I Love Your Art But It's Not For Me

You know the type.

She attends your show and tells you what a wonderful artist you are. This makes you feel good. You’re happy for people to connect with your work this way.

She comes to the next opening and gushes in a way that makes you blush.

She raves repeatedly about your art. I love your work! she says.

Yet, she never buys. She’s implying, I love your art, but it’s not for me.

What gives?

When People Love Your Art, But Don't Buy | Art Biz Coach

Exercise Your Courage Muscle

Who knows why people don’t buy. Maybe they don’t dig that yellow speck in the lower left. Or maybe they just emptied their bank account to pay for a root canal.

If not closing the sale is bothering you, maybe it’s time to exercise your courage muscle and ask the repeat fan why she’s not pulling out her pocketbook.

There’s a way to do this that is authentic and comfortable, but I know it will tax your courage.

After the next inevitable compliment, make your move. Say to your fan: I really appreciate all of the support you have shown, but I have to ask something that will help as I build my art career and business. What’s keeping you from buying it and living with it every day?

These are common objections you might hear:

Do any of these sound familiar?

©Tomiko Takeda, I Love Being By Your Side. Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches.

©Tomiko Takeda, I Love Being By Your Side. Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches. Used with permission.

You can counter the affordability objection by offering a payment plan, but I tend to think that I can’t afford it just means This isn’t how I want to spend my money right now.

Countering the other two objections seems futile and could be annoying enough to turn off a potential buyer. I think they are code for I’m not willing to make room for it.

In the process of asking, you might discover an unexpected response.

Perhaps it’s as simple as your choice of framing and a quick frame change could close the sale. It might be that easy!

Asking is the only way to find out what’s getting in the way of a purchase and whether or not you can do anything about it.

When Asking Doesn’t Lead Anywhere

I could easily be your raving fan that doesn’t buy. I love a lot of art, but I can’t buy everything I like or love. Not clothes, not houses, not furnishings, not vacations.

I have to curate what comes into my life. Because I know so many artists, my first choice around the art that I love is always to support the artists in my life.

After that hurdle, I ask Do I want to look at it every day? Loving art and living with art are two different things.

I also tend to ask, Do I want to live without it? I know I could live without it, but do I want to?

Finally, I ask Do I have a place for it? Space is always an issue. We have a lot of windows, limited wall space, and harsh light that dictate what we can show. I am not interested in owning art that is stored away.

If you’re unable to counter the objections, you have to accept that your work wasn’t meant to belong to your raving fan. It will find its forever home soon enough. Your work isn’t for everyone, even those who love it.

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76 comments to I Love Your Art But It’s Not For Me

  • I love this blog Alyson.
    I must admit I’m stumped when people say they either can’t afford it or they’ve got no room.
    I feel “oh you poor thing I won’t bother you any more.” I guess it’s down to realising that people do want your art, you’ve just got to show them how.
    And now you’ve provided us with one more tool in the armory (mixed metaphors I know!)
    Thank you!

    • Thanks, Mary. But, as I said, not everyone wants your art. They may love it and admire it, but it’s not how they want to spend their money. You can ask, you can offer options, but then you have to accept it. You won’t know until you ask.

  • People in my neck of the woods snatch up artwork that I’ve donated to a good cause. Otherwise, they rarely buy my work.

    • Patricia–unless you are donating to an arts related organization, this is ARTIST ABUSE!I long ago set up a standard letter of reply to organizations like the Rodeo Queens and the Shelter for puppies, explaining how donating to them would undercut my sales, just as always asking for a donation from a vacuum cleaner salesman would undercut his business. They finally quit asking. Some of my artist friends were in conversation with the director of a charity for which they had donated work, when the director started telling them how artists are not good business people!! Maybe Alyson would like to do a blog post on this….

      • I have a number of posts about donations on this blog. Just search for them in the sidebar.

      • Jocelyn Bridge

        I have to disagree with Lynne Hull about “Artist Abuse” when donating a piece of art work for a charity auction or exhibition. Many people all over the world use their talents to support charities. All sorts of people have all sorts of talents and if I as an artist am no good at baking cakes, book-keeping, hosting fashion events or can’t do a sponsored marathon what’s wrong with using my artistic talents to raise funds for worthy causes?

