When Marketing Your Art Feels Unnatural

If you are struggling with the thought of marketing your art – if it seems unnatural to you – I’m going to relieve some of the pressure for you right now.

Stop thinking about selling so much!

Gallerist Melanie Lunsford talks with artist Carol McIntyre during Barbara Gilhooly's opening at 44T Artspace in Denver.

Gallerist Melanie Lunsford talks with artist Carol McIntyre during Barbara Gilhooly’s opening at 44T Artspace in Denver.

You don’t have to be a salesperson or do anything that isn’t natural. All you have to be is confident in your work and enthusiastic about sharing it with others.

You have to believe that what you have is of value to others, even if the value is pure delight.

Selling Suggests Pressure

Think of all the anxiety around sales and selling:

  • The pressure to “close the sale.”
  • The pressure to say the right thing.
  • The pressure to approach the potential buyer at the perfect time.
  • The pressure to wear appropriate clothing and get your makeup and hairdo just so.

These stresses are enough to send any artist to the Sales & Marketing section of a bookstore and, after reading a ton of conflicting advice, to the funny farm.

In contrast, consider what it means to share.

Sharing = Generosity

Sharing means you have something that other people find useful and interesting. It implies that you have abundance and are willing to divide it up among others who want what you have.

Sharing is authentic and comes from your heart.

You share recipes and recommendations for books and movies. You share interesting posts you find on Facebook. You share information that you think might be helpful to a friend.

Not sharing might be regarded as a form of selfishness. Why are you keeping your art, your talents, and your abundance to yourself?

I want you to be so excited about your work that you can’t wait to get up in the morning and ask yourself, “Who can I share my art with today?” Can you do that for me?

Share, don’t sell.

Somebody, somewhere is waiting for your art to delight them.

What could be more natural than sharing what you have?

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59 comments to When Marketing Your Art Feels Unnatural

  • What a gift to read your post this morning, Alyson! I went to bed last night talking to my husband about the whole selling struggle. Authenticity is huge to me.
    I can share.

  • Love it, Alyson!!! Thanks so much! Our gifts aren’t meant to be hidden!

  • I know sharing doesn’t have to mean giving things away but it’s interesting that I should read this post this morning after I gifted a piece of my work to someone. Having just moved house I’ve been unable to create new artwork while I prepare my new space. I know many of my blog readers have missed me sharing my artwork with them and I hope to be able to do that again soon. Great post.

  • again, a most poignant and though-provoking article… thanks so much alyson! i’m currently selling my work at art markets 4 days a week, and sometimes it really seems like a job trying to sell to people… i needed to be reminded that i am doing what i love to do, and when people walk up to my market tent and smile, point and whisper “that is so cool”, i just melt. i love to see people love my work too, especially if it means i have to let it go to another home… i want to share my gift of creating exciting art, and at the art markets, more people get to see it. on saturday, instead of focusing on selling, i will focus on sharing… see what happens!

  • I already knew this, and am so grateful that YOU SHARED it this morning when I really needed to be reminded of it. I think I am going to bookmark it so I stumble across it again at a time when I will, no doubt, be in need of the same reminder. Thank you, A!

  • What a wonderful article, i shall remember to think of it like this in future. ruthie

  • This is such perfect timing!!! We had our first Art Biz Salon in Orlando yesterday and this is exactly what we needed to read today.

  • Wow! I’m an artist member of Robin Pedrero’s salon group, and YES! That is what I needed to hear today :) I’ve been so stumped as to how and to whom I should market my work, but I do enjoy it when friends and those in my social network just comment to say how much they love my pieces and that they like seeing work posted on my art page. I’m going to try to focus on sharing, and just trusting that eventually my work will find the right home :D

  • Having just gone to my first salon group meeting with Robin Pedrero as our facilitator I left feeling uncomfortable about the marketing ideas, however, this approach feels much more natural. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  • I too am part of the Orlando Art Biz Salon and agree wholeheartedly with Renee’s comment. I think I can share much easier than I can sell. Thank you!

  • I’m filing this as your ALL TIME BEST tip.. EVER

  • Thank you! we never notice the obvious, things are only as hard as you make them : )

  • Dear Alyson,
    Thanks so much for this post. Selling myself is hard for me (as is schmoozing). Your proposal of sharing, being generous and authentic, is absolutely something I can be comfortable with! Thanks again!

