10. Your art statement

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion.

10. Your art statement

An Artists Statement is probably meant to inspire the reader, or at least to give them some level of insight into the Artists thought processes mentally and physically. Often however it’s seen as a long boring load of rubbish by a reader who may find the document causes them to be disconnected rather than inspired or more enlightened about the Artist.

Making an Artists Statement can take a fair bit of juggling to get the mix right, of words to inspire and some form of useful explanation without giving too much away (tell the reader the whole story and they might discount you as well…)

I suggest you make it a thing worth learning, take a look at as many as you can and do a mental checklist, is the doc I am about to read daunting? Does it tell me what I want to hear? Is the statement aimed at a target market (of which I may not be part of…)? Does it refer to things or people I know nothing about and is that good, or isolating? Does the Artist sound like an interesting person to know or other? Do the words strike me in such a way as to engage me to look at the work with added interest?

The challenge is to then decipher if it really works for or against the Artist.

How would you go about writing an Artist’s Statement? Would you discuss where the ideas come from (your history, other works you have done, your interests, your philosophy’s.) Or would you go for some pseudo philosophical or intellectual stance to try and impress the reader…

I find it’s easy to look at art but a challenge to read about it and go deep on the meaning side of things. In galleries I have been known to walk in look at the show and read little if any of the Artists Statement and often what I do read is a skimming process to see if anything grabs me. Occasionally things do grab me, a neatly crafted set of words which compels me to read on as if a mystery is about to unfold in a whodunit movie. 

Compiled and edited by Steve Gray, Australian Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

9. Consistency, passion, motivation and desire

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion.

9. Consistency, passion, motivation and desire.

These are vital ingredients in making it in the Visual Art world. The galleries and collectors want to see consistency of the work, with perhaps a growth or development over time. They want to also see you are passionate and motivated with a strong desire to create and continue to create.

From an Art Galleries perspective they want to provide works to their clients which will appreciate in value, or fit to the clients need in some other way (as decoration for example). Therefore they are in the business of supplying investment worthy artworks, which means if they don’t their credibility is on the line.

To ensure their artists meet these “guidelines” they would have to vet out those who they believe do not meet this criteria and often the Visual Artists who are knocking on their door to get recognition and the all important “foot in the door” can feel a little hard done by or unfairly treated.

To illustrate my point a bit further, lets look at a few similar examples, the music and performance shows idol, and So you Think You Can Dance to name a few. Those who watch regularly will know the judges sort out (in part) by asking questions, often contestants reply with “I am really passionate about this and it would mean so much if I won!” well this statement is probably true for all the contestants, it comes down to proving it rather than saying it, or at least finding a better way of saying it.

Passion is one thing, proving you are motivated, consistent in your approach and have a solid desire to be an active part of the Visual Art world is another thing. Think about it how will you… how should you… how can you demonstrate these qualities… how can you build on them to make them stronger…

Of the four qualities mentioned I believe they are all important, it’s up to you to work out ways to make them a priority. But please avoid saying… “I am passionate about Art and it would mean soo much to me!” Yeah right 🙂

Compiled and edited by Steve Gray, Australian Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

8. The $$ and Cents

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion.

8. The $$ and Cents

Making Art for some is a small leisure time activity and they are pleased to be creatively involved in something. For others however it is a force within them which has great power they believe is unstoppable, or it’ somewhere in between.

Either way it costs money for materials, time is taken in producing and in the end if a sale is made the amount of profit you get back depends on how things work out money wise.

Lets start at the end of the “high end” a commercial contemporary art gallery, typically their commission is about 40 – 50% as a fee on top of what you charge for the art work so you will get back 50 – 60% of the final purchase price if a work sells.

Therefore if a work is priced at $5,000 and sells you will get $2,500 to about $3000 depending on the commission level. If you are aiming to make a living out of Visual Art you needs to be very aware of this and do figures to sort out the situation early to avoid disappointment.