    • Kathy P.

      Patricia, I think this is a variation on what I call “Local Artist Syndrome”. Most people just don’t take local artists, authors, or musicians as seriously as they would if you were from somewhere else. Their attitude toward locals is kinda like the Church Lady: “Oh, isn’t that just special”, but there’s a limit (a very low one) to the value they see in your work. So they’re happy to drop a few bucks on something you donate to a local cause, because they want to help the cause. But they just can’t see how your work is worth much more than that, because, after all, you’re only a a local artist. Once you get “famous” somewhere else – the farther away the better – THEN they’ll want your work – and probably won’t be able to afford it.

      I also think there are a lot of people who are genuinely fascinated by artists and creative people because they themselves can’t draw the proverbial straight line with a ruler. So they go to openings, gush and carry on about the wonderful work, but they just don’t see art as something that has any real value, like cars and furniture and such. To them, art is something people do for fun or amusement, and therefore we shouldn’t expect to be paid for it. This is why, when they ask what we do, a common response is, “Yes, but what’s your REAL job?”

      • I always remember, people get the art they deserve.
        Another point is ,there are 300 plus million people in the
        population, this means we all have lots of potential buyers in the mix.

      • Kathy P. Your comment is one of the more insightful comments I have read out of almost any post on this site. You clearly see the big forces at work here. Your comment about the artist from elsewhere is right on the money in my experience and is talked about exclusively in the book: “How To Become a Famous Artist and Still Paint Pictures” by Joe Innis.

  • If a huge fan is not a buyer I think the next step is to figure out a way to leverage their support to market my art further.

    If they don’t have space…
    – do they have a friend they could buy it for as a gift?
    – would they like to purchase a piece and donate it to a museum?

    If they don’t have the money…
    – do they have friends that they could introduce you to that might like to buy some work
    – can you hold an art party at their house and they invite their friends to get introduced to your art
    – can they promote you on their facebook page

    If they are fans I’m thinking they would be happy to help!

    —lisa

  • cindy

    Thanks so much for addressing this subject. I have been stewing over this issue. My work is so different than people are used to, I’ve been thinking that they love and rave about the technique but can’t envision it on their walls. I may be wrong, so I need to get braver and start asking, in a way that they will be honest!

  • Ken

    A great topic Alyson! I used to be plagued by this. I now turn the table back to the potential collector. I respond to any of these objections this way. “I understand that (re-state their objection) might be a concern, and this piece is not be for everyone, but I have found that the collectors who made the decision to invest in my work, tell me how happy they are that they made the decision to purchase a piece”. For me, I found that this statement puts a challenge to the perspective collector. “It’s not for everyone” is the challenge statement because they are silently asking themselves “is it for me?” For me, it also helps me to qualify a perspective collector. The person in front of me, may not want to pull the checkbook out, but the person behind them is listening and when they tell me “I love your work” I respond by saying, “what makes this piece unique is the way that I …” keeps me in the drivers seat. I keep the conversation focused on the work. This is also how I respond to the “I have no wall space” objection.

    Being a photographer, I can always come back with the I can’t afford it objection by saying, “I can create a smaller piece for you that fits your budget”.

    The bottom line for me (and keep in mind that selling at art festivals is a fast pace environment and is not for every artist either)is that, I never let an objection close me. Every word I say can be heard by anyone in the booth during a show and the same holds true for every objection a potential collector states. I believe it is crucial to continually talk about my work and what makes it unique so that it creates the desire to buy now. What a customer puts forth an objection that cannot be countered, you have just been closed and the silent would be collector in the background may just have used the same objection not to purchase now.

    • Brilliant, Ken! I agree utterly with what you have written and will apply its principle not only during my art festivals, but at receptions, open studios, workshops I lead – basically ANYWHERE there are other ears to hear my response. It matters!

    • Jennifer

      Love this reply Ken! May I repost it elsewhere? I love the idea of ‘getting into the drivers seat’ and selling art!

