50 Ineffective Ways to Sell Your Fine Art

50 Ineffective Ways to Sell Your Fine Art

Ann Rea: (00:00)

Number one big mistake, asking other fine artists for advice. Now, unless that fine artist is actually willing to share their success and all their secrets, you’re probably not going to get much information. Art contests.

Ann Rea: (00:18)

Oh my God! They are revenue streams for other people. The only people who win art contests are the organizers themselves.

Ann Rea: (00:25)

You don’t want to enter an art contest. You’re literally paying for rejection. You’re not getting any validation. Arts Councils. I would love to meet an Arts Council that’s actually effectively helping individual fine artists, but I have yet to meet one, even though I work with artists from 23 countries and counting.

No! Art critics. 

Ann Rea: (00:44)

Who cares what art critics think? The only critic that matters is you, the artist, and your collector. Art critics are part of the gatekeeping system that is the art establishment.

Ann Rea: (00:54)

No one cares unless they’ve got a Black American Express card and they’re ready to buy your art, so what? Art Galleries. Oh!

Ann Rea: (01:03)

Don’t get me started. Here’s the problem with art galleries, it’s not just the 50-70% sales commission that they take from you. Oh no! That’s not the worst of it.

Ann Rea: (01:13)

The worst of it is that they prevent you from getting your own collector’s contact information. Can you imagine any business surviving if they didn’t actually know their customers?

Ann Rea: (01:25)

No! They couldn’t! And they’ve got no damn right to separate you from your collectors because they don’t own the inventory. They’ve only consigned the inventory. Really, art galleries are probably the biggest bane of your existence as a fine artist, so no. Art representatives. No better than art gallery owners, because it’s the same deal.

Ann Rea: (01:46)

They’re not going to give you access to your collector’s contact information, and they’re never going to sell enough of your art. Galleries never sell enough. And if you complain, then you’ll be regulated to the whiny artist.

Ann Rea: (01:57)

And if you try to go find another art gallery or art representative, oh boy, you better ask permission first, or they’ll get all mad because they’ll lose control over you.

Ann Rea: (02:06)

No! Art shows. So let me just ask you this. Do you want to show your art or do you want to sell your art? You don’t need anyone’s permission to sell your art, but you do need permission to show your art. So no!

Ann Rea: (02:21)

Artist in residency programs. They used to pay you a small stipend so that you could go away and make some art, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to sell any of it.

Ann Rea: (02:27)

Now these artists in residency programs are actually charging artists to go to them. No, thank you. Catalog listings. Wow, these are great money makers for someone because collectors don’t pour through these catalogs and buy your art.

Ann Rea: (02:41)

But you have paid a pretty hefty fee to be in a catalog that no one’s going to damn well read.

Ann Rea: (02:51)

Changing genres. Look, if your art is not selling, changing a genre is not going to help your situation at all. You have to be true to yourself. You have to express yourself in the genre that makes sense for you. And that inspires you.

Ann Rea: (03:04)

Same with changing mediums. It doesn’t matter what the medium is. If your medium is oil or your medium is bronze, that’s what you got to stick with.

Ann Rea: (03:14)

You have to be true to yourself. You have to choose the medium that helps you express what you want to express in the best way possible. So changing mediums is not an answer.

Ann Rea: (03:25)

It’s the tail wagging the dog. Changing styles. Same deal. Again, changing a style implies that you’re going to try to be something that you’re not.

Ann Rea: (03:34)

And your power lies in being your authentic self. Please don’t fall into this trap of chasing influencers. There are faster paths to cash. So please don’t waste your time and your precious energy. Cooperative art galleries.

Ann Rea: (03:49)

So here’s the problem with them, you have to volunteer and you can pay a little more and volunteer less, but all that time that you’re spending volunteering, you should be spending on selling your own art.

Ann Rea: (04:02)

And here’s the problem, those cooperative art galleries are staffed by fine artists who have not been trained in luxury sales, which is what art is, luxury.

Ann Rea: (04:11)

And so, the art or the craft that tends to move in a cooperative art gallery are the low priced pieces. Creating new bodies of work. Look, if the bodies of work that you have made are not selling, then the solution just probably does not lie in creating a new cohesive body of work.

Ann Rea: (04:30)

The bigger frame around you as an artist and your art is your current marketing and sales strategies. So before you start a new body of work, I mean if you want to go ahead, but that in itself is not going to solve the problem. So no! Digital advertising, which means Instagram ads or Facebook ads. No! Please don’t.

Ann Rea: (04:52)

Here’s the problem, you shouldn’t pay for any advertising ever unless you know your niche. And here’s what knowing your niche means. It means that you can check four boxes.

