How to sell your art. Simple guide for young artists.

by Daria Pletneva

painting by Hunt Slonem

I am a New York-based art dealer, and I wrote this post to be able to quickly share it with the young and begging artists who ask me for career advice. Below are the basics of art selling I’ve learned from my personal experience. If you are an artist and you don’t agree with me — fantastic! My #1 advise is don’t listen to anyone, do it your way.

1. Money is not a shame.

Talking about art as a business is alright. The point of view that art is something divine and incorporeal is barbaric and is usually preached by people who are far away from the art world.

In our times, the price tag on your goods and services is the direct reflection of your success and professionalism. It is natural and healthy to be motivated and survive the competition this way. We all know that an artist is a creative person who ideally should only be focused on making art, but not money, however, a successful artist in New York is equally good at both.

2. Surprise your grandma with your technique.

Skills are not unnecessary for an artist, it’s just old and boring without an original concept. Why would we need tens of generations of Rembrandts? We got it, humans are able to depict the reality on canvas super accurately, what’s next? Willem de Kooning would have never made history if he continued painting like Rembrandt, what by the way he could do.

I might as well answer the favorite question here: “why is minimal art interesting if it is so easy to make?”

Homo Sapiens started to draw in order to COMMUNICATE, they then mastered the skill to DOCUMENT because painting used to be a reliable way to pass information to inheritors. Here’s your uncle’s portrait, that’s his wife, that’s his house, that’s his garden, that’s his country. Artists were documenting their contemporaneity, the more accurate, the better. We now can watch what our uncles eat for breakfast every day on Instagram, we don’t need artists to document things like that anymore. We want art to capture the non-literal — feelings, meanings, thoughts, humor, times. That’s why the drawing technique is not that important anymore, we cherish the original idea. If you have it both, you’ll make it big.

*Hyperrealism/photorealism is popular now because it’s new.

Willem de Kooning, pencil drawing of Elaine De Kooning, 1940

3. Don’t paint something that could be photographed better.

Landscapes, portraits, figurative scenes — your painting is not 4K, add the conceptual idea to this. People are amazed by a piece of art when they can’t figure out what was in the artist’s head that made him do it.

4. The most important thing is your signature style.

You don’t need to show your diapason. Find yourself and do more or less the same thing every time. Do what people love you for, be recognizable. Art dealers want people passing by the gallery window to recognize the artist’s work inside and come in.

5. Ideally, you should do something that no one has ever done before.

That’s why it’s a good idea to experiment with new technologies and innovative materials, set aside your oil paint. This way you have a chance to create something brand new. Art should reflect it’s time. I know a lot of you won’t agree with me on the last few paragraphs, but I see my professional mission in directing people towards the future, not the past.

6. Or just COPY!

As much as I hate it, I have to admit that a lot of people buy art that’s more familiar to them. Numerous psychological tests prove that people tend to think that they like something if they saw it many times before. The more they see it, the more they think they like it, that’s basically how pop culture works. So if you mostly care about selling, go ahead and copy popular artists or use popular imagery in your art.

7. Please, please, please be reasonable with your prices!

Here’s a little test for the artists with less than ten years of professional experience. Go to Artsy, find your favorite famous artist of all times, check their available works (applicable mainly to primary market). Can you see some of their pieces for $4k, $6k, $10k? So why would you sell your art for as much?! Need my advice? Lower your prices, and you’ll start selling more! Don’t need my advice? Then you are probably successfully selling your art for the desired amount of money, and I bet your price tag is not taken out of nowhere and you can sit down with a client and explain it to them.

One more thing I want to mention which concerns everyone who wants to sell in a luxury segment:

Rich people DO know what to do with their money, that is why they are rich! 💥

8. More about the prices.

When you set up the price, though, keep in mind that the clients almost always bargain. They are happy to pay on average 60% of the original price.

9. Know your client.

Art is a product of luxury. Nobody needs art, people want art. So most of the time your clients are wealthy people, who buy art for their offices, city apartments, and country/beach houses. There are only a few common patterns of modern interiors.

- Urban minimalism. White, grey, glass, metal, chrome.

- Classical cozy. Carpets, wallpaper, curtains, chandeliers, pastel colors.

- Luxury kitsch. Gold, red, leopard, ornaments.

- Hunting house. Wood, stone, fireplace, images of horses and dogs.

- Beach house. Vacation mood, mini bar, driftwood, rattan furniture, ocean and sand colors.

- Office. Either urban minimalism or luxury kitsch.

If you want to sell your art, it should fit one of those interior options. It’s good to keep track of the interior design trends.

9. Respect your clients.

Give them a fully finished product. Process the edges of the painting, don’t leave the staples and excessive paint, frame the paintings, make it look durable and less fragile. Use heavy stretchers, protect the painting with plexiglass or resin if needed.

Art is not just a picture it is the whole object.

10. Find representation.

Most of the artists could use galleries, art advisory firms, or independent dealers to help them sell. The more channels of sale you have the more chances to sell there are. Signing an exclusive contract for all of your art with one gallery is rather unusual nowadays. It only makes sense to work this way with a few top galleries in the world.

How to find the right gallery to represent you?

The best strategy, I think, is to pick the galleries that you like, that necessarily work with similar to yours type of art. Follow them on all social media, sign up for their newsletters, and wait for them to announce an open call. This way you will know that they are looking right for you, right now.

11. Never stop.

Some artists think, that if they have representation, they don’t need to promote themselves anymore. Big mistake! You can’t rely your whole career on a gallery. Believe me, finding the clients and closing the deals is a hard enough job. It’s essential that you continue to promote your work, invest in your business, develop your online presence, organize your own events, collaborate, find opportunities for publications, submit your art for public projects, etc.

12. Make it public.

The most successful young artists today are definitely street artists. Like I said, people should see your art everywhere to like it or at least think that they like it. Find the walls in the big cities for murals, try to get your art on billboards, submit for the temporary public art projects, do some work for free if it can be displayed in a place with big foot traffic.

Be original and do it your way! Good luck!

New York fine art gallery specializing in contemporary minimalism and original digital art.