – But then in the last paragraph, you say that an artist needs someone who should be a dealer! If the artist doesn’t have this “someone” – then the artist must market themselves.

Most artists work hard to be the best artist they can be – they might sell some paintings but cannot make enough to live off their art by itself. If all they do is paint in their room and produce wonderful art but no marketing is done – then nothing gets sold. They MUST market themselves because they don’t have a long list of galleries or dealers to market for them. They Must market themselves because no matter how good of an artist they are, if no one sees their art then nothing gets sold. The world will not come to their door to discover them. And we all know mediocre artists who are great at marketing their work and are able to make a good living. So usually I agree with you but on this post, I feel you are way off the mark.

From: Jon Taner — Jul 28, 2009

On the subject of the “aggressive artist” I am mostly in agreement when it comes to the actual sale of the work – if the quality and individuality are there the work should sell itself. The artist need not step in unless asked to!

What you did not address however, is how aggressive should an artist be when it comes to showing his or her work to potential dealers. Is it enough to just send the CD or what have you and wait patiently for a reply? Lets say the introverted artist is not a shmoozer and has no network other than peers and a handful of collectors. Is an expensive agent or a vanity gallery the answer? How forceful should one be when dealing with gallery support staff who often shield their boss from the onslaught of artists who have the next best thing?

Please address these questions as they apply to the “aggressive artist”.

From: Ted Lederer — Jul 28, 2009

I find I take, painfully I might add, exception to parts of what you had to say about “aggressive” marketing – to paraphrase, quality sells.

I can count numerous artists in the Vancouver area who sell well and produce, shall we say, less than stellar works.

They are “aggressive” marketers and it baffles me they sell as much as they do considering the product. My definition of aggressive is that they are very active in promoting their work. Not aggressive as in, “now that your husband isn’t here, what would possibly keep you from purchasing this remarkable time share”

This is not to dispute that quality is always in style. But if you are an artist and think that quality is enough, think again. I do not dispute your “mysterious” approach. Often the best way to sell something, is to not sell it. But that’s another letter.

From: Leslie Tejada — Jul 28, 2009

I couldn’t agree more that an artist should concentrate on doing the very best work she can. But that dealer doesn’t just materialize. We have to go out of our studios and show our work to dealers, and that takes some assertion (not aggression). I had to work hard marketing to get into the position I am now, which is being represented by good galleries and only having to present to them the fresh bread from the oven. But I only did this marketing after I worked several years to be able to present paintings I knew were good. Galleries come to me now. It can happen!

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Jul 28, 2009

The cost of aggressive selling: this seems like it could be an addendum to your article. I’ve watched in several towns that I’ve lived in, where a local artist had seemingly great success because we could see his work all over the place. But then I’ve also noticed that they must have spent a mint to produce all the product and frame it or print it or make t-shirts or . .

So nobody knows their bottom line and assumes they’ve been a big success.

PLUS the time they spend marketing these things, or the money they’ve spent on their own one-person gallery. I’ve always been impressed at the level of confidence these people show in their own work. But does it really pay off?

I think your point about being in the studio, lurking about as an artist, really hit a spot of real truth there. The cache to being an artist has been noted by a few of my friends, and I’ve done better at selling my craft when I’ve been in a visible studio or doing plein air work than when secreted away in my home studio.

There is a guy in Asheville who goes out every Friday nite and does his spray-paint artwork right on the corner of main street where people have to walk by him to get to the restaurants. He makes money at it. Can’t say much for the product but it’s not my taste.

From: Confused — Jul 28, 2009

You are second to none in your immense success over decades however I must ask you.

Where have you been in recent years? Don’t you know that you cannot be successful anymore unless you Tweet, Facebook, send newsletters and blog. Oh, I almost forgot the most important being, ” have conversations ”

You said, ”better to be in the background, maybe even a mysterious figure, and let yourself be discovered ”.

You have just turned most current advice on selling and marketing on it’s collective head. What do I do now?