      • Ken

        Jennifer, I have no objections, but this is Alyson’s blog so you should check with her too.

        As to being in the driver’s seat? You bet I am! I’m not pushy at all, but I take control of the conversation and always direct it back to the work. In that process, customers now have a chance to connect with you as the artist. I once heard it said like this “If you don’t feel that selling your art is for you, then you either need to learn how to sell, pair up with someone who can, or hire someone who can”. Sure, there will be times when you have done everything you can and they still walk. I just refuse to let it talk me down.

    • Ken: Does this result in sales for you? And repeat customers?

      • Ken

        Alyson, the short answer is yes. I think it is imperative to be directing the conversation to a sale. This past weekend, kicked off my 2015 schedule. I sold a piece to someone who first saw it in May 2014 and sold the same piece in a different size that I had at home to another couple who looked at the one I had on display earlier that same weekend.

        As to repeat customers? Again, yes. Sold a piece this past weekend to another customer who now has 4 pieces of mine.

        Again, at an art festival, this is high paced and not for every artist. A show that has 200 booths is just like a mall with 200 stores. If you cannot sell it then, most likely you won’t. I key in on the emotion that someone gushes because that emotion can gush on to others. It becomes infectious! I believe that once a customer gives you permission to sell to them, your mouth needs to be moving towards a sale.

        True story. I am an introvert. I love working alone and being away from a crowd. At the end of a show, I am emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. I had to learn how to act like an extrovert! So, you can just imagine what I say to a fellow artist who tells me, they are an introvert 🙂

  • mel

    As someone who likes art but rarely buys it, this is very true! Ha! When I think about buying art, my internal counterargument is usually “But then you’ll have another THING in your possession. And that money is shared, it isn’t really YOURS to spend on STUFF. That money could have paid for that duvet cover you talked yourself out of yesterday… if a thing you need isn’t important enough to spend money on, how is a static piece of art more important?” And so on.

    What gets me, is when I’m doing the little craft fair circuit and everyone who walks by is raving and tossing compliments “Oh this is my favourite booth!”
    I’ve got little photo reproductions and stickers and journals, many of which cost not much more than the coffee they’re carrying, but they just walk away. Not even five bucks! I’d actually rather visitors just not say anything, otherwise it feels a little bit like being lied to all day!

  • Ken

    Mel, I so love Alyson’s topic. I used to feel the same way. Again, I would turn everyone of those objections around. Again, when someone (and I have had this same experience) tells me, this is my favorite booth, or this is the best booth at the show, I respond by saying, “what makes my work unique is the way that I…” You have to create energy in your booth. I NEVER sit down. I don’t even bring a chair with me at a show. If someone is not in my booth, I use a spray bottle of water and wipe down my canvas framed prints. You can bet that someone will ask me “are you cleaning that with water?” Thus, begins the excitement when I respond “YES, that is how great the laminate coating is on this piece”

    You mentioned an excellent hook or objection response. You said “…many of which cost not much more than the coffee they’re carrying” Consider that as a selling tool. I would point that out if you see someone carrying a cup of coffee. I would get your potential customer to connect the same way. If you maintain a positive attitude, it produces positive energy and that produces more sales.

  • I have people at our local juried art fair that collect my business cards. (They have varied images on the back — from Moo.com.) After a while I just see them as art groupies, and I don’t take it personally. I loved the suggestion that they could do something else for you — help with an event or particular publicity. Some friends decorate their homes with antiques, and just don’t see my work as a good fit. But I AM going to employ some of Alyson’s suggestions if they mention a reason why they aren’t buying…

  • Barbara

    Alyson – I so appreciate this thought provoking post on handling fans who do not buy. Great suggestions that I will definitely put into practice. Thanks Ken for sharing your perspective and methods.

  • I have finally beaten this dragon of mine into submission. I was whining about my art not selling – and bemoaning the way my art-making and exhibiting was draining my funds. And I would shake my fists at the art gods over those fans who would stand in front of one of my paintings and weep, and still not buy. I couldn’t figure out what it meant that my paintings would move people but they would not buy them. Then someone pointed out that the paintings were fine but not necessarily something people want to hang over their couch. Suddenly what I had been hearing for a while made sense.

    I had struggled with trying to paint to sell, to adjust my paintings to suit the market. But, it never really works for me. I do want to continually paint better work but I don’t want to change what I am doing in order to sell. So I was also battling the “paint the stuff people will buy” and “nobody will buy that” gremlins.

    The mental shift I went through took months, and may not yet be fully realized, but I accept now that my art is not for everyone, that not everyone who “loves” my work is going to buy it, and if someone loves it and is moved by it that is a wonderful thing and I am grateful for it. To get to this place, I first had to recognize that I am retired and I don’t want to work at another job. And painting was beginning to feel not only like a job, but also like a job I was failing at – because I was not selling. And I wasn’t having fun, but instead was worried and angry and annoyed. I kept thinking about how happy I was when I first started painting and how I needed to get back to that, otherwise I was going to stop painting altogether. Eventually I realized that I have a roof over my head and food on the table, and I can paint for reasons other than to make money. I can paint every day, build a body of work, just because I love to paint. I don’t need to paint to sell, as long as I am judicious with my budget. And here is the cool thing: Since I accepted that selling does not have to be my priority, I have had what can only be described as a small unexpected wonderful rash of sales – and they are indeed the icing on the cake.

    I have chosen the path of least resistance. I don’t want to probe someone about why they aren’t buying a painting any more than I want someone to ask me why I don’t buy their paintings. But, I can see why one might choose to do so, and how it can be beneficial. On the other hand, I tend to avoid challenging the intentions of others. I had a young friend just starting out in his career tell me that one day he hoped to own one of my paintings, but he couldn’t afford them right now. My first thought was to point out that for the price of just one of his nights on the town in NYC – dinner a show and a hotel – he could buy a painting. But his very first love (and profession) is the theatre. Why would I dream of challenging his decision to spend his money on the art form he loves above all others? Someday he will own one of my paintings, whether he buys it or not.

    • This feels like such a healthy attitude. You understand what’s necessary and what isn’t, how to be at peace with your process, and respectful of your friends. At the same time, I can see how for some people asking the question (why someone’s not buying) for the artist’s own information/progress could be very useful, if done courteously. Like asking someone why you didn’t get the job after an interview can be informative. I’ve done this (in a previous life, practically) and learned a lot.

    • I like your attitude, Jim. But you already knew that. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • I understand that one has to continue to stay the course.
      It can be very trying when it comes to selling one’s work.
      Artists find out sooner or later, people get the art they deserve.
      If they don’t get it, they don’t deserve to have it.

  • What a great topic. As an illustrator, I hear this a lot while vending at art shows. I’m especially curious as to why some people “love” my work, yet won’t purchase a note card or smaller item. What a great suggestion to just ask the customer. I also like Lisa’s idea to suggest the art as a gift, and I will definitely try that in the future.

  • Thank you Alyson for writing about this, excellent suggestions.
    Like everyone, I have encountered this, previously I lived in a tourist beach town and would get “I can’t fit this in my suitcase” which is hard to counter, however I have to share that recently one of my “potential” buyers informed me that her and her husband are fighting over which painting to buy!!! (I almost had tears of joy 🙂 Of course I said my payment plan can be stretched for 2 paintings 😉 Hehehe….

    Like most artsits, I paint because it is my truest calling and all that motivates me.
    I have never aspired to have a glamorous job or to have lots of money. Unless it is through my art. I’ve accepted my choices of doing what I love versus having things or some other type of lifestyle. I am very grateful for what you do and your conversations! I clap w/ joy w/ fellow artists sharing the challenge of painting from your center versus painting to “sale”. It’s a challenge being true but there are always going to be people that will feel this sincerety and intention. When creating from the space of feeling good and doing what you love, the rest will follow. We just have to trust and enjoy the swing of the pendulum reset by you and the supporters of art.