I suggest you put on your “Business Hat” at this point and see the art as a product for sale, out of the $$ return you get you have to then take out expenses, figure out a profit margin and a wage etc. Any accountant should be able to assist you with the basics of this so it’s worthwhile.

If on the other hand you create art works for leisure you may not be as concerned for the $$ returns, but more pleased people have liked the work enough to buy it.

With a business hat back on, lets say you want to make a $60,000 income, if you add expenses to that (the cost of doing business) you could be up for $30,000. So you need to sell $90,000 worth of work (wholesale rate), include the commission and then you are up to$180,000 worth of sales… hmm let’s see that’s about 18 pieces at $10,000 each. It may seem a lot but if you want to make a living from your art these things need to be considered.

Use the above points as a guide and see if you can make up a few figures to sort things out, keep it in simple chunks and delve into the details as you do some juggling.

Compiled and edited by Steve Gray, Australian Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

7. The Value of Group Shows.

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion.

7. The Value of Group Shows.

Exhibitions are a great way for people to see your work, there are solo and group shows to consider. In this article I want to chat about group shows and their value.

A solo show means you are in the spotlight and while many Visual Artists aspire to have a solo show it can seem a very daunting task to undertake. A group show can give you an opportunity to be seen and allow you to keep costs down as well.

There are probably other forms of group shows, but for now these are what I see as the main ones and some of their value to you as an Artist.

Compiled and edited by Steve Gray, Australian Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

6. Building a database and why it’s important

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion.

6. Building a database and why it’s important

If you are not familiar with the term database and fear it may be too techo to take on stop! It really can be a simple thing and I will give you a few very non techo ways to do it. But first what is it and what’s it for?

Database is an information storage device, it can be on a computer or it can be on paper or card. The aim being to store information, in our case information on people or organisations who may be interested in your work.

So here is the bare bones simplest way to do it. Any one who has a potential interest in your work , get their details and record them, on paper. Perhaps you divide it into sections, Collectors, Galleries and so on. Then jot down their details.

How do you use it? Every time you are going to do something, contact the right people, the people on your list. If you want to have an exhibition, go to the galleries section and make contact. If you are having a show and want collectors to come, send the invites to people on your list.

Sure you can get fancy and create an email database of people and organisations to contact, it’s up to you. These days you can have HEAPS of contacts through a twitter or Facebook site and get to people easily, the important part is that people know about you and your work so that selling becomes easier because you have contacted more of the right people!

Building whatever form of database you have can be as simple as a guest book at your opening through to a sign up page on your website, then you can send out a newsletter or info sheet with ease.

The value of the list is like gold and the more quality contacts  you have on it the better, then cultivate the list, educate them, inform them about what you are up to so they can know what’s going on, if you don’t tell them, who will? 

Lastly remember to have a media contact list, after all, if you can get free publicity by a quick note to a local media group, why not!

Compiled and edited by Steve Gray, Australian Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

5. social media as promotional tools

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion.

5 – Social media as promotional tools.

Twitter, Facebook, forums and other online devices (even humble email!) has become the way many people are now advertising products and services to an eager world of harried customers.

Using these devices as ways to promote your art needs to be done with care, as it can be hard to undo a tarnished online image. What may have seemed a great idea at the time can soon be a millstone in certain situations.

If you have a website or are referred to in an online interview etc… a simple link can assist in spreading the word, (Yes even in your email or online signature on a forum can do the trick.)

Some find the social media avenues are fast becoming clogged with people jumping on the bandwagon hoping to be snapped up by the millions of online viewers, the challenge is the more who advertise, the more you have to stand out from the crowd to be noticed, not easy folks.

A good online marketer takes full advantage of those using these systems well and will either innovate or simply copy their efforts n a bid to “have the edge”.

Of course the social media organisations get clever with their structures and aim to weed out “spammers” and provide all manner of filters when things get too clogged, (It’s not a good look to get wiped as a member of a networking site for spamming!)

Like all avenues of promotion the Artist would do well to ensure they have researched their options well before jumping in to the boiling pot of online adverts of any knid.

