Want To Sell More Fine Art? 11 Types of People Who'll Never Help You

Want To Sell More Fine Art? 11 Types of People Who'll Never Help You

The scarcity and permission-based art establishment has a dirty little secret keeping fine artists hypnotized into a series of limiting beliefs, including believing they need a middleman to sell their art. However, the truth is that people who care about art care about the artist, not the middleman. 

The art establishment skillfully brainwashes us into thinking that unless someone with prestige* separates us from over half of our money and customers, convincing us that our work won’t be “important” or “recognized,” and not feeling validated is a fine artist’s deepest fear. 

*Prestige is a French word meaning deceit.

Artist representation drastically reduces our fine art sales and kills our profits, confidence, and dignity. If you’re not generating a profit, your fine art endeavor is a respectable but expensive hobby, and this is an economic fact, not a personal judgment. Getting paid for our time and talent is the highest form of validation we can receive and the greatest creative motivator. 

Anyone setting terms that separate us from our confidence, collectors, and coins is not helping us. If you don’t set the terms for selling your art, then the terms will be set for you and will not be set in your favor.

Artists accept unfair terms because they don’t know their niche, essential to generating a sustainable profit. Knowing your niche means knowing who wants to buy your art, why they want to buy it, and where and how to find more people just like them. Your niche is not about your creative genre, medium, subject, style, or you; it’s about your customer, your collectors. 

Most individuals and organizations whose role is to help fine artists are just not. If they were helping, would there be such a common struggle? What makes it worse is that they’ve convinced themselves that their motivations are pure and that they operate with integrity. However, terms that do not offer mutual consideration and that prey upon artists’ needs for validation are unethical. 

art contest organizers 

The only ones who win art contests are the organizers, who’re accountable to no one. Do you want to show your art to a self-appointed judge, or do you want to sell your art? When you pay to enter art contests, you’re literally paying for rejection. You pay an entry fee to enter the contest, and inevitably, they reject all but a few submissions. Then you’ll be encouraged to “submit” your work again, emphasis on the word “submit.” I’m unwilling to submit to anyone’s authority except my own. 

If you’re looking for validation, you must improve the bigger frame around your art, your reputation as a fine artist, shaped by your marketing and sales strategies.

Start looking closely at the volume of contest submissions and their time frames. It’s easy to calculate that these self-appointed art judges often have only seconds to judge your art. If you’re not getting paid or receiving useful critical feedback other than needless rejection, what’s the point? 

One of the editors for my book sheepishly admitted that he used to work for a book publisher who counted on an easy and profitable revenue stream from regular writers’ contests. 

Art contests are predatory and shameless fundraisers for organizations, including prominent art museums and councils. If your art is a hobby and not your business, enter as many art contests as you wish but understand that getting paid for your art is a valid measure of validation not a prize blue ribbon. 

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Jill Mueller’s experience with art contest organizers.

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Peter Cimpoe’s experience with art contest organizers. 

arts councils

Although I’d love to, I have yet to meet an arts council providing productive services or support for individual fine artists. What I hear from my students is that instead of receiving support from their arts council, they’re asked, or guilted into, donating their art to support a fundraising gala or to pay to enter art contests. Don’t get me started again about art contests. Even though county, state, and national arts councils receive large private and public funds, it’s unclear how they’re helping individual fine artists who are taxpayers. 

art critics 

Art critics are tools of the scarcity and permission-based art establishment. They also use the promise of prestige and an obscure secret language that no one seems to comprehend but a small circle of critics making up arbitrary rules as they go along so that they may remain the gatekeepers. Go around them and never let an art critic convince you that you should pay them to write a critical review or article about your work, this is a common scam. 

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld said, “Somebody told me I got a bad review. I tried to say to the guy, ‘Let me explain to you something about critics of stand-up comedy. Do you understand we’ve already left town with the money after the show? My audience is the only critics who matter.’ Please, write whatever you want; enjoy yourself.”

You only need to be concerned with two critics: yourself and your collectors. Art critics don’t buy art so who cares what they think? 

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Claire McKenzie’s experience with art critics.  

art galleries 

In art school, students are told to focus on their craft and eventually find reliable representation and not worry their pretty little heads about money. The problem with this common advice is that art representation isn’t reliable. 

Even if you are working with a gallery and they’re selling enough of your art so that you’re making enough money, eventually, they will join many art galleries that are going out of business, or you will fall out of favor because other artists’ work is selling better than yours. 

The other obvious issue is that art galleries are taking anywhere from 30% to 70% of your money, not to mention that they love to offer discounts to incentivize a sale. Why is that? Because they’ve got nothing to lose. Art galleries have virtually unlimited access to the tax-free inventory they don’t pay for; they only cosign. So if they discount your art, they’ve lost nothing because they’ve invested nothing. However, you do lose. You loose the discount amount, but what’s worse is that the value of your fine art immediately drops, and your reputation is damaged.  