    I feel creativity is killed on the get go if you start from a place of “what they want or will buy” I applaud you Alyson and all fellow artists that walk this path of creating. It’s tricky to trust in ourselves in a world of glitzed glam and robotic manufactured joy. Thank goodness there are wonderful people that aspire for more than a shiny machine based object.

  • I really enjoy your posts which challenge me. I will soon be having a portfolio review from very significant gallery owners in San Francisco, and I will be revising my website accordingly. Your comments about Not posting as New Work will be a change soon on my website.
    Thank you, Susan

  • Or they will never buy art and are there just to be a groupie.

    When I was working for galleries we often labeled these people Super Friends. Basically art gallery groupies that show up to make their presence known, get free stuff and never buy.

  • It’s a good idea also to remember that your raving appreciator-but-not-buyer surely has friends, and she’ll rave to them at least once in a while, and one (or more) of them may well come and buy. Or look, and then tell still others. The ripple effect — one of the most effective marketing strategies in existence.

  • For many years selling at shows on a tradestand I got very upset and depressed by this type of fan. I have had people come, often in gushing style, and tell me I was the best artist on the showground (their words, not mine), that they love love love love my work, that a certain piece would look exactly right in their living room/hallway/lounge etc etc etc then walk off the stand without any purchase even though I sell prints and greetings cards too so the starting price is £2. After a particularly full day of this I would be ready to hang myself from the marquee beams and had to keep going off the stand every hour or so to sketch and reconnect with my art (I have a staff member on stand too). We always had a joke about some card ‘buyers’ who we called the ‘pip-u-poffs'(pick up, put down, piss off) and one day I had a revelation: the gushers are the equivalent of pip-u-poffs. My staff, who is trained in selling and marketing told me to watch closely and I started to pay attention to those who DID buy, especially original paintings. They very often did not speak to us or want to talk when approached. They would look at the painting then move off the stand and look from a distance, they would return a few times, sometimes with family and/or friends and we would greet them each time with a smile or hello but not allude to the fact that we knew they were returning. When they were ready they would approach one of us and ask their questions, before buying. Now I chat and even joke with the gushers (as said others may also hear) and tell them more about the piece, but keep watching out the corer of my eye for the real potential buyer.

  • Lisa Call has an important point. Some of my biggest advocates are not buyers but love my work. They are the ones who share my sociak media posts, tell friends about my work, etc. a great deal of my project funding this year came via their efforts. And I do the same with artists and galleries I like – promote them whenever I can. 😉

  • My eye-line wall of art starts at my front door and moves throughout the entire dwelling and back to the front door without any gaps for any more art…So clearly ‘your art is not for me’.

    And I do not wish to have a below eye-line or an above eye-line tier of any new art…it’s my home & not an art gallery. Enough is enough, says The Memsahib, aka my wife, who must be obeyed!

    Perhaps those turning down your art have this sort of problem?

    Perhaps you could offer to buy an art work from them in exchange for them buying one of yours? Or come to some bartering arrangement to get your art into a new home?

    It’s about lateral thinking & not getting stuck with a problem.

  • A few years ago at an art show I had a woman spend quite a bit of time looking thoughtfully at all of the jewelry in my booth. She finally told me that she thought my work was the most interesting, creative designs she’d seen all day, but she could never buy any of it. I politely asked why she felt that way, and her reply? “Oh, I don’t like to draw attention to myself.” I was stunned into silence by that one!

  • There are a lot of people like the lady described by Zee. For me, however, there’s a similar type that I run into a lot here. These are the,”but where would I wear it” people. Apparently no one dresses up any more around here.

    All this just means that the right people aren’t seeing the work at the right time.

  • I have never asked what is preventing someone from making a purchase. I tend to talk about the work when someone seems interested or even enthusiastic about my glass.Explaining the process and the material is usually an enjoyable discussion that also involves whomever I am taking to.
    One can be so focused on selling that it is easy to forget why we are creating our work in the first place: because it feels good to create something unique.Yes, selling is important but I find a more relaxed approach usually helps with that.