Written by Steve Gray Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

4. Other Sales Avenues

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion. 

4. Other sales avenues

When it comes to selling art an art gallery is clearly the first choice, but today there are other options. Online sales thorough Ebay or specific Artist directory type sites who promote artists, are becoming stronger.

With these options it becomes clear the Artist needs to be sure that whichever method they choose is it going to be the right ‘stance” or ”position”. Nothing could be worse for your career if you find out too late  you set up an online sales account only to find someone selling children’s art objects in the “store next door” or similar.

A fair degree of research needs to go into the method you choose and how it will work. An example would be to consider what sorts of art are sold through online stores? And then does this sort of “art” fit to your style (e.g. contemporary works). Perhaps a direct sales website is better than a site where many others attempt to sell their works.

Another way is to sell directly to your “adoring customers.”

Selling directly offers it’s own set of challenges, from sales and negotiation skills to marketing and management. If you invite people to come to the studio and see what’s on offer there are lots of things you need to consider and make sure that if you sell for cash, you have the change in your cash float to be able to settle with the buyer just as you would in any shop.

Consider, what sort of person am I aiming to sell to? How do they shop? Therefore sell to those people the way they want to be sold to.

In the end you need to research, set up a plan of action and make sure the right details are taken care of before you decide which avenue to take  .

Written by Steve Gray Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

3. Connecting with a gallery

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion. 

3. Connecting with a gallery.

You have found a gallery you want to be represented by…  What’s next?

Your online research shows they have been trading for a number of years, they have a good stable of artists, they represent your style of work and seem to have the right “presence” when people walk in the door of the gallery and contact them in other ways. Generally you like the way they do things.

Despite all this you may feel a little uneasy, is your work good enough, are you confident enough, is self doubt creeping in! ARRGH!

Relax many people have the same feeling when they are in this situation. So you won’t be the first nor the last, you can be sure of that. So what to do? A few things might sway things in your favour.

In chatting to people you want to build a relationship with, it pays to not try and tell them a lot about you in one hit, perhaps you might take some time to reveal a lot about what you do and what you want. (the aim is to avoid being overbearing or pushy.)

You should be building a link between them and you, it can work even better if you are referred by another Artist or a friend of the gallery operator.

Some Gallery Directors will have a look at an online resource you may have (If your heart sinks while they type in your web address you had better hope the butterflies settle fast, or your own heart might be telling you something about your site!

A suggestion is to ensure you have the relationship built BEFORE you drag in a full on folio of physical works. Starting with your online presence is an easy way to get involved.

Get ready for rejection though, as many galleries see MANY Artists wanting to beat a new path to paying collectors and investors of art. Don’t take the rejection personally, see it as an opportunity to learn and grow and explore more closely what the galleries stance is about the style of work they represent.

Do your research well, build rapport, ask the right questions, show them the right things and you could be their next rising star…

Written by Steve Gray Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

2. Marketability

Sell! Or sell out… an Artists guide to promotion. 

2. Marketability

As an Artist you produce works, which are of significance to you, but are they of value to others as well? That’s the big question when it comes to selling art. I am not suggesting for a minute you change your style and way of working to make your works more saleable so you lose out on it’s artistic intent Far From IT!, however you must be aware, if you want to sell works, there has to be an end user wanting or needing what you have to offer.

If you present your works to a gallery who looks after Artists who are of a similar style to yourself, they have probably found a way to target clients interested in that style, if not they will be out of business fairly quickly!

When it comes to figuring out if your works are marketable or not, you need to ask those who know about the Art scene you are aiming at. Sure your family and friends will have an opinion, but do they know enough about your work, and what sells to really tell you straight? Chances are no… So who would you chat to? Buyers of this type of work, Gallery directors etc… other Artists working in your style.

If you are aiming to be represented by a gallery and you have found one who represents your style of work well, you have a chance they will know the best of all about the marketability of your work. They are after all experts in their field (especially if they have been doing it for a good number of years.)