From: Jacques Derge — Jul 28, 2009

I really concur with this letter about “the Aggressive Artist”..I have NEVER been a Gallery kind of artist, although I have made my living as a painter for over 30 years..first as a street painter in Europe, and now as a “normal” painter in Mexico. One thing that is VERY clear is what you write that “Quality is always in style”..I plan to go to Europe (Barcelona) with 4 of my latest original paintings rolled up in a tube, and I will almost certainly sell them for a fair price ($thousands each) by just showing them around..word spreads by doing that, and the “buyer” appears almost immediately WHEN the work is good..I don’t mean to brag, but it IS as simple as that.

From: Hans Mertens — Jul 28, 2009

With the most you write I totally agree, however……. I run my own business called “Contrast”, teaching adults in art mainly. Naturally selling my paintings is another matter and I agree with you if your paintings aren’t good enough they simply won’t sell. You have to practice every day when you can being an artist so keeping that part of the brain active to improve yourself on and on.

The other part, is promoting my art everyday to the right people and making loyal friends this way, who have good contacts all over the world (Galleries).

This way we artists can help each other advising about for instance good advises concerning good Galleries at fair prices.

A little promoting won’t hurt is my opinion, but if you’re not good enough than you can forget about selling paintings. And this I would like to add: “Every famous person who starts painting sells, like for instance Tony Curtis did.” If a famous football player starts to paint he sells for incredible prices, no matter what the quality of his painting is.

This is what I call “Injustice”..

From: Peggy Taylor — Jul 28, 2009

The Fable of the Starving Artist

What if I told you that the life of a struggling artist is a myth?

What if I told you that can actually live a successful financial life as an artist?

What if I told you that you can THRIVE as an artist, even in this economy?

Romance and intrigue are associated with the life of an artist. We’ve always been told that a successful artist must struggle. While most of us are not addicted to absinthe or prone to licking brushes covered with lead paint like our earless colleague Van Gogh, there is something satisfying about being a part of the rebellious mystique of those who make their living as artists. Though Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime, I suspect you don’t want to repeat his miserable existence.

I know artists who believe that living the life of a starving artist is part of their DNA, and that it’s required to be a true artist. But Sargent, Velasquez, Rubens, Monet, Van Dyke, Gainsborough, Picasso were not only great artists, they were well off financially from the sale of their artwork, as hundreds of others have been. What about you?

The Dirty Little Secret

What I am about to say may offend you, but… the best art is not always the most successful seller. I know artists whose work I personally do not care for who are getting rich. And though the art path need not be all about financial success, I think we all hope we can sell enough art to pay our bills and put some fat on the bones. The dirty little secret is that these artists are great marketers. What about you?

Selling While You Sleep

I write about art marketing on my blog, and I have coached many artists to success. Though there are numerous elements to art-marketing excellence, one of the most important aspects is to find a way to have others selling your work while you sleep. Most artists are not good at selling, so you need a sales agent. And one of the best sales agents you can have is a good gallery relationship, because galleries have existing customers. Imagine if you had five galleries pushing your artwork while you’re sleeping…. or painting! It’s an ideal arrangement. You need not be a starving artist.

How to Get a Gallery

There are about 6,500 art galleries in America that sell original work. Most want to avoid artist solicitations, which they find annoying. Though they have good intentions, galleries lose things artists have sent, delete e-mails, and tend to be in the market for artists only at certain times of the year. So the key is overcoming the solicitation problem — which is why I invented Artist Advocate magazine. The magazine highlights a select few artists and is put in front of 6,500 galleries, most of whom look forward to browsing it for new artists (and keep it for future reference). Many artists have signed one, two, three or more galleries, art publishers and art licensing deals from their listing. Some listings have resulted in being discovered by other art magazines for features.

The Important Fall Issue

The next issue of Artist Advocate is our fall issue. Fall is a time when many galleries are seeking new artists as they plan for the coming year and complete their active summer months. This is an ideal time to place your artwork in front of galleries. The issue space booking deadline is August 5, and the issue mails on September 4. We will create your listing for you.