    • Luise this is exactly the advice that my selling/marketing staff and my high flying salesman brother have been given in order to set up the sale – apparently it is the art of selling. Closing the sale is a slightly different matter that I have not quite got the hang of and confidence with yet, so if anyone has any advice on that . . .

    • Luise: Do you have people that keep coming back again and again and shower you with compliments about how much they love the work?

      • I do actually have those people too. When I listen to them exclaim about all the “gorgeous pieces!” and “you are so blessed with your talent” I smile and say thank you. I do believe that most of them are sincere, some of them come out to our First Friday Receptions at the Gallery on a regular basis. I also believe that they will tell their friends. And that might then result in a sale.

    • I like the relaxed approach. I keep a fifty or one hundred dollar bill in my pocket at art events. It’s a good rejection deflector.

  • Bette Aubry

    Oh boy this will make me think twice about paying a compliment to an artist. I love art. I love browsing galleries and exhibitions. If I purchased everything I loved I would be both broke and crowded out of my home. I never thought that showing appreciation to an artist’s talent could be so misconstrued. I always ask myself if I can live without it. And if it haunts me after I go home I will go back and buy it. But I have learned never to buy on impulse anymore. And cohersion won’t change my mind.

    • Juan Alonso-Rodriguez

      Please don’t stop complimenting artists. Most know better than to pressure someone into buying their work and we all need the moral support as well as the financial.

      • Agreed! Please don’t stop complimenting, Bette.

        And, again, I would never want this to be used as a primary sales technique. That’s not my style and I think it’s uncomfortable for all involved. It’s only for the people who keep coming back again and again – and a conversation with them in private.

      • And visit the websites of those that contribute to Alyson’s blog…have a look…and leave a comment.

        • I don’t have a website, but I am on face book. This is a work around.
          My website has been down for years. Face book gives some example of what I make.
          Cheers! Bob Ragland- Denver, Co.
          PS- See me on you tube also.

  • Juan Alonso-Rodriguez

    Maybe this works for some people but I strongly believe it is horrible advice for most. I think if I approached people in this manner, they would run away and never be back and I would also have that same reaction in reverse. I’d offer several ways to accommodate a potential buyer and let them know if they were truly interested I would work with them to make the sale happen painlessly. This “why don’t you buy it?” approach seems very off-putting and frankly, it’s nobody’s business why someone buys or doesn’t buy something. Better to spend your energy making good work and you will find your audience.

    • Juan: Please know that I would never in a million years suggest you do use it on everyone who doesn’t buy. Only the people who keep coming back again and again. Maybe it looks harsher in writing, but I can easily see it being done with love, gentleness, and curiosity. I know that’s the only way I could pull it off.

      Also note that I only suggest it if it’s really bothering you about this or that person.

  • I so know the very people of whom you refer, but I agree there many who would be offended and run if I used more aggressive tactics when my works are exhibited in a gallery. I think I might feel more comfortable talking to some people in private conversation given the right opportunities.

  • Theresa

    I understand this oh so well. But to encourage some I did have a positive one time when someone told me they had no space I asked if I could come do something special for them they said yes and now they get a few pieces from me for friends.

  • Barbara Muir

    Thank you Alyson. I love this post, and read some of the comments to my husband. I agree with Ken and Jim. If I’m at an art show, even visiting a friend’s booth at a show, I work at engaging the visitors and talking about the work. Sometimes the people who praise my work take a year or two to work themselves up to buying or commissioning work from me, but when they do it has certainly been worth it, and I’m glad I’ve maintained a positive attitude. I’ve also experienced Jim’s “cool thing.” If I don’t obsess about selling, I seem to sell more. Not obsessing doesn’t mean I drop the ball, but it means I have the peace of mind to keep on working, and getting the art out.

  • Thank you for this post Alyson, it’s very informative and reading the comments got me thinking about my interaction with art and the work of artists. As an art collector/buyer for me to buy an art work, I have to feel it in my entire being, since I will be living and enjoying the art. However, in some cases I might love the story behind the art and/or the techniques used. In these circumstances I promote the work of the artist through word of mouth, social media and my blog with the hope that someone else with fall in love with the work and make a purchase.