Even while sending it out, I knew that ArtBookGuy's second survey question, "Why Should You Buy My Art?" was fraught with peril.
I asked hundreds of artists to submit a very brief, “infomercial” that addresses potential art buyer John Doe's questions:
“Why should I buy your art?” “What's in it for me?”
I really stressed that artists should answer these questions as if their very lives depended on it. I did this because I'd hoped it would give artists a sense of urgency, yet also greater license and freedom to really be themselves and not slip into “art speak” in trying to sell their work to John Doe.
Let me stress here that “art speak” is fine to use WHEN you're chatting with fellow artists and other art professionals. All professions have their special, short-cut oriented language which is great when you're among colleagues.
However, most people who'll buy your work aren't art world types, are they? You have a much greater chance at making sales with everyday people who have disposable income when you speak THEIR LANGUAGE.
Once again, nothing I'm saying here is an art world secret revealed. This is really common sense.
Thank you for your responses to the survey questions, but I'm sorry to say that most - if not all - of the responses from those brave enough to answer them were so full of art speak and artistic process-talk that they really don't address John Doe's concerns, nor do they really help him understand art.
I love artistic process-talk. That’s why I interview artists. However, this is really no good when you’re trying to sell your work. When dealing with the public, artists (like all other professions) must think like everyday people and use language that everyday people understand. You must be approachable and down to earth.
That said … I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to the survey. However, I've decided to respectfully tuck away your responses because I think I've come up with a more universally-serviceable solution for you.
Consequently, I will address the questions myself in a simple, straightforward and human way that takes a little art knowledge, marketing and sales skill into account...
Again, when selling art, we MUST focus on John Doe, the art buyer and what HE needs ... that’s IF you hope to make a sale. This is not about you, the artist. This technique applies to selling practically anything.
So ... imagine that I, Michael Corbin am the artist. Here’s how I’ve responded to John Doe’s questions … Consider this a template you can use.
“Hello John (or Jane)! I’m glad you like that. I worked very hard on it and that’s an original work of art. If you like it, that means I made it just for you. Buy It! You’ll be the only person in the world who has it. You’re ALLOWED to have your own personal relationship with art. What does that piece make you think or feel (Let John briefly answer)?
When you buy original art and live with it, it makes you more creative too. Art relaxes you and helps you reflect and feel healthier and happier. It also makes your house feel much more like a REAL home. Somehow, it works. You’ll see. You deserve it.
My collectors love my work. Here’s my list of references, if you’d like. Check out my website. My prices are going up because my art is great and so is my reputation. No one regrets buying my work. You won’t either.
Here’s my card … may I have yours? WHO ELSE DO YOU KNOW WHO MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN MY WORK? I’D LOVE TO CHAT WITH THEM.”
That pitch is 60 seconds TOPS. Read it yourself and time it. Also, this should go without saying, but I’m assuming you have actual price tags on the work that you’re selling. If you don’t, you can stop reading this right now because nothing else I say here will work.
When people don’t see price tags on items for sale, they usually assume they can’t afford them or they’ll be scared off because they’ll think they have to negotiate … which most people hate doing.
Also, have you noticed that there’s not a trace of “art speak” in this “pitch?” Let’s break it down…
NO SLIME: As you can see, this is indeed a sales pitch, but is there anything slimy about it? No. Right at the top, you’re being warm and friendly. Yet, you’re also letting John know that you’re a business person just like him when you gently say, “Buy it!”
In addition, when you ask John about his reaction to your work, you’re encouraging him to form an emotional attachment by merely talking about it. Obviously, this is what you want.
You’re being professional, real, approachable and honest about your work and you’re giving John intriguing reasons to buy it. It’s all about what buying your work can do for HIM, not YOU.
Telling John that if he buys your work, “he’ll get the pleasure of knowing that he’s supporting a living artist,” is totally bogus. If someone tried to sell you anything by saying something like this, wouldn’t you pack up and leave?
Obviously, whether John buys or not is totally up to him, but you must present “buy it” as an option. Otherwise, he’ll just treat it like art in a museum. Believe me.
RARE AND PERSONAL: By telling John that he’ll be the only person in the world who owns it, you’re giving him reason to acquire something special and rare, which it is. It’s also CRUCIAL that you tell him that while your work comes from your own experience, you give him FULL PERMISSION to form his own, personal relationship with your work. This will ease his fears about not being an art history doctoral candidate and help him understand that he doesn’t have to be an “expert” to buy art.
HAPPINESS: Who doesn’t want to be calm, reflect on their life and be healthy and happy? Who doesn’t want a home that’s full of life and fulfillment? Who doesn’t deserve that? Isn’t this what art does for all of us? Briefly explain this to John. Any reputable art therapist will vouch for all of this.
PROFESSIONALISM: When you tell John about your collectors, you’re telling him that you have clients and you have a reputation that you’ve cultivated and you’re not above being investigated. Also, when you tell him that your prices are going up, this touches on the “art as investment” issue without harping on it. This tells him that you’re a serious businessperson who respects him, but you also expect him to respect you as an artist and artrepreneur.
I’ve put various forms of the word, “buy” three times in this pitch because one of the rules of marketing says people don’t really “get the message” about anything unless it is stated THREE times. Do this gracefully and tactfully, but do not force it.
BUSINESS CARDS: ALWAYS hand out your business cards and get theirs as well for your email and newsletter list. Have a bowl nearby. He may not buy today, but perhaps he will a couple of months from now. Business cards are cheap yet very professional and DO NOT FORGET to pitch your website and use the closing line … “Who else do you know who might be interested in my work? I’d love to chat with them.” Referrals in the art world are everything. You know that.
Practice this pitch and get creative. Play around with it and see how it works for you. However, your pitch should NEVER go longer than 60 seconds - ABSOLUTE MAX. Otherwise, you run the risk of scaring John off. It’s better to go short and ask him a question to engage him in conversation rather than lapsing into a Shakespearean soliloquy about your work. Please do not do this. Once you do, you’re dead in the water. Even if he wants to continue talking, try to determine whether or not he’ll be a serious client at some point and then use your own judgment. It’s your time to spend.
Also, I mention the business card thing because everyone knows that exchanging cards is a tactful way to end a social encounter. This should help you free yourself from someone who you know isn’t going to buy and they’re starting to waste your time.
Of course, none of this guarantees a sale. If only life were that simple. We still live in a world that doesn’t value contemporary art. However, I do believe that this approach is much more human and relatable to everyday middle class and even rich people.
If you GET RID OF THE HORRID ART SPEAK and BE REAL, yet professional with people, you’re going to significantly boost your chances of making a sale.
Again, if you want to break into a long monologue about where your art fits within the 21st Century contemporary art continuum, be my guest. But when you see people giving you deer in headlight stares or their eyes are glazing over, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Finally, I must add that I love this approach because I really think it frees everybody up from being so uptight and weird. Selling art or anything for that matter is tough enough. Why not try to have a little fun with it?