The Secret to Attracting More Fans for Your Art

Everyone knows that the #1 way to attract fans for your art is to make amazing work. That’s no secret.

But I’m going to let you in on a hush-hush marketing strategy that will draw even more people into your circle: education.

Before you doze off at the word “education,” consider why you should heed my advice.

(Video has dated material about a past workshop.)

Most of the population was raised without an art education. If they were a student of the 1960s or 1970s, as I was, they probably had to make clay ashtrays or embellish turkeys from an outline drawing of their hands.

But that’s about the extent of it. Most adults haven’t been trained how to look at and appreciate art.

To these people, art can be stuffy, elitist, and inaccessible. Here’s where you step in.

Part of your job in promoting your art is to give viewers a pathway to your work — to show them how to look at and appreciate it.

If you want to reach the widest possible audience, it’s critical that you accept your role as primary educator for your art.

Most artists think of educating about the media, but I’d like for you to teach people how to look.

Showing people how to view your art empowers them. It gives them skills they’ll use forever.

Whenever appropriate, talk about some of the formal elements of your work:

  • Line (parallel, symmetrical, straight, diverging, undulating)
  • Color (muted, intense, complementary, monochromatic)
  • Shape (geometric, organic, repeated)
  • Texture (rough, smooth, bumpy)

If your work leans toward the conceptual, discuss ideas and how viewers can use their life experience as an entry point.

To be the best educator, don’t lecture, but engage people in a dialogue. Listen to the questions that arise and pay attention to the aha moments.

Making amazing work is one thing, but helping people to understand why it’s amazing can lead to more fans.

How do you educate people about your art?

 

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44 comments to The Secret to Attracting More Fans for Your Art

  • This is an interesting post, Alyson. At the beginning of this year I decided to simply start talking about art on my blog – paintings I love, paintings on a theme, artists that influence me. It creates a context for anything I say about my art, but more than that I hope that it will make more of those who read it comfortable about looking at (rather than glancing at) art in general, and help them make a connection between the art they see and the people who created it. Time will tell, but at least now it’s attracting more and more readers, and I’m thoroughly enjoying exploring and sharing an area that I love. And the benefits to me are huge as well.
    Education is just sharing your knowledge of the things you love…

  • Just posted an ‘art (education) how to’ on my blog, called ‘Eyes Notice Everything’ (July 18th). It’s not about disecting the art elements for appreciation of how art is assembled, but rather how to take notice of art initially. It’s a short, shallow post, (I’m not an art teacher per se), but relates to this subject.
    http://www.robinkentart.blogspot.com

  • Alyson, this is powerful. I have been struggling to get some more focus for my blog. This is it. As a retired public school teacher, I so get educational objectives and lesson plans. Over 32 years, I spent countless hours in classes and workshops about engaging my students. I need to apply that knowledge and experience to my art. Your words have taken some more of the mystery out of “marketing.” Many thanks. Gay

  • Excellent advice, I remember once being asked by an artist to guess what her work was about. I had no idea… very conceptual work, which was good, but I didn’t get it. Finally she told me… it was something about the Easter bunny. I felt like she should just tell people straight up what it is and explain it on her own. Maybe she was just having fun with people that day!

    I also like the reminder to discuss formal elements of your art. These are important and can lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of a work of art.

  • Thanks Alyson. I also really like this idea and will definitely incorporate this into my blog, newsletter and maybe even artist statement. I learn a lot from your blog. Thanks!

  • Thanks Alyson. Totally agree about art education. The teacher in me made me do it. FYI: I have the Elements and Principles of Design on my website, among other things.

    http://www.jameslourie.com/visual-literacy/

  • This is wonderful!! I love to talk about art! Not only my own but other people’s too! This will give my lagging blog a focus! Thank you!

  • This is terrific advice. I have not gotten onto this but will certainly add it. I have recently discovered a great blog by the artist James Aponovich and he does a great job of using education on his blog. He posts his current piece, descriptions of the process and art historical references. I love it. His paintings are terrific too. http://www.aponovich52.blogspot.com/

  • Since 2005, I’ve written the Art Matters monthly article in our local paper. In my art articles, for over 6 years, I teach the public, the artists and the galleries how to look, how to relate, and how to reach out and do business. While it’s focused on the local market here, it’s broader message applies across the nation, in any economy. Find them here, under Janet Sellers Art Matters:
    http://www.ourcommunitynews.or​g/v10n7.htm

  • And another article to warm you up to the subject of “educating”
    http://www.ourcommunitynews.org/v11n5.htm#arts

  • Alyson- I love what you are saying and it confirms that I am doing the right thing! My customers always say to me how non-artistic they are. I always respond by telling them they might just need to learn how to use the creative tools! I am constantly showing people how they can be creative! They are surprised by their own results! I teach a beginner journaling class where I show how anyone can make a visual journal. I find it to be just as inspiring as the students!
    Thanks for your wonderful posts! Cyndi

  • Aside from educating people about hammers (mostly aspiring metalsmiths), I try to talk about different aspects of my work that I find important. I’ve had posts on texture, rhythm, riveting, and why I use particular metals and stones (I know this is about media, but it’s why I use alternate materials.)