Ann Rea: (05:02)

It means you know who wants to buy your art, you know why they want to buy it, and you know where and how to find more people just like them.

Ann Rea: (05:09)

If you can’t answer those questions, then paying for advertising is flushing your money down the toilet. Please don’t do it. Directory listing. Same problem with the catalog listing. It’s a revenue stream for someone else who just really punks you and says, “Yes, you know what? I’m going to feature your art in this listing. You pay me.”

Ann Rea: (05:28)

No one looks at the damn listing. Please don’t waste your money. And please don’t be taken advantage of. Discounting your art. One of the worst things you could possibly do. Why? Because collectors are already confused about why art costs what it costs. So if you come in and then you tell them what your price is and then they ask you for a discount and then now they have doubt in their mind like, “Well, is it really worth what that person says it’s worth?”

Ann Rea: (05:56)

A confused mind says no. So, number 1, you’re going to lose the sale. Number 2, when you discount your art, you immediately devalue your art. And number 3, you damage your reputation as a fine artist because if your prices have no integrity, people are going to ask, “Do you have any integrity?” Okay, donations.

Ann Rea: (06:17)

Here’s the problem with donations, there’s lots of problems with donations. But here’s the biggest problem, you’re giving your inventory away for free and with no or little promise in return. Exposure? What’s going to happen with that exposure is your art is going to sell at a discount, which I just mentioned earlier is a really bad idea.

Ann Rea: (06:34)

And as a fine artist, check with your tax advisor, but at least here in the United States, you can only donate the value of the materials, not your time, not the value of your art. A little hint, somebody asked me for a damn donation. You know what I said to him? I explained to him what the tax code was and he bought two paintings, donated the paintings his own damn self, and I got paid in full.

Ann Rea: (06:56)

So no to donations. You can’t get a deduction and it is not a marketing strategy. Please don’t do it. E-commerce sites. Oh my God! Listen, you do not need to be paying for an expensive, elaborate e-commerce site with some janky marketing strategies that are not even luxury marketing strategies.

Ann Rea: (07:17)

And here’s the problem, just because you build an e-commerce site, that doesn’t mean any online traffic is ever going to damn well find it. Go get yourself an Instagram shop for free, where you’re more likely to be stumbled upon, discovered online, and then when and if you’re ready, you can build a fancy e-commerce site.

Ann Rea: (07:36)

Save yourself the money. Email newsletters. Here’s the big problem, do you want more email? No, nobody wants more email unless it’s very relevant to them. So if you’re sending out these email blasts to people, you just pissed them off. You need to know your niche, which I mentioned earlier. You need to know who wants to buy your art, why they want to buy it and where and how to find more people just like them.

Ann Rea: (07:56)

And you can get busy with your email newsletter. But this is not the place to start. Exclusivity agreements. Oh, doesn’t it sound fancy? Doesn’t it sound prestigious? By the way, prestige is a French word that means “deceit.” Do not sign an exclusivity agreement. Here’s the problem, they’re going to lock you down.

Ann Rea: (08:13)

They’re not going to allow you to go and sell with another representative or another gallery, unless they give you permission. Give you permission?! Oh, I don’t think so. Please don’t fall for this. Read your contracts. Don’t ever accept onerous terms that are unfair. Contracts need to have mutual consideration, and when they insert an exclusivity agreement clause, it’s not.

Ann Rea: (08:38)

Free advice, the most expensive advice you can actually get. Really, really, really, really, really expensive. Understand, I’m giving you free advice. I am. I’m giving you free advice. But I know what I’m talking about. And I am on a mission. Unlike everybody else giving you free advice, I am on a mission to help artists like me and you take our power back from this scarcity and permission-based art establishment once and for all.

Ann Rea: (09:06)

So, check their intent before you take any free advice. Fundraising sites. Oh, wouldn’t that be great? Again, colossal waste of time, a lot of moving parts. There are faster paths to cash, faster ways to sell your art. Again, if you don’t know your niche, your fundraising campaign is going to fail. Giveaway contests.

Ann Rea: (09:30)

Oh yes, you can’t give away your art and then expect to be paid for it. And these giveaway contests where they have you buy a bunch of crappy cheap reproductions and then you’re supposed to give them away to people to try to build your email list? I mean, what kind of a strategy is that? So now you’ve got an email list with a bunch of people who only expect to ever get things for free from you.

Ann Rea: (09:54)

No! Grant programs. Oh, get in line with all the other artists who are trying to get that grant. Again, jumping through all these hoops, hoping for a little crumb, it’s not necessary. There are faster paths to cash than grant programs. And yes, I will cover it in a bit. I promise you. But grant programs? No, there’s not enough juried shows.