Back to basics for a moment, anything, which for sale needs to have a market (people or organisations interested in buying what’s on offer.) without that market you have no potential for a sale. Now the thing is finding out where these people “hang out” and how they go about buying! In our case they hang out in art galleries so that makes it easy. But for those selling online or direct, getting an advert, sales copy etc to work for you is often challenging so be careful how you go about it.

In simple terms I guess you want to avoid those around you saying “I told you that stuff would not sell!” (when you have just spent hundreds of $$ on adverts that did not raise any interest…) So researching and working on your marketability as an Artist is very useful and can save you a lot of grief later on.

Another aspect to marketing which is very important is knowing you can not sell a secret. A secret is an unknown quantity, so people need to know about you. There are a number of ways to do this, building your profile by getting in the media (local papers can be a great start) and then build a scrap book from there (Hmm, it may sound corny but it works!) over time the more you get your name out the more people will remember you. Think of it like this, large brands (like Coke) keep advertising to keep their name out there and happening. You should do the same.

A few ways to be noticed.

There’s some ideas on ways to be marketable, I hope it helps!

Written by Steve Gray Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

1. Research

Sell! Or sell out… an artists guide to promotion.

1. Research…

You make art, are happy with the “quality” of the work and now want to sell it. The first step is to do some research.

For this series I want to provide information for Contemporary Visual Artists, so if you create decorative works, fantasy works etc this series may have some value for you, however there are probably other aspects you might need to consider as well.

Researching ways to sell your art is vital, so you know what’s out there and are then formulate a plan of action from that, which is rich in knowledge, not rich in hot air.

A few options are currently available.

  1. Art Galleries
  2. Selling online
  3. Selling directly to the end buyer

A brief look, all of the above are okay, the gallery one is the often preferred option as you have an “agent” working for you, you pay a commission for that of course.

The other two… selling online can mean selling to bargain shoppers, if you can get past that your fine… and finally the last one selling directly, e.g. through studio direct sales, it can be great but you do the advertising and therefore the hard yards to attract prospective buyers.

The aim in researching at this point is to figure out which one of these methods will be of value to you, perhaps all three, or just one. As you do your research figure out which one you will be the most comfortable with and go for that.

  1. Art Galleries – check out the many Contemporary Art Galleries available, there are art gallery guides in newsagents, online and through magazine listings, check as many galleries as you can, keeping in mind if a gallery sells abstract work and you are a realist, chances are they might say no… But check the stockroom if you can and see what styles of work they deal in. Get to know the gallery directors name, and perhaps do some online research to see if their online presence is suitable, they usually list their artists there so you might be able to talk to some of them to find out if the gallery looks after them well. Remember a gallery is a business and needs to make a profit, needs to see turnover of cash and therefore wants to represent saleable artists.
  2. Selling online – Ebay and other online sites are generally seen as a way for people to buy bargains. If you have your own online sales store attached to your site you will want to make sure it represents you well to your prospective purchasers, can be updated easily by you and shows the works off to their best ability.
  3. Selling directly – Having people drop into the studio to have a look is probably a great idea for some, but if you are a reclusive hermit, you might try another avenue. To sell directly you need to be able to chat freely to people, let them feel at ease and keep the pressure off them. Some sales knowledge is required so if you don’t want to sell and possibly haggle over the price then avoid this one as well. Some Artists offer an open studio day a few times throughout the year and advertise in their local paper for a few weeks leading up to the event.

A few ideas there, the big thing being to figure out which one you think best suits you. then setting u a plan of action to get the results you want from it.

Written by Steve Gray Contemporary Visual Artist © 2009+

Sell! or sell out…

Sell! Or sell out…

Many artists are in a position where they have produced work and now want to promote their works to sell them, generally through an art gallery of some kind. However Most artists seems to have an issue with Galleries and are either not sure how to approach them, not sure if they can handle the possible rejection not sure if they want to part with their works!

This series is about allowing you as the artist or artist to be an insight into how you might go about the process.

We will look at selling Art works and avoid the issue of “Art for Art sake” so note this series is for those who want to sell, not hide their work under the bed…. That’s a whole other issue.