  • This one is a keeper. I will be joining a university art department in the Fall and plan to make your blog required reading for all my art majors students.

    Thank you Alyson

  • Meghan Forse

    Thank you, Alyson! I couldn’t agree more. Education is such an important part of selling art, whether you’re an artist working independently or a gallery director. I strongly believe that we need to “cultivate a new generation of collectors” here in Denver with a large population of 25 to 40 year-olds that also missed out on a foundation of arts in their early education as tax cuts eliminated art programs. The result has manifested in a fear and intimidation of visiting galleries – often not helped by gallerists that perpetuate the impression. It’s never too late to teach people how to look at art, expose people to the joy of art appreciation and nurture the notion that committing to collecting art can be a rewarding part of their lifestyle.

  • hi Alyson~
    so true,,many kids have the arts crushed right out of them with those terrible projects…sadly arts education is still lost in many schools. I believe we are in an exciting new time where innovators, creators, artists,etc. are beginning to receive the merit they deserve. Educating is sharing your passion and value.

  • Thank you Alyson!!…That was indeed a powerful post…It applies to me more soo because of my theme…and I have been educating about my theme on and off…I guess I just have to make it a routine…

  • I took a class on blogging earlier this spring and was excited to learn the basics as well as how social media will help me spread the word about my art. I’ve enjoyed the process and blog writing has definitely helped me clarify why I do what I do. I look forward to learning more through your email marketing. If you’d like to read my blog see http://www.interpretingsight.wordpress.com

  • thanks for the needed kick in the pants!

  • Thanks for your great ideas – always listen to what you say.

    I find that I was able to get over my very bad attitude about talking about my work with people was by allowing myself to say what I really love about doing the work – the texture of the stone, the sound and feel of the chisel, the richness of the paint – I get them to feel it wiith me.

    And they also like to know why I did a piece – where I go the idea, why I was inspired to do it – so I give them that. that engages them into the piece and gets them to feel the underlying energy of it.

    aloha -
    Angela

  • My blog focuses on celebrating unity in diversity through art. I feature other artist’s work in that context, and at times also have the artist share their thoughts about their process and the meaning behind their work. Why and what does it all mean? In their words.

    As a jewelry artist, say, instead of a painter, I LOVE to learn about what went on in that piece of art! I wanna be a painter in my next life, so the next best thing is to get close to one, and a good way is through YOUR sharing!! :-)

  • This is such an exciting discussion! All of you are so passionate about art! I mean art as a whole concept just not individual form of expression! I sometime feel people will be bored with my process even though my work is process based! Now I feel that I have to find a way to communicate to others how excited I am about my process and maybe they will be receptive! In educating them, I think my understanding of my work will develop too! By trying to educate the audience I will educate myself, in a way!

  • Thank you Allyson! As always great ideas for artists to incorporate. As both a visual & literary artist (drawing, painting & poetry) I do try to allow viewers to peek behind the curtain to see what the motivation was behind a piece. But so often I am guilty of forgetting to educate them on the technical aspects also. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Alyson, I appreciate what you are saying here, but when you say, “Making amazing work is one thing, but helping people to understand why it’s amazing can lead to more fans,” I really take exception. What makes a piece of art amazing, is that people see how amazing it is. If you have to “educate” someone how to see the “amazing” then it is not amazing. Art is an experience as much as it is a visual, and it is possible to impose the mind on the experience with a lot of talk, but then it becomes something else. The problem with most art, as far as I can see, is that most of it is NOT AMAZING. So talk all you want, describe, explain, educate. Maybe you can convince someone to override their experience and buy the idea that something not amazing is amazing, but you still really do not have amazing. Amazing comes from a place where words cannot go. That is art. No one who sees the grand canyon, a blooming peony, a redwood tree, has to be convinced. That is amazing.

    • Gloria, you make it sound as if the experience of art cannot include the techniques behind a work of art. If the artist is good, or inventive, the techniques may not be apparent in the work of art being viewed. Part of the experience of viewing that work, the understanding of the behind-the-scenes workings, may then be lost without educating the viewer, as Alyson suggests. I’ve viewed and experienced many different works of art that could be classified in this way – they look good, but on further investigation I would elevate them to “amazing” when I learn how they were made. The first example that comes to mind would be Suerat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. A beautiful piece, to be sure, but what elevates it to a whole new level for me is how he made it, using pointillism and optical theory.

    • Just a few words: you may not be consistently dealing with an enlightened public, and while educating viewers may not appeal to you, it does appeal to many viewers, and more often than not creates a solid interpersonal as well as a solid sales relationship. Grabbing attention with amazing visual somethings is one thing, drawing in attention with graciousness in word and deed on behalf of the art is quite compelling, and very, very useful.

  • > What makes a piece of art amazing, is that people see how amazing it is.

    “Amazingness” is not an objective state of being. It is relative, based on the current perspective of the viewer — something that will change, shift, evolve.

    In music, food, literature, we all understand how one’s taste can grow, change… be educated. Why would this be any different for art? People like what they like, but they might be passing by art that they assume they don’t like because they never allowed their palette to expand enough to really experience it.

    I have had people walk right by my art. But when I stopped them, showed them what I am doing and how, they saw it again with new eyes. Likewise I have created many pieces of art that I didn’t care for, only to have someone else fish it out of the trash and fall in love with it. The artist and the collector, we educate each other.

  • @Gloria Here’s an example of what Alyson is talking about. The first time that many people see a Picasso, they think, “Weird.” Many people have the gut reaction that they could draw the geometric shapes and malformed faces themselves.

    Of course, most of the world has no idea how much technique it takes to do what Picasso did. They also have no idea that he was among the first to do it and they also have no idea what he was trying to say.

    The same sort of experience happens with Jackson Pollock, Van Gogh, Kooning and others. What is amazing to some is weird, lame or dumb to others.

    Your examples of the Grand Canyon or a Redwood tree as inherently amazing doesn’t translate to art. These wonders of the world are set in their own context, so no further explanation is necessary. People need context to understand why a piece of art is amazing because it’s an artificial creation.

  • I totally agree with you about the art education at school level and therefore what you say about how to look at a painting. Especially as I paint abstracts, I find it is difficult for people to “make sense” of it all. Your advice is definitely something I will follow from now on. Thank you.

  • I find that demonstrating during monthly open studios engages visitors more than discussing the work on the walls. Many a child and husband who have been dragged along to the art event become interested when they can see the process. Questions and dialogue follow making for a most enjoyable evening all around. In the studio, paintings are numbered (there are corresponding price lists with titles available) and it’s really fun to hear what people “see”.

  • I find educating my customer isn’t so much about teaching why the work is “amazing” as much as it is breaking down the fear that may be standing in the way of them pulling out their wallets to invest in the art. How many times have I heard “I don’t know much about art, but I think this is amazing” Really. It is my experience that when a customer doesn’t have confidence in their ability to discern “good” art, they will hold back from purchasing.
    The message I weave in my “educational” blog is to rely on the heart and the experience to guide a purchase. Meanwhile by sharing the process or basic design concepts hopefully I have raised their confidence in their own artistic discernment.

  • Alyson, this is great advice. I have used this a little, when talking to visitors to my studio, but I will now include it in my monthly newsletter. I always feature one of my latest works now I will also do a bit of ‘art appreciation’ too!

  • isn’t this what the artist statement is meant to do… put one’s work in context?

    plus can’t we do something about art education in schools? I learned a lot from a great HS teacher. I’d much rather my school taxes be used to help the next generation learn about art than … say.. AstroTurf?

  • I’d already added this post – which makes an excellent point – to my “who’s made a mark this week?” before I clicked the link about art eduction which goes to my blog (for which many thanks) and much less pleased to see that my blog denies it exists for no obvious reason.

    This is the link MAKING A MARK: MAM Poll results: Improving your art education
    or just plain old html http://makingamark.blogspot.com/2009/02/mam-poll-results-improving-your-art.html

    I tested it – this one seems to work! :)

    PS The questioning strategy you highlight in your last link is also an ace point.

  • Great post. I’m fortunate enough to have my studio in a visual arts centre called Williams Mill. I create my work there but we are open to the public on weekends. I consider educating the public on what I do a very important part of my work. And yes, sometimes great sales happen once people have the opportunity to learn and appreciate.

    Alyson, this post really hit the nail on the head. Well done!

  • kat

    yeah…i sooo forget to do this…awesome reminder to engage my readers in the process!! thanks!!

  • [...] This also applies to your own work and how people view it. Many people have zero knowledge when it comes to art in general, and a little education can go a long way towards their understanding and appreciation of art. According to Alyson Stanfield, “helping people to understand why [your work is] amazing can lead to more fans.” [...]

  • [...] The Secret to Attracting More Fans to Your Art. Alyson Stanfield hits the somewhat controversial nail on the head. Education is key to audience development in the arts. Some great discussion in the comments, too. [...]

  • Its amazing how powerful knowledge can increase performance, indeed talking to those around us about our art really makes them a part of the story thus making them part owners. It is especially difficult for art to be looked at in my country Kenya where art is little appreciated by the local folk. Thanks for the insight

  • This is so true, and finding venues to educate needn’t be difficult…I’m very grateful for this post.
    i’ve always believed that artists do need to educate about their work. thank you for reminding me…I’m going to volunteer to do an art talk at our wonderful little library!

  • I worked various retail over the years. Truly, once I educated the customer about the options available, how to tell quality, listened to what their needs were, then the customer was able to make an educated choice. Now I will invest some thought into my art and how I might spark interest and, hopefully, investment
    Once I explained the difference in bread machines, a gentleman told me that he went into stores five times to buy a bread machine and walked away each time, but now he felt confident that he could make an intelligent choice. He bought his bread machine. When I was designing kitchens, I always pointed out the difference in quality and workmanship, then customers were not fooled into over paying for poor quality or being stuck with it.
    Thanks for this discussion. I will now think about my art in a new light.

  • [...] time you teach people how to look at your art, you empower them. You give them confidence to spend more time with the work and to go to a deeper [...]