  • just what i needed to hear right about now–thanks!! :)

  • Just yesterday I was lamenting about how I could continue to build community through making paintings (I used to teach, but I want to change my focus to making my own work and bringing it to the public). Then I see this post.

    Alyson, thank you. I will build community around sharing what I love. Making paintings, sharing how I make work, and sharing what I like about other artists work. Yep, that sums it up. Sharing is a key to collaboration and community building in the visual arts. Thanks! Suzanne

  • Jim

    Great topic! I always try to get potential buyers to talk about themselves. Sometimes they tell me exactly what would make them purchase a piece. If I have the opportunity to share a story about my work or my life as an artist, I try to weave it into the conversation in hopes of making a connection that will become a permanent part of my network.. I like your idea of “sharing” and I love the moment when I get the stand next to my art with someone who appreciates it enough to “share” their interest with me.

  • Ethel

    I just shared one of my poetry chapbooks a few minutes ago with a bicyclist on his way back home to NOLA via the CA coast. He said that Katrina had taken the box containing his poetry. My book has more than paid for itself and I only have a few copies left. It felt good sending my work on a journey in the opposite direction of where I’m going. I’m taking this positive energy and applying it to my photography project. Next month, when the project is complete, I’m meeting with the woman who designed the chapbook to see what we might come up with for a web site design. The project is handprinted interior shots of her home.

  • Becky

    You always share the best guidance! “Sharing” my art does sound much more inviting to me than having to sell it! Now, any guidance on how to price it? What’s a fair price? What is market value? Why can some artists add an extra “0” to the price without blinking! I swear I struggle with this everytime I put something out there….
    Thanks again for all you do for artists, Alyson!

    • Becky,

      I have the same issue as a jewelry artist. I recently had a show at a little gift store and the owner could not believe that I had market my jewelry so low. I immediately did a search for a new pricing formula. It takes into consideration my labor where the other didn’t. Now my pricing is at the amount this shop owner had told me she thought some of my pieces should have been. I encourage you to google and find some pricing formulas. Be sure it includes your labor. Be sure to make your hourly rate in that formula based on your true experience.

      I think as artists, we know our hard costs and take our talent for granted. When our hard costs aren’t much, then we have a hard time valuing the talent portion of our work.

      Good luck,

      Jennifer

    • Becky and Jennifer: I did a whole audio program on pricing: http://artbizcoach.com/pricing You might also find pricing guidance through the blog search function in the sidebar at right.

  • Sharing is the key word here. It is why we do what we do; the follow up after the creativity.
    If we can rememebr this little and important word we will all become better sales persons.
    It is what the customer wants to hear as well.

  • Donna Welsh

    Thank you so much Alyson! I observed this while shopping for a new car recently, and paying attention to the salespeople. What I came away with that day (no new car yet) is, “The best way to sell a car is not to try and sell a car!”
    I just recently had a naming contest for one of my works with a free print as the prize. It was fun, someone got a free print, and my work will now be in her home for others to view.
    You are absolutely right, sharing is a key, not only in art, but in life!

  • absolutely totally agree with this sentiment….!

  • Heya, Alyson–

    I am going to respectfully offer my perspective. Certainly, there’s nothing to refute about the goodness and benefits of sharing, nor is there in your thesis and intent. But just this past week I was taking stock of my online and real-world sharing over the past 12 years, and the infintesimal ROI got me thinking.

    I’ve been trying to make it as a freelance artist/photographer/illustrator for the past three-and-a-half years (after 17 years as a computer games artist for Sid Meier), and it’s been lean. I don’t know about anyone else, but as a businessman–and lifelong, trained, constantly improving artist–I need to get myself out there, and make money doing what I was born to do. In my 12 years of sharing virtually all the art and music I’ve produced–the high-quality, professional best I have to offer–I can’t say it’s done a whole lot for my bottom line. Even getting people to tap out more than a couple of online Likes once in a while or to hoping they’ll pass my name around town after I give a framed piece away is an uphill battle. Now, I’ve shared happily and with positive vibes, but as a mortgaged family man with bills and expenses I need more than the warm feeling I get from sharing. Luckily there are some other revenue streams, however small, but the “sharing” thing has shown itself to really mean “have some free content”.