Before I took responsibility for my fine art sales, I worked with a representative in Los Angeles who asked me if she could have permission to discount my art. Even then, I said no, and she shared that the artists she represented who refused to discount their art sold significantly more. 

What is far more significant than paying sales commission is the exponential losses you incur by not having your collectors’ contact information so that you can cultivate relationships with your customers and gain repeat and referral sales. 

On average, referral sales can generate over 80% more sales, and you keep 100% of your money. Do the math now. If you generated 80% more fine art sales than you did last year working with your representative and paid no sales commissions, how much more money would you have in your pocket?

Preventing you from knowing your customers is not only highly unethical, but it’s often illegal in many jurisdictions. Representatives do it anyway because there’s a long line of artists begging for representation.

The consequence of you not knowing your customers is enormous. No business owner would survive without knowledge of their customers or a way to contact them. 

Withholding your collectors’ contact information from you is wrong. Imagine your favorite business. Imagine if they did not know their customers and could never communicate with them. Could your favorite business even exist? No. It would be bankrupt.

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Andrea Wilson’s experience with art galleries  

art professors

If you aim to earn a Bachelors of Fine Art (BFA) or even a Masters of Fine Art (MFA), know that your art professors will not teach you how to make a living or sell your art, and it’s not their role. Instead, they’re likely to shame you for having material concerns because they have a twisted anti-capitalist agenda. Ironic, given that the luxury of fine art is capitalism on steroids.

Earning an BFA or MFA degree, particularly from the top art schools, can be an enormous expense and source of inescapable debt with no guarantees. Attending the Rhode Island School of Design costs more than Harvard Law School. Art schools have lower endowments which can only fund a limited number of student scholarships.

However, if you attended Harvard Law School, you would sell more art because you’d have a more affluent network. Again art is a luxury consumed by the affluent. 

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Stephanie Waterloo’s experience with art school. 

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Anya Ward’s experience with art professors. 

art representatives 

Art representatives present the same issues as working with art galleries even if some take a smaller sales commission percentage.

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Kristina Quinones’ experience with art representatives. 

business volunteers 

What is the path to hell paved with? Good intentions. Business volunteers have good intentions like SCORE, the U.S. Senior Core Of Retired Executives, or other business and art volunteer organizations, but you won’t find successful retired fine artists who are also skilled at helping other fine artists become successful.

cooperative art galleries 

Even though most cooperative art galleries are doing their best, unfortunately, they typically don’t sell anything other than lower-cost fine art gift items very well. Affluent consumers who buy higher-priced original works of fine art will not patronize lower-level retail. Fine artist volunteers who staff cooperative art galleries don’t receive luxury sales training and often don’t want to be there.

Art is a luxury by economic definition, not a need. Artists often indulge in philosophical debates about the necessity of art but it doesn’t change the facts and distorting economic reality is not helpful.

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Cynthia Law’s experience with cooperative art galleries.

free advice 

Free advice can be the most expensive. To be clear, I’m giving free advice here for goodwill marketing. I’m on a personal mission to help other fine artists take their power from the scarcity and the permission-based art establishment, and most of you will never pay me a dime. I’m fine with that because I’ve been where you may be, and it sucked.

Please note. Although the information you’re gaining is free, my support is not. If you want my valuable services, then I require a significant investment of your time and money, and you’ll be required to earn a 100% return on your tuition investment, at a minimum, to graduate from Making Art Making Money™ because my students’ success is my success.

I feel obligated to get the word out whether you pay me or not because this is how I can be of most service in my life, and I’m on a mission to help other fine artists make informed choices. The amount of time, money, and life force lost to fine artists is devastating and unnecessary. I hope I can help you protect your confidence and preserve your dignity.  

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Jina Kim’s experience with free advice.

grant program judges  

Grant programs generally pay nothing more than a pittance after searching and following their requirements; even these are few and far between. Unless your focus is creating large-scale public artwork installations, selling your art directly to collectors is much easier. 

Instead of jumping through countless hoops for a thin chance of winning a grant, why not learn how to sell more art directly to collectors using proven and repeatable luxury marketing and sales strategies? 

marketing firms 

Marketing firms can’t help you unless you know your niche, meaning you know who wants to buy your art, why they want to buy it, and where and how to find more people like them. However, many marketing firms and consultants will happily take your money and “try” to help you.

print advertisers 

Never pay for print advertising unless you know your niche, meaning you know who wants to buy your art, why they want to buy it, and where and how to find more people like them. If you do, you’re throwing your money down the drain. Although plenty of advertising firms and consultants will still take your money, they can not help you if you do not understand your niche. 

Please note. This warning applies to digital advertisers like Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest. Never pay for likes; they are a vanity metric that guarantees nothing. 

public relations agencies

Like print advertisers, never pay a public relations agency unless you know your niche. Be warned; plenty of public relations firms and consultants will still take your money even if they can’t help you gain productive press. Never pay for press; this is called Vanity Press, a common predatory practice hurting fine artists. It can be an expensive scam.

Click here to listen to Fine Artist Katie Miranda’s experience with public relations agencies. 

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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