In this series lets look at.

There are lots of things to explore so lets get started! In the next few weeks you will be able to follow the posts and gain a better understanding of what might take place in the broader Visual Arts world.

Five facts about being a Visual Artist.

Or… Everything Your Mother Should Have Told You About Being An Artist

By Sylvia White

It’s important to note the title of this article specifically refers to facts related to being successful in business, rather than being successful as an artist. Success is a term, which is defined differently by each us. Think about it…what are the things you think you need to accomplish before you consider yourself successful? Believe it or not, there are some artists who couldn’t care less about selling their work. Their primary definition of success is to be able to push the limits of their own creativity, leaving their studio with the sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and the enthusiasm to return to another day of work.

Others consider success the ability to gain recognition from their peers and eventually be seen as having made a positive contribution, from an art historical point of view. Still other artists, are less interested in this long term historical vision, and find their definition of success is equal to the amount of income they can generate from the sale of their work. Regardless of your definition of success for your work, these are the facts you must face if you want to be successful in the business world and understand how the art market works.

As always, it is important to note there are exceptions to every rule, and I genuinely hope you will be that one in a million exception… but if you are not, you need to be prepared. So, artists brace yourself, here is my bucket of ice cold water splash in your face:

1. You will not get “discovered.” 
Marketing your art is hard work. There are thousands of artists making extraordinary efforts to promote their work each and every day. Waiting for an angel benefactor or hoping for a patron, is just a way of procrastinating. You need to stop making excuses and put a plan into action to deal with the reality of the hard work it takes to get recognized. A minimum of 3 hours of week set aside to do business is essential.

2. You will not find a gallery that “understands your work” and feels as passionately about it as you do. 
Although many gallerists are passionate about the artists they represent, educated in art history and articulate, the majority are primarily interested in selling art. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if sales is one of your primary goals. But, artists have to stop dreaming about finding the one person out there who can be their “art soul mate” and realize that galleries are in business to sell art, and that is exactly what you are hiring them to do for you. They do not need to understand your work on every level, nor do they have to be emotionally moved by it… what they do have to do, is be convinced they have the contacts and collectors who will like your work.

3. No matter how original you think your work is, it has been done before. 
Originality does not define quality, quality defines quality. Regardless of whether or not your work is original, what makes art exceptional is the context in which it was made from an art historical point of view. Study art history, know your influences, and understand originality and/or technique is only one of many considerations in the determination of what makes art great.

4. Just because your work looks just like Jackson Pollock, (or, fill in the blank) doesn’t mean it’s as good, or you can price it the same. 
The price of your art has very little to do with what it looks like, what it is made out of, or how big it is…it has everything to do with what the market will bear, supply and demand, and your exhibition and sales history. In evaluating how to price your work, you should be looking at other artists in your same career range, and the prices people are willing to pay for YOUR work, is how you establish a market value. 

5. You will not be able to make a living off the sale of your work. 
Sales are great and every artist needs and wants the positive feedback that comes from collectors buying your work. But, assuming that you want to live above the poverty level in the United States, to make a decent living you would need to sell over $150,000 worth of your art to net $75,000 before taxes. That would make your net approximately $50,000 before you deducted any expenses for studio space, art supplies, framing, advertising or promotion. Of course, it is possible. But, if you keep waiting for it to happen without accepting the reality of the odds, you are doing yourself and your work a disservice.

If you do the math, being an artist will most likely cost you money no matter how much art you are able to sell! But, do not despair…remember that being an artist is one of the greatest gifts a person can have. You have found something in your life you are passionate about and something you love to do. You are leaving a legacy and giving of yourself each time you complete a piece of art. Sit back and relish in the joy your art making gives you and accept the fact that succeeding in the business world has no part in defining your success as an artist.