    Go tell an investment banker, your doctor, or a pro ball player to share their services. For free. See what they tell you. (And as for professionals doing pro bono work, some part of it is altruistic, sure, but it’s also for the social and business respect they’ll gain from it. They also wouldn’t do it if they couldn’t afford to.)

    But artists–your shizzle is for free, man!

    This is nothing new, obviously, and it’s been that way since Lascaux, probably. (Ug had to pay the burnt stick guy and the cavelord…but everyone saw those painted cave walls for free!). That being said, there are some modern-day situations that have indeed devalued art “assets”…further…in a number of sectors. Just a smattering: The stock photography business, for one. Editorial illustration and photojournalism are others. I can’t go into all the details, but Google around–and you can start with one of the most famous illustrators of all time, Brad Holland. Additionally, working artists have to contend with issues like these: IP infringements/theft, hucksters racing to the bottom of the fee scale to undercut competition, and giants like Getty and Corbis (plus many businesses who buy art to reproduce, and every EULA you sign or click) imposing draconian re-use rights on artists/content providers, then stranding us in binding arbitration-land if we get fleeced. Et cetera…

    This is getting novel-length, so I’ll hang up now. You get where I’m coming from: artists need to command respect in the marketplace and receive a fair price for their work. It’s up to all working artists to RE-value our product by insisting on fair and proper payment, on a regular basis. I speak to myself here, too.

    To end on a positive note: in our consumerist/market-driven society, for better or worse, people respect that which they pay for much more than they do freebies. Something to keep in mind.

    All the best to everyone,
    Nick “Sharing” Rusko-Berger

    :D

    • Nick: I do appreciate your respectful tone, but I am not in any way shape or form encouraging you to give away your art. EVER!

      I’m just talking about sharing the message about your art – telling people about it.

      Don’t give it away!

  • As guest blogger for Alyson on Valentine’s Day, I wrote something worth bringing into this discussion:

    “Remember that people deserve the opportunity to experience the joy of ownership that comes with purchasing your art.

    You have brought great happiness to many. And like the great food you ate, movie you saw, or book you read, sharing and (hint: this is another of the “E’s of Selling”) encouraging people to experience good things in life come naturally for the vast majority of us.”

    I will add that Sharing (as being an important part of the selling “process”) is not something organically nurtured by some ethereal hug or paying it forward. What I read in Alyson’s piece today was simple: You don’t need to be intimidated or be thinking, “I will sell this”. Instead, think with a loving and embracing spirit of wanting your collectors to have a lifetime of joy and therefore say, “I will share this and with each sale I make, the sharing is complete and I have changed the life experience of this new owner and my art.”

    I ended my blog with, “Love is all there is” and that will always serve us well when we are sharing anything.

    Thanks for revisiting this, Alyson. And for sharing endlessly for our success.
    And I will repeat the part that feels so important to this:

    “”Remember that people deserve the opportunity to experience the joy of ownership that comes with purchasing your art.”

    And I will now add: your art deserves to be collected and cherished, and to inspire great on-going loving awestruck moments in someone else’s life forever.

    That is what you are sharing when the sale happens.
    Mckenna

    • Beautiful, Mckenna. Thank you for reminding us of your earlier post.

      I agree. But (always a but), I approach it more selfishly. Sure, the collectors deserve the opportunity for joy.

      But the real joy is with the artist. When someone else sees (and perhaps purchases) a work of art, the meaning of the work is enriched ten-fold. I truly believe that the creative cycle isn’t complete until this seeing/sharing takes place.

      So, do it for yourself first.

  • Kay

    i had never thought about approaching galleries with that aspect of sharing in mind, so I appreciate your thoughts and advice. I am still not sure how to handle the fear of rejection. What if you just want to share and no one wants to share with you?

  • What a wonderful article. Every striving artist needs to be reminded of this….”You have to believe that what you have is of value to others, even if the value is pure delight.” I recently sold some prints of my work to a lovely woman from the UK. After I mailed them, a few weeks went by. She was kind enough to send me a comment that touched me deeply. I was so delighted and inspired by it…”Just wanted to say big thank you for the beautiful & spiritual paintings I bought from you.
    They are so beautiful that even the atmosphere of my flat feels different. I will cherish them all the way.”
    Even though I did make a sale, they aren’t that frequent so the comment was timely.
    Now I must remember to remind me!

  • If you are enthusiastic about your art it should be easy to share your thoughts on it…and that enthusiasm is what impresses a potential buyer.

  • ahhhh.. correct me if I’m wrong. … but aren’t you missing the point here? Isn’t Alyson referring to the WAY we SELL? I don’t think her intent was for us to give stuff AWAY for FREE.. I think her intent was a different way to approach selling.. don’t think of it as “now I have to be a SALESMAN/WOMAN” but all I have to do is just share my enthusiasm or process or … ???

    is that was the original intent was or am I missing something here?

  • this is what I get for not reading the whole thread! see the above – I am correct!

  • Kathleen Eggert

    I am facing my first art show in quite awhile this weekend and my stomach is in knots. After reading this post I can feel the knots loosening. I am actually starting to look forward to be “out there” again. Thank you.

  • julie

    I could not agree more with the idea of sharing… For me that is the gift of what we do as artists. People who view our work don’t really want to know how we did it, they like the mystery, they want to hear what inspired us. People are really pretty interested in where our vision comes from…they like the stories behind a piece. Each one of my Spirit Figures has a story of intent…when I am able to convey that, and it resonates with the viewer, often a sale will follow. What I do is so solitary that I really do consider it a gift to meet with people who enjoy what I do…sharing with them inspires me.

  • Roger Lawrence

    I think the role of an artist is to visually interpret life. Many people don’t understand the language an artist uses to accomplish this. UGiving the viewer an opportunity to see your work is the sharing. We all like to learn someting new that will excite us. That is expressed in the viewer wanting to buy our work. Same is true in music and books. Search for viewers your that are hungry to see your translation and interpretation. The sale will follow.

  • peter

    i am a very good salesman, however when it comes to my painting, i am just thrilled to see and hear peoples reactions. it really is more valuable personally than the money i might receive. thank you for reminding me of the “joy” of painting.

  • Thank you for this reminder. It came in perfect time for me as I am stressed about a vernissage tonight where I am one among many others in a juried exhibition. And in two days, my first exhibition in a gallery together with two other artists. YES! I am going to share my entusiasm for my art!

  • Years ago I was told by a very long in the tooth and kind artist who was in the booth next to mine at an art fair, that I shared too much of myself. He said they dont need your artwork when you are so accessible. I’ve learnt a lot about selling since then. I’ve also learnt to put much of my exuberance into my artwork. Selling art and interacting with your art buying public is definitely a skill to be learnt and to be mindful of. I’ve even learnt to dress less flamboyantly infront of my audience. Now I look more like the hard working artist that I am, rather than the entertainment at my show. Definitely share, but don’t steal the limelight from your artwork.

  • Thank you for this mornings post. It reminded me that I can let people look and find their connection to my jewelry, and if it does delight them, I can give them the information they need. I have worked with many galleries and people over the years, and recently am working toward having more gallery representation. This gives me a
    a more natural way to regard selling my work- choosing who will sell, or “share” it with others, and how they are bringing it to the public. I also recently read “Art and Fear” (read this folks!) and the authors talked about needing a destination for your work. If you keep it and don’t share it, or sell it, you are not making room for the next piece.

  • Sharing your work is offering your value. People can like or not, but the point is don’t hide it and be shy about it. Thanks for your great post!

  • When I designed and sold kitchens, I was #1 in the district. It was a matter of helping the customers get what they wanted, getting the most bang for their buck, and of course, doing the best design. I only sold all wood kitchens that I would be proud to have in my own home, none made with non-woods, plastic shrink wraps, or with lacquer finishes that would not stand up.
    So frame your work as if you know its worth and present it with confidence.
    When I was coaching Odyssey of the Mind, one of the students read what I wrote about and said, “Ms Elgee, you sure bragged us up good.”
    It is not so easy to “brag up” yourself. Although, at art shows I have watched some successful art salesmen. They know how to BS and their sales of even mediocre art can bring you to your knees.
    So just consider it a favor when you are selling your beautiful art to someone and they are buying an original for what they might have had to spend on a worthless framed print in a furniture store.
    Positive attitude, confidence in your product, and helpful advice all help to get the sale.
    You have to play the role of confident artist of quality work.
    Also remember that while we might not be able to afford our own art, sad though it may be, others can afford our art.
    I had to tell myself that not everyone is a cheap or broke as I am.
    Art is an honorable living.
    Artist are specially gifted people.
    Artist deserve to earn a decent living.

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