Now is the time to start building your sales network and securing your first gallery (or additional galleries). Artists are reporting record sales now because they had the foresight to increase the number of galleries representing their artwork to help them get though this economy.

From: Elle — Jul 28, 2009

I am 70, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, a passionate woman with a lifetime of exciting and incredible experience. I graduated from the University of California at the age of 50, with a BA in Psychology. I was far from the exceptional student, I struggled with statistics, and mathematical concepts and studied into the night hours to earn credit for those subjects. Money for graduate school was nowhere to be found, and rightly so, I concluded with the question; why should a University waste money on a mediocre student already in her 50’s with so many bright young students to choose from?

Today I continue to seek a niche for myself, a place to enrich with my presence. Lack of Money is the mountain I must continue to climb, the lack of money and my age has slowed me down to a crawl. But, the passion to influence and to be part of the change that needs to take place in the hearts of men and women; if there is to be any hope for a better future.

You mention the old political concept, ‘of wining,dining, and aggressive selling’. Is this not the central concept of Politics? The Lost World, the place where dinosaurs still roam and still make Law and Policy. Lost in the fog of

‘Bread and Circuses’, the well greased machinery of Politicians and Lobbyists continue to rule the land. Barak and Michele have unknowingly moved into the “Wonderland of Alice”, where nothing is what it seems, and seeming is all there is.

I am a child of the 40s’ and 50’s, when morals and virtues abounded. Even dysfunctional families knew that the Truth was out there, maybe just on the other side of their front door. There were men and women who were trustworthy, honest, and dependable. We knew the difference between right and wrong action, and the populace as a whole, believed that the American government belonged to the people. The American Dream was a reality; hard work resulted in a comfortable home, education, and purpose. Families enjoyed time together, they visited around the kitchen table, sang songs on trips to the river for a picnic, and talked to parents or other family members about the various problems presented to them as teenagers, and then as adults they continued to share their lives.

Technology the great convenience, instant pudding, a hundred new kitchen appliances, communication at our fingertips, texting, the language of the day. Our whole life in our pocket or a bag constructed to keep all of our new communication toys and magnetized credit cards separate. Heaven forbid we get the digital camera too near the bank card, it might demagnetize our cards and then where would we be? This new world of the twenty first century, everything is changing exponentially, within a few weeks we can purchase a new phone, a new camera, a new laptop, a new Ipod. Of course each needs it own new charger.

As the Universe continues to expand like a huge balloon; culture expands like a huge balloon also. The Universe has no boundaries, so we are told, it can continue to expand Infinitely. Culture unfortunately does have boundaries and it may explode at some point in time, leaving an unrecognizable field of debris.

Robert, as you know, and if you have time, and have read what I have written; it is nothing new. I would love to have an opportunity to attend a university and earn a graduate degree in Communication. It would be the dream of a lifetime to associate with writers, commentators, and authors, and to practice what I consider the most important aspect of humankind, language, information, philosophy, history, dialogue. There is no doubt that the spoken and written words as well as the symbols in caves and tombs, have more to do with Mankind’s advances and progress than the apposible thumb. My curiosity’s boundless; raising four sons, reading to them, taking them to museums, and theatre, planted a lifetime seed of learning in me. I try to learn something new each day, and education is a love of mine.

I do not know why I started writing this letter to you, except to look at the reality of “wining, dining, and aggressive selling”. When I allow myself to observe the world today, as it grows smaller, fuller, busier; everywhere I look, there is someone selling something. Today, even information is disguised; I find that I have to register to participate in the information. That is not always a negative thing, but usually it is. If the Internet becomes a series of offers to buy, I suppose I will go back to the library for my information. God forbid that Libraries start charging an entrance fee. So far I have enjoyed the opportunity to search ancient history, all history, with the convenience of my home laptop. That is the most valuable gift of the Internet, access to information about any subject that I can think of. My Dream is the opportunity to study Journalism at any University, to learn to write wonderful, interesting articles and books, to acquire new friends, who are curious and enthusiastic about life, history, and philosophy.

From: Caroline Simmill — Jul 28, 2009

I agree that a beautiful painting will sell more on it’s own merits than by talking a potential buyer into purchasing it. In many ways marketing does give the artist a goal to work towards even if that means getting them to walk into a gallery with their painting. Many artists are shy and retiring not seeing the beauty in their work that would enrich other’s lives. It takes courage to walk into a gallery and ask for your work to be sold. I find that there is so much time needed to actually paint a picture that the marketing can fall behind. I need concentration to work towards being the best painter I can be and there is still so much to learn. I have noticed an improvement in my painting during the last ten years and this is down to working to improve my craft, not by marketing my work. I do have a smart website and gallery representation but I know there is still room for a lot of improvement in my painting so I am heading off to my studio to get on with it.

From: Jeannette Ulrich — Jul 28, 2009

My wishful side say yes, good art will shine by itself.

But then I think of Vincent. Was his tragic failure to sell, his being ahead of his times? And there were other artists that did not sell and that today are recognized. Some of the known artists today have agents with good contacts and economic mediums to promote their work.

I met Salvador Dali in New York while I interviewed him for a newspaper in Peru. When I mentioned to him that a friend of mine would like to buy one of his works, he told me that it would have to be through his agent.

Odd Nerdrum has an agent in New York, Romero Britto had an agent, I am not sure if he still does.

And me, I am still trying … Still Crazy After all this Years. Refusing to paint in only one subject in order to be accepted by art critics and gallery owners. The reason that this two groups want this, is so they can seem intelligent connoisseurs of artists when they identify them to their possible clients.

From: Phyllis Dixon — Jul 28, 2009

You can’t begin to know how sweet your words were. Some of us paint because we love to. Just checked out “Plein Air Easton” and the list of artists could just as well be a country club roster.

It’s tough to stay focused on growing and seeing and feeling when there is all this pressure to “market” your stuff. Can’t we just enjoy it and put it in the basement? All my sales have come from strange sources such as the air conditioning guy remarking that I could paint horses. He was my first commissioned work. Gal from ebay came to pick up a dog crate and bought a work off the easel in my studio.

I always save your letter for my quiet time and relax with a cup of coffee. I savor every sentence and think about them.

Don’t always agree with stuff but sure do appreciate that you are there and willing to be there.

From: Helen Webber — Jul 29, 2009

So what is art anyway?

and Did I get into the show?

Is it canvass wrapped around

a wooden rectangle

painted trees from a certain angle,

a crowded dusty city scene

or memories from

a shadowy dream?

Is the paint stroked on

or is it scrubbed?

Is it nameless

or can it be dubbed?

where is it in this vast world of art?

if you want to know

just click on the cart.

And when she’s done

that’s when she’s just begun.

And when she’s done

that’s when she’s done in.

Does her art get thrown

in the veritable dust bin?

Is she special?

Did she say anything new?

Or is it the same age old stew

of potted plants in a still life?

Or does the bowl of fruit

represent the artist’s strife?

She goes on line

to dig in the mine,

to find her place in a very long line.

Everyone wants to get in

to the inter net.

It’s a place to be, and yet

it’s a very iffy bet.

It’s a mind game.

but it’s her game

and she’s lame

because she won’t follow the rules

and let herself be measured by fools.

Is it dough?

I don’t know.

Did I get into the show?

Who makes the rules of the game?

Who decides she’s a Name?

Who is the ruler

of an artists success?

who says what good is?

It’s anyone’s guess.

It’s late in the game

for her to ask this stuff.

It’s a lame game

in scene that’s so rough

asking: “hey baby are you in style?”

“Maybe baby, just for a while.”

But she still wants to know

Did I get into the show?



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