None of us need to own art to survive. It's not like food, or shelter or even insurance or a car, but even in a poor economy, there are people that want to buy art and continue to do so. Art feeds the soul, beautifies our surroundings, and enriches our experience of life.
Why do most people buy art? That's the question that you have to ask yourself as an artist when you are in the game of selling your work. You hope to have some people on your team that are asking themselves the same questions, but you have to be sure that you're not letting other people do all the thinking for you.
I think that there are four primary reasons people buy art:
1. status - these are collectors. They may truly appreciate, even love art, but they want to impress
2. decor - these are the people that want to fill a spot on the wall with something beautiful
3. artists that want to look at your work- these are people who know your work, admire it and want to be like you.
4. Investors-people who view your work as an investment. They are also collectors but may have a different viewpoint than the status-seekers.
Let me say that I'm certainly not making a judgment about whether one type of buyer is more worthy than another. All art buying is good art buying. Only that it is useful to know determine the motivations of a buyer to assist you in giving them what they need.
Contrary to, popular belief, the work does not sell itself. You have to identify what kind of potential buyer a person is. Once you've done this you can begin to talk about the work in ways that will make sense to that buyer. For instance, someone who is only interested in filling the space over the couch, probably doesn't care very much about the story behind the piece, but they may be very interested in seeing your portfolio that has photos of your paintings in various interior spaces or learning about the durability of the surface of your painting. It's all about framing the conversation around what your patron needs from the purchase.
An artist who is a potential buyer wants the story, the mystery and the process. They want to hear about the kind of paint you use and how you are a master at using it. They are in awe of the work and your lifestyle and they want it too. They want a little piece of you.
Someone interested in status may be a competitive buyer and wants the price reassuringly high, but still may want to feel like they made a smart buy. They probably would like to see your list of accolades and resume. They may even want to visit your studio or be reassured by a dazzling gallery. They want to easily understand the work, so when their friends ask them about their new acquisition, they can intelligently speak to it. "This artist's work is about the water" or "This artist's work is about using a blow torch on metal". It can mean different things to different people, but patrons want the words to explain the work and you have to give those words to them.
Folks who buy art for an investment are usually in the upper echelans of art buyers. They buy from galleries or directly from established artist they have a relationship with, but you never know when a discerning patron could look at your work and feel that you will be an up and coming artist, an artist to "watch".
You've got to quickly make a determination about what kind of buyer is interested and have all the tools available to help you answer their questions, remove their reservations and then make them feel wonderful about the purchase they're about to make! You've got to give them more than something they like, but rather something they love, whatever their reason for buying.
If a gallery can't do that for you, then you should to do it for yourself. Studio shows, festivals, house parties, internet sales and alternative venues like wineries, or restaurants are all great ways to experience selling your own work. I've learned so much about why people buy art, from selling my work and get instant feedback from the buying public. You don't get that from a gallery.
Lastly, I don't believe that selling your work is somehow contrary to making the art, that it somehow taints and commercializes it. The fact of the matter is, if you want to be a working artist, if you want to make more art, you have to sell it. Being a good doctor and getting paid for it, doesn't diminish your status as a doctor, nor should getting paid for being a good artist, diminish your status as an artist.
Best of luck!!