©2009 Sylvia White http://www.artadvice.com/profile

If you are addicted

By Sylvia White

Living with an artist isn’t easy, particularly if you are the significant other. So, after living with and working with artists for over 20 years I’ve put together a few suggestions for you to share with your partners. One of the first things most non-artists have a hard time understanding is the concept of addiction and how it is related to art making. Most artists I know go through classic symptoms of withdrawal when deprived of their work environment for too long. They get grouchy, irritable, may suffer from physical complaints such as headaches, body aches and often times find themselves depressed for no reason. These symptoms miraculously disappear when they are given the opportunity to work again. The primary reason for this is artists are wired differently than the rest of us. While most of us can get by with the basic elements of Maslow’s theory, food, shelter, etc…artists need to be able to create as much as they need food or oxygen. It is so much a part of who they are, that to deprive them of it would be like asking you or I not to talk, not to eat, not to breathe. They have been given this gift in the same way we were given blue eyes or brown. Making art is not an option for them, it is a necessity.

Occasionally, I will get an artist who asks me to tell them my opinion of their work. It is a question I try to discourage. Unless you are asking an art critic or an art historian, most people are not qualified to comment of the aesthetic value of the work. Galleries may be able to comment on the marketability of the work, collectors may be able to say if they like it. But, mature artists shouldn’t pursue seeking an opinion of their work. Your work is your work, period. Someone will either like it or they won’t. Nothing you say or do can change that. Now, you may be able to convince someone to buy it, but, in regards to liking it, it is a primal reflex based on the accumulated history of that person’s visual information and experience. So what does it really mean when someone doesn’t like your work. It means one person doesn’t like your work. That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean you are a bad artist or a bad person or should stop making art (as if that was really an option). In almost all cases, when an artist asks what you think of their work, they are asking to connect with that person by sharing an intimate part of themselves. Realize that when an artist asks what you think of their work, they hear the answer as it relates to them, personally. It is a vulnerability that mature artists struggle hard to overcome.

The concept of “working” was a hard one for me to understand. Often times I’d go into my husband’s studio and see him sitting on the couch with the television on or listening to the radio…staring at his paintings. I’d been at my office all day, talking on the phone or busy with clients. This was not my idea of “work.” It wasn’t until I really understood the process of making a painting that I realized how much of the work is in just looking…thinking…imagining what it would be like to do this or that. Mental activity that to the lay person looks like relaxation. I could accept the fact that slathering paint around was work…but, sitting and staring, that was hard for me. What I came to learn was that the “looking,” is the hardest part. It was kind of like hearing about the way Mozart wrote music. He wouldn’t write anything down until he could hear it all in his head first, then he would write it out perfectly in a matter of minutes.

Contrary to the common stereotype of artists as slackers, artists are incredibly industrious and hard working. In most cases, regardless of what they do for a living, they are working on their obsession 24/7. Acknowledging this, can help tremendously in understanding an important aspect of an artists’ character…and saving a relationship.


Sow what is it worth?

By Dorothy Gauvin

It has been famously said that – ‘The reputation of an artist is only as big as his price tag.’ Much as we may deplore the crassness of that, we have to recognise the truth of it in the public perception. And so, artists all come to a point when they wonder how to increase that ‘price tag.’ How is it set?

Many years ago, I was asked to join a panel addressing this question. The audience was made up of collectors, dealers, and the general public. The panel comprised reputable critics, reviewers, gallery owners and other experts. I could only conclude I had been chosen as the ‘token’ artist. The other panellists spoke at length and with much gravity. I set aside my notes when my turn came and decided to answer with the simple truth:

‘To what the traffic will bear!’

Utter silence.

Just as I was wondering if there was enough space under the table for me to crawl in and hide, someone up the back started clapping. A critic on the panel followed suit and most of the audience joined in. They knew they had heard the truth. I knew it from my observations at various galleries that showed my work and that of many of my friends and colleagues. It was not until much later that the full impact of that truth hit me through personal experience and I will tell you about that further down.