Ann Rea: (10:16)

Oh, who cares what a jury has to say. Again, do you want to show your art or do you want to sell your art? You’re literally paying some jury to go ahead and then reject you. You’re paying for rejection. That does not help your confidence at all. And you need to protect your confidence. So, no! Creating a cohesive body of work.

Ann Rea: (10:35

)”So that’s a big worry. Because I need to create a cohesive body of work.” No, you don’t. Let me give you a little bit of information about where this comes from. So you have the gallerist or the representative. They want you to create a cohesive body of work. Now, if you’re inspired to do it, go right ahead.

Ann Rea: (10:52)

But this demand to constantly create a brand new cohesive body of work comes from the representatives who want to cherry pick all through all that inventory so that they can consign what they want. They don’t have to pay for any of that inventory that you labored over and they don’t have to pay taxes on it.

Ann Rea: (11:11)

So it’s great for them to encourage you to keep generating free inventory for them to cherry pick. No, thank you. Licensing. Good freaking luck! This is not the place to start. It’s very complicated. Copyright laws are very difficult to navigate. You know, here’s the thing. You can get paid a pittance for some licensing.

Ann Rea: (11:30)

You can get paid, I don’t know, a $100 for a cheap route production. Or you can actually learn luxury marketing and sales because I’ll tell you what, it is a lot, 10 times easier, like quite literally. 10 times easier and figuratively to sell a $10,000 original work of art than it is to sell $100 reproductions.

Ann Rea: (11:57)

Licensing is not that far off. It’s so, it’s so much work and you’re not getting it paid enough. Low cost reproduction. I just covered that one. No! No! The affluent buy art, okay? You are not your customer. The affluent buy art, and they do not buy a low cost reproductions. They’re looking for original works of art that have meaning.

Ann Rea: (12:19)

They want to know the artist. They want to have backstage access to your studio, and they want to support you. The good news is that the people who care about art, they don’t care about the middleman. They care about the artist. They care about you. Marketing firms. Marketing firms can’t help you unless you know your niche.

Ann Rea: (12:37)

Please don’t waste your money, whether it’s an online marketing firm, a digital marketing firm, or a conventional marketing firm. Again, until you know your niche, this is a waste of your money. They’re not going to be able to be effective. Masters of Fine Art. Here’s the problem with Masters of Fine Art.

Ann Rea: (12:37)

And it is a problem, okay? It’s a big problem. First of all, it costs so much money to earn an MFA from one of the top art and design schools. And there are far fewer scholarships and financial aid because art schools have lower endowments than the Ivy League schools. In fact, the Ivy League schools are often less expensive to attend than these Masters of Fine Art program.

Ann Rea: (13:17)

And when you go into stinking amounts of debt paying for this MFA, here’s what your art professor is going to tell you about making money as a fine artist. “Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about that.” Because. they have a disdain for money. I can tell you this. I’m good authority. I’ve had so many art professors secretly enter my program because they knew if their academic colleagues ever found out that they were trying to sell their art, they’d be shunned.

Ann Rea: (13:44)

They’d be tarred and feathered, actually. NFTs. I mean, it’s an interesting frontier, but if your niche is not some technologically focused collector, then in NFT, they’re never going to help you. Online art marketplaces. There are a ton of them and here’s what they promise, “Upload your art for free and it will sell like hotcakes.”

Ann Rea: (14:03)

No, it won’t, because everyone else is uploading their art. You have to think, “How do they make money?” Well, they’re not going to be making money from you selling your art. Here’s what’s going to happen. I mean, they might sell a few things here and there, but by and large collectors, serious, you know, collectors are not going to Saatchi or Etsy or these places to buy luxury works of art.

Ann Rea: (14:25)

Alright. So here’s what happens. You upload your art along with the throngs of other hopeful artists and then it doesn’t sell. So then they come back and they say, “Oh, we see that you haven’t sold anything. Why don’t you buy some advertising from us?” And then, they make money. Put yourself out there. I know that’s a weird one, but I hear artists say this a lot.

Ann Rea: (14:47)

“I have to learn how to put myself out there.” What does that even mean? I think what it means for a lot of artists is that they have to somehow sell themselves or present themselves because they’re “what’s for sale?” No, you’re not for sale. You’re not for sale at all. Your art is for sale. So you don’t need to sell yourself ever, ever, ever.

Ann Rea: (15:05)

What you need to do is you need to serve a mission that’s greater than yourself and then you’ll never have to worry about that again. Print advertising. Again, unless you know your niche, this is a big waste of money and time. Don’t do it. Public relations agencies or publicists. I mean, it sounds really cool, but I can tell you that I was featured in Fortune magazine, on HGTV, like ABC. Blah, blah, blah.

