15 Things Artists Should Know About Selling Art

Big Island artist Margo Ray shares about her art practice. In our workgroups, we practiced public speaking skills and presenting our work to an audience.

For a week in July 2016, I was immersed in an invigorating, hotbed of art energy and wisdom at the inaugural Kīpaipai Professional Development Workshop at the Donkey Mill Art Center in Holualoa, Hawaii. Kīpaipai is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘to inspire’, I left with a lifetime of knowledge and a newfound confidence in pursuing a career in art.

A group of respected arts professionals traveled from NY and California to support 10 artists from Hawai’i and Los Angeles. Mahalo to Michael Lyons Wier of Lyons Wier Gallery in NYC; Andrea Schwartz of Andrea Schwartz Gallery in San Francisco; Dr. James Daichendt, Art Historian; Shana Nys Dambrot, Art Writer and Critic; Andi Campognone, Curator of Museum of Art & History, Diane Costigan, Life Coach, Mike O’Connor, Storyteller and Alex Couwenberg, Artist.

My takeaway, in a list of 15 Things Artists Should Know About Selling Art

1) DON’T talk about process or materials to non-artists. Collectors are interested in the WHY. Why did you make this piece? Why should it move me?

2) DO tell a story about your work when giving your elevator pitch to potential collectors and arts professionals.

3) Never approach a curator at their opening to get them to look at your portfolio. You will definitely not hear back from them.

4) Network with friends and associates of curators and art gallery owners, people within their circle. Connect with artists they’ve worked with, those who have common themes and styles.

5) When you submit work to a curator or art dealer, send just ONE compelling image.

6) Set the agenda, and tell people what to think about you and your work. In your wildest dreams, what do you want people to say?

7) Have a concise, up-to-date bio on your website. Don’t include what is “coming up” otherwise you date yourself. Better yet, have a Wikipedia page with accurate biographical information, references and cited sources.

8) To facilitate a great relationship with a gallery, you must establish good communication, trust and have some business sense.

9) Be nice to everyone at a gallery, museum or art fair. You never know who they might be connected to.

10) Set measurable goals within a timeframe (e.g. 20% of my income from art in 1 year, contact 10 galleries in 1 month).

11) A good dealer will market and promote you, as well as invite curators and writers to visit your studio and shows.

12) Know how to do the business and the paperwork.

13) Make Good Art (keynote by Neil Gaiman on the topic). You have to make good art first and foremost. It doesn’t work if you are motivated by money or fame.

14) Document all your transactions with a gallery and make sure you have a contract.

15) Finding a balance between the financial, personal and creative aspects of your artistic life is key.