Endless stories have been written around the fact that only one of his paintings was sold during the lifetime of Vincent Van Gogh. This fact is usually contrasted with another: That in 1987, a Van Gogh ‘Irises’ was sold at auction for a record $69.95 million. Then follow reports of the scandal caused when the buyer – Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond – defaulted on the purchase due to his bankruptcy and the controversial loan extended to him by the auctioneers Sothebys was revealed. Extending the debacle, in 1990, the painting was purchased by the Getty museum for an undisclosed price sometimes estimated at as low as $6 million, although this is highly unlikely to be the true figure. So, how can this happen? How can the value of an artwork fluctuate so wildly? And how is its price arrived at, anyway?

Fellow artists often ask me for an answer to that last question. Understandably, they are looking for a formula to follow. Some take what seems a rational approach: Cost of materials plus an hourly rate for time of production. I have to tell them that while that method works for pricing a manufactured widget, it is useless for pricing an artwork. Here is why:

Cost of materials will range from a few dollars to $100 at the most, even when the work is by Leonardo Da Vinci. And which hourly rate will you think fair? The one set for a brain surgeon or the one for an unskilled labourer? After all, you are not unskilled and may well have put in as much study as the brain surgeon. But when you are starting out as a professional artist, how are you to know where you fit in?

If you are wise, and assuming your work is good enough to be accepted by a private gallery, that decision will be made for you – by the gallery director. S/he knows what clients are paying for comparable work and will price yours accordingly. But s/he can be wrong. You see, like anything else, an artwork is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. So the true arbiter of its value is the buyer.

This was demonstrated to me in quite a dramatic way some eighteen years ago. At that time, I still exhibited with various galleries and was content to accept their assessment on pricing. One day, a new salesman working at one of these galleries asked for a meeting with me. Having noted how quickly my work sold, he proposed ‘floating’ my prices.

‘What does that mean?’ I asked, having never heard the term. 
‘Well, what I will do is hang one of your new pieces without any price posted. When a visitor shows interest, I ask What they would pay to own that painting. And we see what happens.’

What happened was a real surprise to me. The canvas size which up until then had sold at around $600 was sold in the first week for $7,500. About a week later, a piece the same size sold for $12,500. And it just went on from there. I was actually shocked – you would surely have felt the same. Then I realised that in fact this is the most realistic way to find the proper price for an artwork. Simply ask the customer.

It is quite a different thing from winning a prize in an Art Competition. Since I won my first significant prize at age twelve, I had long been aware that winning did not mean my piece was ‘the best,’ anymore than the contestant who wins a beauty quest is the ‘most beautiful.’ It simply means that, in either case, this was what the judges were looking for on the day. But when collectors know they must live with a painting for some years (before it is worthwhile to re-sell) and are willing to back their choice with hard-earned cash, you get a result beyond dispute or qualification.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am not suggesting the new chum try this on. That would be asking for a raise before proving yourself on the job. But if you have put in the hard years of establishing your style, and have shown consistent sales in a reasonable time frame, now is the time to politely talk it over with a few of your gallery directors. If they are amenable to testing a float of your prices, it might well mean ‘goodbye’ to the day job.

My heart-felt advice to artists, borne out by the experience I have just shared with you and my observations of the careers of the many artists I have been honoured to represent in my own galleries, is this: Do not worry about the money.

I mean it. Pay your bills and feed your family with a day job, for as long as it takes. It may take forever, because relatively few ever become able to live on the income from their art alone. What does that matter? In the modern world, many excellent artists still rely on their day job. They can express their art freely, without pressure to make it pay a living wage. And here is another ‘secret’ Truth:

If you work at making yourself the best artist that you can be; if you focus on making your own art – not trying to ‘cash in’ on whatever the latest fashion is; if you never compromise your art by exhibiting something not up to your (current) standard just to get a sale – something wonderful will happen.

Not only will you like and respect the person you see in the mirror, but also ‘it must follow, as the night follows the day,’ that the money will come. Can’t believe it? Just try it anyway and see if you can prove me wrong.