Ann Rea: (15:34)

You know what? I never paid a public relations agency or a publicist a dime. I did it all on my own because I knew my mission. And that’s what you need to know. You need to know your mission. But no! Renting gallery space. This is a big problem. So a lot of retail has been affected since the pandemic and art galleries are no exception.

Ann Rea: (15:58)

They’re going out of business left and right, but they figured out that they can reach out to their list of fine artists who are just like you and then get you to rent some gallery space. And oftentimes they’ll take a commission on top of that. I mean, it’s a good deal for them but not a good deal for you.

Ann Rea: (16:14)

Okay, searching online for answers. Really bad idea. Look, Google designs their algorithm to get you to click, not to inform you. And if information or knowledge was all that we needed in order to succeed as fine artists, well, that means that every PhD would be a multi multi millionaire. So that’s not the problem.

Ann Rea: (16:38)

What you need is vetted information, and you need to take action upon that information. And then you may get some successful results. But searching online, ooh, don’t do it. It’s scary. Selling yourself! You don’t need to sell yourself. You’re not for sale. This is something that I hear artists say all the time.

Ann Rea: (16:56)

“I need to learn how to sell myself.” No, you don’t. You are not for sale. It’s because your art is so personal to you that it feels like you’re selling yourself, but you’re literally selling paint that’s been stuck on canvas or metal that’s been bent. You’re not for sale. So you have to put that notion aside.

Ann Rea: (17:16)

You need to sell is nothing. You really just need to serve a mission that’s greater than yourself. And when you know how to inspire people, you don’t have to sell them anything. As a matter of fact, they’ll sell for you. Showcasing sold work. Big mistake, right? So a lot of artists are kind of insecure and they want to show that they’ve sold some art.

Ann Rea: (17:37)

And so here’s the big problem with that, can you imagine going into a clothing boutique and you finally find that black cocktail dress that you want to wear to the New Year’s Eve party, fits you like a glove, you can’t wait to get it, you walk up to the cash register and the proprietor says to you, “Oh, sorry.

Ann Rea: (17:50)

That’s sold.” That’s what you’re doing to people when you show sold art. Don’t do it. Show available inventory. Like every other store. Social media blast. Don’t blast anybody. You don’t want to blast, especially the affluent. They’re very sensitive to how you are impacting their social network. Be careful about this.

Ann Rea: (18:04)

You don’t want to blast anyone. High price requires high touch. A blast? Low touch. Not a good idea. SEO. Does not work for fine artists. Why? Because it’s not an objective search. If you were selling red patent leather, four inch heel, pumps in a size eight, well, then SEO could serve you, but you cannot objectively describe your fine art with those keywords.

Ann Rea: (18:42)

So you’re really wasting your time with all this SEO. So don’t do it. Trades. A lot of artists are not really confident about how to sell their art and how to ask for the price that it’s worth. And so what do they do? Trade. You trade with me. Look, if you want to do it, it’s fine. But if you’re doing it a lot, it’s not a good business practice.

Ann Rea: (19:07)

And it’s a little dicey when it comes to the tax man. So be careful. This is not what I would do. Unproven courses for artists. There are a ton of them. A lot of copycats that have been copying me. Look, I’ve been at this since 2005. So it spawned a lot of copycats. Here’s the big distinction that you want to ask.

Ann Rea: (19:29)

First of all, do they have a guarantee? What is their guarantee? Okay. And have they successfully, not only successfully sold their own art, have they successfully taught other fine artists from 23 countries and counting how to sell their fine art? Doubtful. Vanity press. Do you know what vanity press is? It’s when you pay for press.

Ann Rea: (19:51)

And so art critics will often approach artists asking them if they would like an article written, of course, for money. Right? Vanity press is, it smells like vanity press, right? It’s vanity. It’s not real. And people can sense that. And an artist has got to be real. You’ve got to be true to yourself, and it’s not a tactic that works well.

Ann Rea: (20:12)

So please don’t waste your time and your money.

Ann Rea

Ann Rea, Fine Artist & Mentor

Ann Rea is a San Francisco-based fine artist. She created Making Art Making Money, the leading and most reputable business program for fine artists since 2005. Rea’s art and business savvy have been featured on ABC, HGTV, Creative Live, The Good Life Project, in the book Career Renegade by Jonathan Fields, the San Francisco Chronicle, Art Business News, Fortune, and Inc. Magazines. Rea’s artistic talent was commended by her mentor, art icon Wayne Thiebaud. 

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