© Dorothy Gauvin

10 tips for investing in Visual Art

Record-setting prices are being paid for art created in the last one hundred years. For a time it seemed as if Van Gogh’s work would remain the most valuble of recently auctioned pieces. But now other artists are bringing in the multimillions per work as well.

Investing in art for the average person must take on some very different dimensions. Yet, buying, collecting and selling art can be interesting – even profitable. There some things to remember 
when you are shopping for art – especially as an investor.

1. Remember that the odds of finding a De Kooning at a garage sale is infinitesimally small. His works, as are those of many artists, were seen, bought, catalogued and stored almost as a public record. The people who bought De Koonings along the way stood to make multimillions as well, if they held onto the works.

2. Find artists whose works interest you, and get to know those artists. Communicate with them about their work, their prices, their career objectives. Try to acquire the best examples of their works that are available.

3. Negotiate on price – which is not easily accomplished if you are after their largest or most accomplished pieces. Price can be tricky, but don’t let it cause tension between the artist and yourself. Remember, heart felt appreciation of an artist’s works go a long way to softening negotiations. This doesn’t mean you should be insincere in your flattery, but do be expressive.

More words on prices. Bartering is not out of the question. Smaller and less accomplished pieces should be less expensive. Sometimes buying more than one piece gets a discount, or buying on a regular basis. Buying works after an exhibition, or before an exhibition on the condition that they are not sold during the exhibition, can bring some discounts. Telling the artist his/her work will be shown prominently and giving out the artist’s cards should be a given if you want discount prices.

4. See how well the artist is received by other buyers or the art community generally. Do not expect the best art, art prices, or art investments from the best-known artists or the artist commanding the top prices. By the way, these do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. When galleries “discover” an artist they usually increase the artist’s prices. Your job is to discover the artist before the next big buyer or gallery discovers them.

5. Either pick classic, timeless themes in artwork, or be very aware that you are picking niche-interest or local-history themes. Abstract and nonobjective works happily don’t have this problem.

6. Try to focus on artists with a recognizable style. This does not mean a generic, academic, or knock-off style. The style should be as original, different, and strong as you and your friends can tolerate. Investments usually have to be cutting edge, by the time they are blue chip it takes big money to get into the game.

7. Diversify your collection across one or two axes and buy as many as you can show in your house, office, or apartment. You can buy one from each artist or several from a few different artists.

8. Choose artists who are productive and well-grounded in the process of creating. Be careful of artists who are (or act as if they are) “suffering artists” or confounded by life, etc. This does not mean you should turn away a legitimate bargain because the artist really needs money. Artists should be judged on their work, not their profile or personality or their press hype.

9. Take good care of your art, it will appreciate rather slowly on average. And, yes, price hikes may not start until the artist dies. This doesn’t mean you should follow only elderly artists, but you might want to make sure your children or friends share some of you interests in your selected artists. They may be the caretakers of your investment one day.

10. Don’t sell your art until you get good offers. Check the market for other transactions on art from your artists. Don’t expect to make a quick killing – the stock market only works like that if you are an insider or you are a very wealthy opportunist waiting on a sure thing.

There are a lot of other things you can learn to increase your ability and taste for art buying and investing. I will write some other articles on this topic in the near future.

Mask Exhibition

PANDEMIC! Has caused a whole new fashion statement, face masks. By about now I imagine there are Artists, Designers and Illustrators decorating their face masks.. So lets make art! (with all due respect to the gravity of the situation of course…)

decorate a mask or three, take a photo or scan it, then sent the image to me with details as per usual below. I will put them up on site.


  1. Create a contemporary artwork on a face mask of some kind (you could just draw one if  you want. Or hey why not photo people wearing them in like a fashion parade type set up… or just folks on the streets wearing them…)
  2. Scan it, digital photo etc. Make sure it’s a jpg file please.
  3. Clearly label it, write a few lines to give us an idea of how you interpreted the theme, then Email it with the details, (Artist’s name, where from and medium, to info@stevegray.biz )
  4. I will add it to a page of works people can view on line and you can link to.

Closing date: 30/5/09 Be quick!

Conditions of entry: