Why Collectors Should Buy Prints (but artists should not make them)

The fine art print market is a great way to start collecting. But it is a complex art form that requires buyers to understand some technical aspects to printmaking.

For beginning collectors, prints are an easy way to buy nice works by substantial artists at prices that won’t stop your heart. For seasoned collectors, the print market is a fabulous way to acquire works by deceased artists whose paintings regularly sell at auction for staggering sums. 

"Whistler Smoking," c 1856-1860, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 9.5 x 6.63 inches

Consider James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). In 2020 at Christie’s British and European Art sale in London, Whistler’s 5 x 8.5 inch watercolor, “Chelsea Shopfronts,” sold for $79,840 (buyer fee included). And the following year at Christie’s New York 20th Century Evening Sale, his oil painting “Whistler Smoking,” 9.5 x 6.63 inches, sold for $1.2M. Whistler’s paintings rarely come up for sale, but his print work shows up frequently on the secondary market. That’s because, during his lifetime, Whistler made more than 400 etching and dry point plates and some 150 lithographs, which means there are multiples of those 550 or more images out there in the world, many selling for $1,500 to $28,000. 

It’s basically supply and demand: Whistler paintings are scarce; his prints are not. 

Affordability and Accessibility

The earliest known prints date back to sixth- and seventh-century Egyptian wood block prints on textiles and eighth-century Japanese relief prints. Since then, other printing processes have been added to the mix, which has opened up this art form of “original multiples” and made it accessible and affordable for both artists and collectors.

But wait, artists should or shouldn’t make prints?

OK, I’m going to split hairs here. Prints in their various hand-pulled forms are works of art in and of themselves. Mechanical prints such as giclees are reproductions–facsimiles–of original works of art; they are not the original works of art.

There is an important distinction to make when looking at prints: manual versus mechanical; human versus machine. In order to figure out the difference, it’s good to start with a little background knowledge. 

Printmaking 101

Manually pulled prints can be created using various means. The oldest prints were done as reliefs where a raised design on, say a carved block of wood, is inked, paper laid on top, and pressure applied to transfer the ink onto the paper. The second oldest form is intaglio, meaning “incising or engraving.” In this method, the image is etched into a plate, ink is pushed into the engraved lines, the surface wiped clean, paper laid on top followed by blankets, and then the whole kit-and-kaboodle is run through a press with heavy pressure, causing the paper to absorb ink from the incised lines. This process leaves a plate mark when the paper dries (check out the sidebar for more tips on discerning prints).

Here’s short video that shows you how intaglio prints are made. Pretty cool. 

This video explains lithography.

The third process, which is more recent, is known as planographic or surface printing—we’re talking lithography. This is done on a litho stone or flat metal surface. The idea here is that water and oil don’t mix. An image is created on the surface in oil that is chemically manipulated to accept ink. Water is then applied to the surface so that when the ink is rolled across the image it only adheres to the oil. Next, paper is set on top, run through a press, and voila.

Screenprints and monotypes are the most recent printing processes. Screenprints are essentially large silk screens where the image is masked off. Ink is pulled over the screen so that it falls evenly onto the paper. Many layers of colored ink are used to create one image and, as a result, you can usually see the ink laying on the surface more readily than in other printing processes. Monotypes are “mono” because there is only one—technically. The artist does a painting on a flat surface—plexiglass or copper, for example—damp paper is laid on top of the painting, then the whole thing is run through the press. A mirror image is pulled, leaving a ghost image behind. The artist can go back over the ghost image and change it, re-ink it, and run another print, though it will be noticeably different, thus a new monotype.

How to print serigraphs like Warhol.

Quick Monotype demo.

And, just to make this all a little more challenging, lots of these processes can be combined to make an image. All-in-all, printmaking is deceptively complicated and quite possibly one of the most underrated art forms.

The final category of prints are mechanical. Machine made off-set lithography, which is how this magazine you are reading was printed, and giclees are the most common, which brings us to the downside of printmaking for artists. (Giclee is a French word meaning “to spray,” which refers to the inkjet process of spraying ink on paper to reproduce art.)

More Isn't Always Better

Supply and demand does play into pricing art. Paintings are singular. Yes, artists can riff off the same image, but those are all new paintings. Hand-pulled prints come in multiples (except monotypes, which, as stated already, are unique paintings run through a press). Prints are numbered; however, hand-made prints tend to have lower numbered print runs because the plate or silkscreen simply wears out. With wood cuts, the artist may have one or two plates for an image, but that plate is run through the press multiple times and for each new color—some images have upwards of 20 color changes—the wood block is further carved away so that, by the end of production, the plate is destroyed.

Machines that make prints, however, do not wear out—well, not in the same way traditional printmaking tools do. And beyond the photographer who took a high resolution photo of the art and the pressman who oversees the printing, there isn’t any human contact.

Competing Against Yourself

And now we get to why I suggest artists who are not traditional printmakers should not make prints (giclees). 

With giclees, an artist can flood the market with reproductions of individual paintings. For new artists scrambling to pay rent and buy groceries, the promise of making a hundred bucks off a giclee sounds like salvation. You can practically sell them off your website while you sleep! What could possibly go wrong?

While these prints are incredibly accurate reproductions of paintings, they actually create a troubling side effect: artists start to compete against themselves. In the art market, at a certain price range, lots of art buyers can’t tell the difference between an original and a giclee and so, think, why pay more when the print is so good? Established collectors, however, know this is the equivalent of buying a Farrah Fawcett poster: totally rad, dude, but not the real thing.

So, when it comes to prints, scarcity and the human touch create value. Mechanical prints are beautiful but won’t hold their value. Manual prints, however, will because each print was—wait for it—hand pulled through a press. This is where being a flawed human is actually kind of a bonus. The savvy print collector looks for works pulled by specific master printers at certain presses that coincide with the era of the artist. Craftsmanship counts: you want to see the hand that built it.

Become a Savvy Print Collector

If you think you want to collect prints, we highly recommend educating yourself on the various printing processes. Bamber Gascoigne’s book “How to Identify Prints, a complete guide to manual and mechanical processes from woodcut to inkjet” is invaluable. Visit some print fairs to see works up close and ask experts to explain what you’re looking at and why it’s priced as it is. There are myriad issues to consider before buying prints, but it all starts with identifying what kind of print you’re looking at. Once you invest the time to really learn about prints, you can find truly valuable pieces at estate sales, consignment shops, and antique stores. Check out the sidebar for telltale signs you’re looking at something of value.

How to Find Hidden Gems in the Art Market

  1. Rule out mechanical prints. You’re looking for a regular dot matrix pattern. This is a dead giveaway. You might need a magnifying glass (a loop with 4x magnification) to see the pattern of dots. It will look a lot like the Sunday comics in newspapers.
  2. Plate impression. You can easily see where an intaglio plate left an impression around the outside of the image. These images are almost always one color—black or sepia. If there is color, that may indicate that the artist painted on the print, making it a unique work of art.
  3. Color could also indicate lithography, serigraphy, or mechanical printing. Sometimes, if you look from the side of a print, you can see a layer of ink floating on the surface. This would indicate a monotype, lithograph, or serigraph. Again, look for the dot pattern, when in doubt.
  4. Double signature line. If you see a print with two signatures, one within the painting and another on the white paper border, it’s probably a mechanical print. A high resolution photo was taken of the painting—signature and all—and used to create a digital file that was then run on a mechanical press. The artist then signs and numbers these pieces of paper, indicating it’s a reproduction of the original.
  5. Single signature line in pencil. With hand-pulled prints, the artist’s signature will be written in pencil, usually along the bottom of the image. There will also be a title, often centered below the image, and edition numbers indicated by a number over another number.
  6. Edition numbers. With hand-pulled prints, the first number is the individual piece number, and the second number is the total number of prints that were pulled. So, 21/50 means you have print number 21 out of a total of 50 prints. Look for low numbers. If, however, the number is above 100—say, 1,200, for example—those are mechanical prints. No plates or screens can hold up to that amount of re-inking and runs through a press or scrapes of ink across the surface.
  7. Edition letters. You might also see things like “AP,” which is an artist proof. “PP” is printer’s proof, which are proofs given to the print studio. “HC” prints are hors commerce prints, meaning “out of trade.” They are only given out by the artist and are quite rare.
  8. When selecting prints, inspect them carefully. You don’t want to buy things with tears, creases, foxing or discoloration caused when a print was exposed to oxidation or acidity, usually from exposure to wood pulp from inferior matting. Some condition issues can be corrected, so it’s worth asking a conservator first.

Contemporary Printmakers I Love

Melanie Yazzie Waking Dreammonoprint
Leon Loughridge Freezing Over wood block reduction
Leon Loughridge Pecos Mission Sunrise serigraph
Johanna Mueller Kindness relief engraving
Joellyn Duesberry Truck Yard II monotype
understanding yourself through art

Understanding Yourself Through Art

An astute art collector once told me that whenever he’s in Manhattan, he visits the Whitney Museum so he can sit on the bench in front of their immense Jackson Pollock drip painting. He doesn’t do this because he likes the painting—he doesn’t even understand it. He visits the Pollock, he says, because he doesn’t like or understand it.

Recently, when I asked if the Pollock painting made sense to him yet, he said he thinks he understands it. Maybe. What did he understand, you wonder? I didn’t ask because, really, it doesn’t matter. I knew he wasn’t searching for proof of the painting’s validity; he had read plenty of critical essays on Pollock and the drip paintings to know how and why they were considered pivotal works in the American post-war art movement. And he is astute enough to understand that liking or disliking a work of art is a matter of personal taste.

So, why did he waste time looking at art he didn’t like? That question is exactly what I'm tackling this month.

But first, a disclaimer: Spending time with art that repulses you is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about stepping out of your comfort zone and exposing yourself to art you don’t understand. Maybe abstraction bothers you or conceptual installation or performance art. Whatever it is, just keep in mind that most artists are not willfully trying to upset you; they don’t even know you. So, next time you’re confronted with art that makes you angry enough to want to take a tire iron or can of spray paint to it, please just leave.

However, if you stay and allow your mind to plumb the depths of your unease, kudos! You are ready to take your understanding of art (and yourself) to the next level. 

1. Think Like an Artist

As collectors, you are instinctively curious. You enjoy learning how and why something came into being. You love adding knowledge to your big brain. But sometimes art causes sharp negative reactions. It’s not always logical but it is always valid. When confronted with art that rubs you the wrong way, take a step back and consider why.

Note: your feelings are entirely yours; no one can make you feel anything. Exploring your reaction to art, i.e., participating in the experience, is what art is all about.

You might be interested to know that lots of artists have the habit of checking out art that bothers them. While it may sound like an unproductive afternoon spent with stuff that doesn’t support your own ideals, artists know something is happening internally when art gets under their skin and that internal disruption can lead to personal artistic breakthroughs.

I have been told by many artists that the act of making art is problem solving. There are a million decisions that go into every piece of art. No matter how realistic a painting might appear, for example, it is still a whole bunch of abstract brushstrokes laid side-by-side creating familiar patterns in the brain of the viewer that then signal recognition.

But when those abstract brushstrokes, no matter how they are configured, stir an emotion in you, the question you need to ask is: what am I picking up on and why?

Here's an interesting bit of science...

Art may ruffle your feathers for reasons beyond subject matter—or lack thereof. If you’re anything like Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), color may affect you in strange and palpable ways. Kandinsky, a pioneer of abstract painting, had the neurological condition known as synesthesia. For people with synesthesia, the brain reroutes sensory information through other unrelated senses.

understanding yourself through art
Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VIII

Within Kandinsky’s brain, music was assigned various colors. The sound of trumpets registered as red, for example, an old violin was orange. Violet connoted the deep tones of an English horn or a bassoon, light blue appeared with notes from a flute, and a cello shone as dark blue. 

Kandinsky began his painting career depicting things more representationally but as he allowed music to play a bigger role in his work, his work became completely abstract, which he called painted symphonies.

Knowing what is rumbling around in an artist’s brain, such as Kandinsky’s, adds depth and character and connection not only to the work but to the artist as a person. Curiosity, I believe, is the key to unlocking this world.

2. Open Your Mind Through Discontent

The play “Art,” by Yasmina Reza centers around a white painting that one of the characters bought for $200,000. Serge, the proud owner, can’t wait to have his two best friends see the painting, but things don’t go as he’d hoped. Yvan is ambivalent and wishy-washy—much like he is in life—and Marc, the engineer, is aghast and feels affronted by his friend’s choice of a totally white canvas. He simply can’t understand why anyone would spend that much money on something that is, in his mind, “shit.”

The painting becomes the fourth character in the play. Its role is to goad the men into confronting deeper issues in their own lives as well as their friendship. Because of a painting, each man’s personal fears and foibles are laid bare. Ultimately, Serge, in utter frustration, hands a felt tip pen to Marc and invites him to draw on the painting if he thinks it’s so awful. (Spoiler alert: Marc does!)

There’s plenty of subtext here that begs the question: how do we deal with people who think differently than we do? Of course, when a friend’s taste in art, books, music, or movies leaves us wondering why someone we thought we knew actually liked that, we probably won’t kick them out of our lives, but something has shifted in the friendship.

While it’s silly to end a friendship over a painting, we do end friendships over personal opinions all the time. Consider the last time you had a constructive conversation with someone whose view on the environment or politics was the opposite of yours. Be honest. Did you both speak calmly and respectfully and, as a result, grow in your knowledge of an issue and your opinion of one another? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

In a recent essay for the New York Times, columnist David Brooks argues that society has become sad, lonely, angry, and mean “in part because so many people have not been taught or don’t bother practicing to enter sympathetically into the minds of their fellow human beings.” He suggests that the decline in people going to museums or galleries, attending classical music concerts, opera, or ballet may be part of the problem. Art, he insists, allows us access into other people’s worlds, which is how we learn empathy toward one another. Without an appreciation for art, he believes, we struggle to get along.

3. Expand Your Mind

Today we love the Impressionists. In the late 1800s, however, the term “impressionism” was coined by critic Louis Leroy to make fun of the 30 painters who had banded together to hold their own exhibitions because the salons in London and Paris refused their work. This isn’t an anomaly in the art world; it continues to happen to this day. But it does shine a light on the difficulties artists face when exploring new forms of expression.

For collectors who have been at it for a while, your concept of what is good art has probably changed and evolved, too. You may even have a few pieces of art relegated to back bedrooms or closets. These things just don’t speak to you any longer; you’ve moved on.

Consider for a minute, why. Was it that you’ve seen much more art and have a broader knowledge of how things are made, and the level of skill required? Do you have a better understanding of creativity and artistry and the bravery that went into a piece of art? Are you no longer challenged by those older works?

Perhaps part of your evolution as a collector came with a desire to be more of an active participant, to feel more engagement with the things surrounding you. Engaging with art may mean it’s challenging you, but it also may mean that it is allowing you to disengage from your day-to-day work and let your brain live in a different, more creative headspace for a while.

Consider This

If art is resonating with you, something is present in your body, your mind, and your emotional makeup that hears its name being called. That’s what’s happening: the art is calling to you. 

Sometimes a work of art is calling to you but it’s making you uncomfortable because you don’t understand what’s happening. Take a chance, if you’re up for it, and approach this work as if you’re on a quest for knowledge and understanding of art. But really, the search is for a deeper understanding of yourself.

Talking to Artists

I’ve met many collectors who get tongue-tied when it comes to talking to artists. Most collectors do not want to hurt anyone’s feeling, especially an artist they admire. The question is then, what can they say that won’t get them in trouble?

On the flip-side, because art comes from a personal place of introspection, it can be difficult for some artists to express their work’s deeper meaning verbally. This may be why, when asked to talk about their work, many artists fall into “art speak,” when they tell you all about their medium, creative process, or how they search for beauty or great designs. In other words, they stay on the surface — literally.

If you are a collector who wants to make a genuine connection with the artist whose work has caught your eye, here are some of the politest ways to get past “art speak” and into the heart of an artist’s story.

If you’re an artist, please chime in with your thoughts on how collectors can connect with you.

Genuine Connections

Think of art as an extension of the person who made it, like tangled necklaces, the two cannot be easily separated. Everything from the daily news to books, movies, and random conversations can filter into a person’s art. And then there are the memories from childhood and past relationships, where you live, travel — the sky’s the limit. In other words, a person’s entire life is fodder for art. And how that comes out is part of the language each individual has developed in their chosen medium.

    As a collector, you want to know the origin stories of artwork in your collection for several reasons. First, this is the heart and soul of the work. Second, as a human, you’re hardwired for stories, so this is your strongest connection to the work. Third, stories add to the provenance of the work — think Picasso’s Blue Period or Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings.” When collecting living artist’s work, you want pinnacle pieces. Learning the origin of thought behind each work is the key to getting to this peak.

My Kid Could Have Done That

So, how do you draw out these stories? Let’s start with what not to do. Do not say out loudly in a room filled with artists or any sort: “You call that art?! My kid could have done that.”

    If you’ve said this, please never do it again. Your kid didn’t make the art hanging in a gallery, museum, or your friends’ home. When you say this, it reflects poorly on you; you are immediately pegged as someone who has no true interest in art, so engaging in a conversation will be a waste of time. And really, isn’t there enough negative talk in the world these days?

Step one: Keep an Open Mind

Art requires your participation. The level to which you participate — from a passive glance to making a purchase — that’s up to you. The artist can’t make you feel anything. Add to it that the more you understand about art, the more you will respond. Even if you never enjoy a particular art style or form, your knowledge will allow you to bring an educated eye and a curious mind to the experience.

    Collectors who are curious and enjoy learning also tend to bring the spirit of open-mindedness to most situations. They slow down and ask themselves why they like or are bothered by something. Knowing that they bring their own baggage to every situation, not just an art experience, allows them to step back and think through what’s stirring up strong emotions — and helps them not buy on impulse or dismiss something important.

    Open-mindedness is a skill worth developing. Visit museums and gallery exhibitions and listen to those immediate reactions. Then, ask questions and read up on the work you are seeing. This isn’t about learning to like art you simply don’t like; it’s about <ITL>not letting subjective feelings rule your thought process.

Origin Stories

One of the most common questions people ask artists is: “How long did it take you to make that?” And a common (snarky) artist response is: “My whole life.” Because it did, essentially, take an entire lifetime of experiences to make the art you’re looking at. And the next piece will require all that experience plus this new experience learned from creating the last object. So, it’s not a total brush-off, but it is a way to deflect the question. Why, you may wonder, would an artist want to avoid answering something so straightforward?

    Frankly, artists have learned that it’s much easier to give a snappy response to this one because the amount of time is irrelevant. Besides, this is just a conversation starter, much like “What do you do for a living?” But there’s also the part that can bite an artist. If they say, “Oh, this one just flowed out of me in a couple of hours!” Then the client does some quick math and translates that into an hourly rate — because non-artists often charge by the hour — and now the inquisitor is in the position of deciding whether the artist is worth that hourly rate or not.

What Artists Would Rather Talk About

Instead, here are a few examples artists wish collectors would ask instead of “How long did it take you?”

    Artist David Michael Slonim would love to answer this question: “What visual input from when you were young do you suspect might be showing up in your work now?”

    In fact, he often writes about his response to this question on social media:

Marketing Your Art
"Flying Machine," David Michael Slonim, 40 x 30 inches, oil on canvas

Dad’s gone now, but I can still picture him as a young man sprinting back and forth across a field trying to get a colorful box kite airborne. Eventually, the kite lifts, he lets out the string carefully, then comes over and hands the spool to his 8 year old son — so I can fly my kite. That’s fatherhood in a nutshell: Busting your tail to give something of value to your kids.

His painting Flying Machine, he realized after it was finished, came from this memory. 

    Victoria Eubanks loves this question: “Where were you when you painted that?”

She always remembers where she was when paintings came to her, and she feels like that question leads to bigger conversations. “I might have been sitting with my father while he was in the hospital and drew his shoes because I needed a break from the stress of being there,” Eubanks says.

Artist Marketing
"Reminisce," Victoria Eubanks, encaustic over recycled paper, 24 x 24 inches
artist marketing
"Baby It's Cold Outside," Kim Lordier, pastel, 24 x 36 inches

 

Kim Lordier finds this an intriguing inquiry: “What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome to be an artist?”

And Sophy Brown finds the question, “Is what you do cathartic?” to be interesting and complicated. “It’s true that subject and content are determined by an emotional connection. But the word ‘cathartic’ suggests that there is some kind of psychological relief, a cleansing through the expression…”

artist marketing
"Street" Sophy Brown, mixed media on paper, 41 x 48 inches

To know the rest of Sophy’s answer as well as how your favorite artists might respond, you’ll just have to ask.

Do consider your surroundings, however. If you’re at a crowded opening, the artist might be too distracted to get into a deep philosophical discussion, but if they do want to go down that path, you might be surprised by how many others gather around.

    Ultimately, this is the stuff you want to know; it’s the information you will repeat when someone asks about the art you own. And the bonus is that you will be forging a deeper connection with the artist while uncovering commonalities that you had no idea existed.

More Great Conversation Starters

Are you stumped when it comes to talking to artists? Perhaps a bit starstruck by your favorites or afraid to sound uninformed when asking questions? We’ve got you covered. Here are some questions to consider before your next artistic encounter…

Did you have a mentor when you started as an artist?

Who inspired you to become an artist?

What surprised you as you worked on that piece?

Where do you see your work going next?

What art books do you recommend?

What question do you wish people would ask you about your work?

Where do your ideas come from?

What’s the key to your growth as an artist?

What advice would you give your younger artist self?

What do you collect?

Please leave your favorite questions below! Thanks for reading.

how to find your voice

How to Find Your Artistic Voice

  • In the art world, grand gestures and schemes may make a splash, but they often die just as quickly. Creating with your true, authentic voice, however, resonates long after you set down your brushes or camera or chisel.
  • Children learning to speak don’t think about finding their “voice”; it’s already inside them. Children simply want to communicate. 
  • Don’t worry about finding your own voice, you already have one. Focus instead on what you’re wanting to express. Let yourself become genuinely curious–obsessed even–and your voice will take care of itself. 

The Ripple Effect of Small, Kind Gestures

One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Every time I watch it, I am reminded that it’s not the grand gesture but the many small things we do and say each and every day that makes a difference. We may not even know we made a difference, but the person on whom those kind words and deeds landed has been forever changed.

Like the opening quotes to this blog. They’re from abstract artist David Michael Slonim. David cracks me up. He can be going through some serious shit and he still finds humor in life. For example, he often tells students who are getting down on themselves and saying things like ‘this is no good,’ or ‘I don’t know why I’m even trying to make art,’ and ‘I’ll never find my own voice,’ that he’s going to charge them a dollar every time they make a disparaging comment about themselves–not because he wants them to stop, he explains, but because he needs the money. Ha. Funny guy.

But that’s not why I want to make sure you get the transcript of my interview with David. It’s because I really want you to have his uplifting message in your mind as you head into the new year.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. To listen to the entire conversation, please click on the link...

ROSE: Hello, David! I remember when I first met you, you were painting landscapes and then, suddenly, something changed….

DAVID: I remember that so very clearly. I had been a landscape painter for 18 years, painting outdoors from life. But I was also very interested in learning what it was about an image that moved a viewer emotionally. I was constantly scouring art books to figure out how an artist would do it. I was looking at Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Pablo Picasso  (1881-1973) and Marc Chagall (1887-1985). 

One of the things I began to do was pay attention to the artists whose work was disturbing to me but also kept attracting me.

ROSE: OK, wait, I just want you to repeat that: you paid attention to work that disturbed you?

"Woodlands No 14," 2013, 30 x 24 inches, David Michael Slonim, oil

The Importance of Discontent

DAVID: I did. But I don’t mean disturbed as in “repulsed.” I mean, I didn’t understand it, but I felt compelled to keep engaging with it. There was something going on that was attractive; the disturbing part was that I didn’t understand it.

I was looking at Cezanne breaking nature into little mosaics of color. Well, that’s not photographic realism. That’s not even representation in the way I learned how to do it in college. 

And I was looking at Picasso, right, and he’s breaking nature into different sorts of chunks of parts and pieces. At first that’s disorienting—and I think it is for lots of people—and it took years of thinking about that before I understood what was happening.  

Cezanne
Dow
Picasso

It was Cezanne who really unlocked it for me, in combination with reading Robert Henri’s (1865-1929) “The Art Spirit,” and “Composition,” by Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), who was Georgia O’Keeffe’s (1887-1986) mentor. He wrote that book in 1899, so these ideas have been around for at least a 100 years out there in the public. 

So here it is. Are you ready for it?

Music for Your Eyes

ROSE: Yes….

DAVID: Abstract art is music for your eyes.

ROSE: Oh, I like that!

DAVID: So, what that means is that there is no game being played on you; this is not a scam. There’s no charlatan activity involved here. What this is is tones arranged in space to please the eye and to move the soul. In that sense it’s the same as music. Music is tones in time to please the ear to move the soul. So, anyone who loves music, loves abstract art, they just don’t know it by that name.

Every time you listen to any piece of music—especially instrumental music—you are listening to an abstract arrangement of tones and it’s moving you emotionally. Abstract painting is doing that same thing but it’s doing it visually. Instead of through the ear, it’s through the eye. It’s an abstract arrangement of tones that move you emotionally.

Painting is an abstract arrangement of tones that moves you emotionally.

Recognize Your Voice

I learned that by staring at Cezanne for years then staring at nature. I began to be fascinated by how it’s the underlying abstract structure of a painting that moves you whether we’re talking about Rembrandt or Sargent or Cezanne or Rothko. The issue isn’t whether it’s realism or abstraction on the surface; the issue is the arrangement of shapes, colors, values, and textures—what’s the visual “musicianship” behind it.

With a permission slip from Paul Cezanne, I would happily go out in the woods and begin breaking down what I was seeing into textural patterns of color shapes. And I remember on March 19, 2013, I painted one of those from memory in my studio, and I remember looking at that painting and realizing: I understand what this is. I saw a door open for me. And I said right then and there, “I now not only aspire to be an abstract painter, I am one and I know why.”

Listen to Your Voice

"Woodlands No. 56," 2015, David Michael Slonim, 38 x 28 inches, oil

ROSE: Part of the reason I wanted you to repeat that comment about looking at work that got under your skin is because I think that is the key to really understanding art but also to understanding yourself.

DAVID: Yes, really well said. Because, if it’s resonating with you, there is something already present in your soul or your spirit or your emotional makeup that hears its name being called. That’s what’s happening: the art is calling to you. And there’s a part of us—and this was true for me—where that made me uncomfortable because I didn’t understand that part of me and I didn’t understand what was happening in the art.

ROSE:  There’s a fear, I would think, as an artist, to follow that voice because this is your livelihood. If you take a turn away from what you’re known for, you have to hope everyone comes along with you.

DAVID: For me, I would describe it rather than a sharp turn, it feels like a natural progression. I would describe my realism period as booster rockets that fell away but the trajectory stayed the same. I’m still going to the moon; I just don’t need the booster rockets anymore.

ROSE: I love that. That’s a great analogy.

DAVID: One thing that staring at Picasso and Joan Miro (1893-1983) and Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) and Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and others did for me is it demolished any reluctance to be whimsical or playful as a form of high art.

Oh, Be Joyful!

I grew up listening to jazz. I played trombone and was in a jazz band and orchestra. If you think about what jazz music is, there’s a structure of chord progression and rhythm that’s laid down and then the instrumentalists improvise over the top of that. For me, painting is really similar. I create this color situation with the chords then—with this particular painting—I made up my mind to do a jazz solo and it’s going to be one take only. I’m going to paint an improvisational line intuitively and slowly. 

marketing your art
"The Juggler No. 1" David Michael Slonim, 20 x 16 inches, oil on canvas

When Voice Is Given Room to Speak

DAVID: When a collector is experiencing something with a painting, it’s a good idea to consider what is moving you and firing your imagination. As you sit with the work and answer that question, it becomes more personal to you.

ROSE: It’s interesting to hear you talk about self-interrogation versus trying to wrangle a piece into submission. It sounds like, possibly, you are coming at it with more of an emotional IQ?

DAVID: Yes, I think so. One of the pieces of feedback I received from a collector through a gallery—he owns 20-25 pieces of mine—I heard that he said he deals with numbers all day, he’s a very high level executive. He said, “I love coming home to this work because it opens a whole new part of my brain and whole new emotional space that I don’t get to live in during the day.” That really meant a lot to me.

ROSE: And, of course, art and music have mathematical connections.

Permission to Play

DAVID: Right, but with painting, it’s intuitive so it’s coming from a sub-conscience place for me. Obviously, there’s geometry involved here but the geometry is above my pay grade. I’m just the low level guy who’s playing with the stuff; I don’t actually understand the stuff. What’s interesting to me is that a lot of my collectors are surgeons or mathematicians or doctors. I think it’s because they’re using the mathematical part of their brain all day long and they’re using it in a very technical and sequential way; I think my art helps to free up what’s already there, that’s knocking on the door, saying, “Hey, this part of you is allowed to come out and play too.”

ROSE: So, in a sense, your work is giving them permission to play?

DAVID: I think that may be true. I had a collector who did a lot of business around the world and attended a lot of fundraisers—formal, very proper, very polite—but with me there was a lot of just laughing our heads off. I love that I was one of the few people in his life who got to have that experience with him. I wonder and I hope that my work can be that for people. It has a playful streak; that’s what I aspire to.

The Origins of Authentic Voice

ROSE: For artists and collectors alike, I think, so many things we’ve talked about are vital to consider. Ultimately, viewing art should feel like you’ve met the artist, whether the artist is there or not, which is the artist’s authentic voice coming through.

DAVID: Something that’s been really fun over the years doing this work is that when I sit back and look at it, I think it’s some of the most authentic work I’ve ever done. I’m working with line. I’m working with planes of color, mostly flat, and there’s a sense of whimsy and playfulness to it.

We were talking about being authentic. When I look back at my own history, I realize that my father took me out to fly box kites, which are planes of color with light coming through them, connected to a line connected to love and, in my dad’s case, a very playful personality. And before I could speak, I was given this toy, a Playplax. I was probably 1 ½ or 2 when I started building with the Playplax, which is made of translucent planes of color.

Oh! And then, my mother had a Picasso print in the kitchen and a replica of an Alexander Calder mobile, a Henry Moore (1898-1986) book out in the living room, a VanGogh Sunflower print in the bedroom. So, I grew up with some of the finest examples of modern art in the background of my life.

ROSE: So, this is you….

The Work Is You & You Are the Work

DAVID: Right. I’m not putting on an act. I’m not asking what will sell—I never do that. But it is so helpful to be able to look at this wall behind me and recognize that this is completely honest to who I am whether anybody else enjoys it or not, it doesn’t matter. This is me. This is real. This is my honest presentation of who I am.

I love when my work connects with people because it connected with me first. 

I don’t know if people know this about artists but there is this moment in the studio when you’re struggling with something that doesn’t seem to be working. And you’re thinking, am I a fool, should I even have tried this? Should I throw it away and start something new? And then you press through, and this thing clicks to a harmony and it’s like Adam taking his first breath—it’s alive. It’s resonating with you, speaking with you. I sit back every time and think, ‘how did that happen?’ Every time I get to experience that shock of realizing this thing is living and breathing. Then to put it out in the world and have that happen for someone else doubles the gift.

The Gift of the Journey

"Sonny Loves Cha Cha" 2021, David Michael Slonim, 22 x 30 inches, oil on paper

ROSE: Perhaps too, having enough faith to persevere is a gift we give ourselves. I was talking to a sculptor who said there’s a point in the creation of a sculpture when it’s done, the spirit is in it.

 DAVID: Yes. And for me there’s a quiet that comes over me, a sense of peace. And it’s startling and wonderful. 

The Ultimate Human Connection

DAVID: That’s what I’m working for, that’s what this is about: dare I say, joy. That’s what I’m sharing, that’s why people collect because they’re getting that sense of peace and joy. Beauty is a powerful thing. Harmony is a powerful thing, and it does something to our souls.

ROSE: I think that’s right. I know it’s right. It’s kind of miraculous that you get to live in that space, creating it, and that you get to give it away. I think when you’re being that truthful and you put it out in the world and let people comment on it, I can see how a lot of artists would not want to do that.

DAVID: For me, there’s always a little bit of that struggle, but because I know why I’m painting what I’m painting, and where it comes from, I know this is actually me. There’s a freedom in that. It’s OK if it only gets three likes…I’m not thrown off by that. If I were looking to the crowd, asking someone to tell me what to do, then, yeah, that would be very disconcerting. Maybe it’s partly my age, I’ve been doing this a long time, and there’s this freedom that comes with loving and respecting the audience enough to give them what’s true about me because I think it’s also true about them.

And I think, when they hear their name called through the art, there’s this gratitude that wells up in the collector. I’ve had people hug me through their tears, as they’re writing the check, because they’ve just been given a piece of themselves back that they didn’t even know they were missing. 

That’s what’s so powerful about this: if I can be my authentic self, I’m actually giving a gift to my audience out of respect for them and it’s something they didn’t know to ask for in advance. And that’s part of this whole transaction that fascinates me. I’m so thankful to be part of that weird world where that even happens.

DAVID: I'd like to end with this...

We're all on a journey, so wherever you are on the journey, I want to encourage you to keep going. Learn to trust your responses to art. When a piece of art moves you, when you feel it in your body, know that there's something inside your soul that knows your own name when you hear it.

Want more conversations with artists? Check out our series of talks here...

Check out these blogs packed with helpful conversations and insights for artists.

Art Forgeries Kenneth Rendell

Don’t Get Fooled Again

Oh, how I love juicy art forgery stories! Those fabulous tales of deception and greed, peppered with mafioso and Nazis and dubious art world figures always add a sense of adventure to our otherwise sleepy industry. So, when I got word that Kenneth Rendell, one of the foremost authorities on and authenticators of historic documents—and the great spoiler of some of the most audacious forgeries ever—had released a book, I jumped at the chance for an interview.

Kenneth Rendell Safeguarding History

In his new memoir, Safeguarding History, Trailblazing Adventures Inside the Worlds of Collecting and Forging History, Rendell takes us behind the scenes as he debunks the Hitler diaries (here’s a fascinating article from the New Yorker you might enjoy), the Salamander Mormon letters and murders, the Jack the Ripper Diary hoax, and others, as well as how he meticulously curated renowned private and public libraries across the country, earning him the title, as Stephen Ambrose puts it, ‘the greatest collector in the world’. 

I talked with Rendell about his work in the field of historic documents, why he’s so passionate about setting the record straight, and what tips he has for collectors to help them avoid being hoodwinked.

I'm in a world where you have to be very careful about what you're doing. I always have to be vigilant.

As any serious collector of historic works from documents to fine art and antiques can tell you, the market is riddled with forgeries. In the world of collectible objects, the conditions that set the stage for forgers to succeed are numerous. But, when you know what you’re looking for, forgeries often reveal themselves as pretty bad knock-offs. And yet, even when all signs point to fakery, why do seasoned collectors fall prey to swindlers? According to Rendell, it often comes down to human behavior and wishful thinking.

How Badly Do You Want It

“I think the key to it is self-analysis,” Rendell says. He suggests collectors develop a healthy inner skeptic when considering the purchase of historic objects. Start by asking yourself what you want out of the purchase—are you hoping to make money or beat out the competition, for example—and then think about what factors will make you go through with the deal. “That’s where you’re vulnerable,” he says. “That’s where you’re not being careful enough.”

The Hitler diaries and Jack the Ripper diary are excellent examples. The bogus Hitler documents were brought to light by a reporter who wanted to break the story and who had ties with Nazis. The editors at Newsweek, who were about to publish the Hitler diaries, were thrilled they were beating out Time Magazine for the scoop. Similarly, with the Jack the Ripper diary hoax, Time Warner was focused on the prospect of selling hundreds of thousands of copies. “It blinded them” Rendell says. “Jack the Ripper was so wrong.”

Winning Lottery Ticket

As a keen observer, Rendell possesses the uncanny ability to cut through the hype and hone in on the troubling issues that are often painfully obvious. In the case of the Jack the Ripper diary, he offered the British publisher who bought the forged manuscript for a sum that he probably couldn’t have afforded, 25 forensic reason why the manuscript was a fraud. Then Rendell asked to talk to the person who first discovered the manuscript, to which the publisher responded, ‘Oh, he’s dead.’ “The critical person is always dead in these situations,” Rendell says and recalls how the publisher responded. “The publisher said to me, and he said it in a really sad way: ‘You don’t understand, this is my winning lottery ticket in life.’ That’s what he was grasping, his winning lottery ticket. The people doing the fraud contacted the right kind of person to get it into the marketplace; someone who would latch on to it as the greatest thing that could happen.”

Follow the Provenance Trail

Another critical component to authenticating historic works is provenance. Think of provenance as the paper trail of an object. This is where collectors really need to be weary. “I used to say to other dealers, always think about what you’re going to say to the FBI when they sit there and ask you how in the world you think you could have gotten title to this? What are you going to tell them?”

In other words, if it’s too good to be true…ask more questions. Rendell says to come right out and ask dealers how they know the object is genuine. And he recommends only working with people you can take to court if things go sideways.

Provenance, however, is getting trickier because forged documents have been slipped into libraries and collections and, over time, because no one questioned them, they have become accepted. “I just saw a forged Oscar Wilde manuscript—it was atrocious. I could have done a better job. It didn’t look anything like Oscar Wilde,” Rendell recalls of the manuscript that had been placed in a library’s collection in the 1920s. “Nobody really compared writing samples; that manuscript was slipped into the collection before people were intelligently looking at things. How many documents got into libraries, then somebody writes about it and subsequent researchers don’t look at the original material but base their research on what other people wrote.”

Inside the Mind of a Criminal

Rendell does admit that his cautious nature has probably cost him the opportunity to buy a few authentic documents, but he says he prefers to err on the side of caution. “I don’t think I’m overly suspicious but honestly, I think it adds to the enjoyment; you have a much nicer relationship with people if you are really considering them.”

“The other thing,” he adds about the pursuit of collecting is that it’s an intellectual process and an escape from the horrible news that’s going on in the world today. “You go to a museum to look at paintings and it changes your mood. You read books and you feel good, so your guard is really down. These are places in which you don’t ever have to have your guard up.” Besides, most collectors are honest and would never think of defrauding someone. “It occurred to me, in the old days in New York when muggings were such a problem that good people are scared to death in a mugging, they’re the deer caught in the headlights. But the mugger is relaxed, they control the timing—they have an enormous advantage.”

“My whole life has been about the complexities of human nature—good and sometimes bad. Understanding the people on the other side of something is always so important. You need to think like them,” he says. “It doesn’t mean you become them.”

The World's Greatest Collector

Recently, at a dinner party, Rendell was asked to speak about his work. He began by saying, “You know what you learn from reading other people’s mail? Everyone’s teenagers are a pain in the ass.” The room lit up, of course, because most everyone could relate. “Dwight Eisenhower,” he continued, “wrote to his wife almost every other day during the war. He was talking about what’s happening with their son. His letters, they’re very human. It’s quite fantastic, everything is handwritten”

Rendell then told the dinner guests about a letter George Washington wrote to a friend confessing his fear that people had put him on a pedestal, that he didn’t win the war, the soldiers did, and that people were expecting so much of him, he could only fail. “Dwight Eisenhower,” Rendell says, “wrote out on presidential stationary that that is exactly how he felt: ‘everyone credited me with winning the war, which is just unfair. And they expect so much of me as president that I can never fulfill these ideas people have.’ ”

Though the sensational forgeries jump off the pages of his memoir, it is Rendell’s deep reverence and passion to preserve the words and deeds of historic figures that drive him. “My ultimate goal is for people to understand each other as human beings and to understand how much more we have in common. To get involved with my work, you have to be interested in something other than yourself. If more people would be open about their feelings, they would find out they’re not nuts. People would feel a bond. You can have different opinions and not see the other person as a villain. If you read letters of other people in history, you see them as real people.”

When his daughter was young, she asked if he believed in ghosts. “Now this is a question where you’re going to disagree,” Rendell recalls. “But I said, ‘yes, I do.’” Taken aback, his wife admonished him, but he stuck to his guns, explaining that his vast collection of historic documents and manuscripts was indeed filled with ghosts, their words, and deeds, and they spoke to him through time. “All those things are alive, and their spirit is alive today.”

Want More Good Reads, Check Out These Books

I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Art Forger, Frank Wynne, 2006. The tale of Hans van Meegeren the disillusioned Dutch painter who turned to forgery and caught the eye and won the patronage of Nazi leader Hermann Goring.

Provenance: How a Con Man and Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art, Laney Salsbury. One of the 20th century’s most audacious frauds, this book reads like a thriller as you follow along with the deception that allowed for hundreds of forged works to find their way into museums and private collections around the world.

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, Robert K. Wittmann, founder, FBI Art Crime Team. A wild ride-along with the FBI agent who caught countless art thieves, scammers, and black-market traders and rescued some of history’s greatest treasures.

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger, Ken Perenyi, 2013. Art forger Perenyi tells the story of his 30 year career forging fake paintings that went on to sell at both Christies and Sotheby’s until the FBI brought him down. Perenyi walks you through the steps he took to create near-detection proof work.

Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters & Documents, Kenneth Rendell, University of Oklahoma Press. The standard reference book to help collectors understand forgery detection and educate themselves on the commonalities most forgeries share.

Please share your favorite art books! I'll pass along your suggestions. Thanks for reading!!

Pricing art and the Gender Gap

Pricing Art: The Gender Gap

I’ve written about how art is priced in the blog Making Sense of the Price of Art, but the gender gap in pricing is a bit more nuanced. And, yes, it’s still a thing.

Let’s dive in.

The Numbers Don't Lie

According to an article published in Forbes, Aug 2022, titled “The $192 Billion Gender Gap in Art,” of the $196.6 billion spent at art auctions between 2008 and 2019, work produced by women accounted for only $4 billion, or around 2% of the total sales.

At auction, the gap is quite striking. Consider the $450 million paid at auction for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” compared to the record for a female artist–less than 10% of that value–$44.4 million for Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1.” 

pricing art image

How about sales for living artists? Here Jeff Koons holds the record of $91 million for “Rabbit.” The closest woman: Jenny Saville’s “Propped” went for $12.4 million; that’s 14% of what the Koons went for.

Of course, historically women weren’t allowed to make art as anything beyond a polite distraction, with the exception of such trailblazers as Camile Claudel (1864-1943), Rosa Bonhuer (1822-1899), and Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1952/53). And for many female artists such as Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), access to subject matter as well as the freedom to have a career outside the home was strictly dictated and often forbidden. Thus the dearth of women artists.

How Women& Their PRices Prices Stack Up, A Snapshot

Forbes analysts also found these fun facts:

  • Art by women sells for 42% less then men. (See “Gendered Prices” from Oxford Academy.)
  • Phos One‘s analysis of 18 major museums shows 87% of collections are make and 85% are white. 
  •  According to research by Helen Gorrill in “Women Can’t Paint: Gender, the Glass Ceiling and Values in Contemporary Art,” when men sign a work of art, it increases in value; however, when women sign their work, it decreases in value. 
  • Mary Ann Sieghart on BBC Sound in the episode, “Recalculating Art,” uncovers many truths like the research that people can’t tell if something was painted by a man or woman, however, people preferred paintings attributed to a man, whether they were painted by a man, woman or AI. Further, she notes that in Gombrich’s “The Story of Art,” a book used as a textbook for college students, only one female artist is mentioned.
  • 70% of students in art school are women, and yet, in the art world, this is reversed when it comes to validation of an artist: 70% of artists in galleries and, thus, work in collections and awards go to men.

The Pricing Conundrum: Western Auctions

OK, apply all the above to non-blue chip women and it’s more the same. Here’s where it gets personal.

A friend of mine had been asked to take part in a Western themed auction held annually in Wyoming. She created a painting for the auction–a truly wonderful piece that pushed her out of her comfort zone–but when she went to price that painting, she faltered. 

Was she, she wondered, undervaluing herself and her work once again?

There are layers to this pricing conundrum. 

First and foremost, auctions are not usually kind to living artists, man or woman. Here’s why. 

When art goes into an auction, the auction house starts bidding well below retail, often half. The thinking is that a good auctioneer can whip the crowd into a frenzy, pitting bidders against each other. If the auctioneer can get several people to dig in their heels, game on. The key is “several” bidders have to want the art. Oh, and at least two interested bidders need to show up. That means the weather needs to cooperate or their internet needs to be working or they have to remember the auction is happening and they can’t get sick or have any kind of emergency that calls them away. Lots of ifs….

Let’s say all that happens, the artist is still put in the crappy position of seeing their work open at 50% of retail, because retail pricing doesn’t encourage competition since buyers can, auction houses insist, buy art anywhere at retail, so what’s the fun in that? 

For artists, it’s only fun when their work goes for a price over retail. Otherwise, auctions are purely an anxiety-ridden experience that does nothing more than shave precious years off the artist’s life.

The Rules Apply

For some reason, the Western US market for Realism treats art sales like cattle at a live stock auction. Auctions are the antithesis of high-brow East Coast sales where people dress in Dior and talk in hushed tones while sipping champagne. No, Western Art auctions are ruckus affairs straight out of a wild west show. Instead of cowboys getting trampled, however, we stand back and watch our artists get thrown.

Personally, I don’t understand it and have avoided working on auctions at all costs. But when it’s part of the milieu, what can you do but play along? 

My friend knows all this and still she asked me what I thought might happen if she raised her prices for the upcoming auction, the one where she’d plan to submit that killer new work. treats

The thing is, she wasn’t thinking of just upping her prices; she was thinking of doubling them to align her retail with that of the men in the auction.

Keeping an Open Mind

I listened carefully as my friend laid out her reasoning, but I knew this was a bad idea. 

In a nutshell, she agued the following:

1. She’d been painting as long as many of the artists in the show, thought not as long as most.

2. Her prices were, compared to her peers, half that of the men. 

3. She always sold well at this particular auction.

4. She would be featured that year in a pre-auction collector get-together, so she’d be getting a little more attention on her work.

5. She’d heard whispers that some artists increased their prices for auctions and major shows, so why was she the only one following the rules?

But double?

“I started thinking,” she said, “men were inflating their prices for the auction. So I went through past show catalogues and looked at prices, it looked like that was the case. And I thought, ‘are you fucking kidding me?’ And they’re getting it, the work is selling at those prices.”

Then she went to gallery websites and saw they actually hadn’t inflated their prices for the auction; that the men were indeed getting higher prices than the women. 

“The veil was lifted; I felt this huge gap,” she confided. “There are 16 women and 86 men in that auction. I spent a little time going back to see where women’s work was priced and I do think, overall, we do price at a lower threshold, despite having similar credentials.” 

In this sense, if she doubled her price for the auction, she’d still be well within the range of the other works for sale.

Pricing: A Double Edged Sword

My advice:

Do not double your price for this one painting in this one event. 

Why:

Collectors do their homework. They will look up your prices–just like my artist friend did when comparing her work to her peers. They will see you put an unreasonable price on that one painting and will pass. 

But if it’s a great painting, isn’t it worth more?

Nope. Not when you’re a living artist who is still actively making art. I’ve stated this before, but it bears repeating: Artists are poor judges of their work. They feel like they accomplished something, and they probably did, but in the grand scheme of things, the accomplishment may be relatively minor. Or it may be monumental but collectors rarely see or know this has happened. What collectors see is that an artist has raised their prices too high, too quickly. Collectors may stick with an artist, calculating the increased value in the work they currently own, but they often won’t buy more. In fact, the collectors who watch the market may be considering selling that work and trading up for something else.

The Race Is Won By the Sure & Steady

Despite the fact that several artists did pad their prices, she hung with the majority who kept to their retail across the board. She did take a small price increase, but planned to do so anyway–she takes a 5-10% increase every January.

“You have to look at this through a bigger lens,” she said, of her decision. Once her price was determined, the bigger issue was then, where to start the reserve, which artists were given the opportunity to increase.

“What will be the lasting impression,” she wondered, when thinking through the ramifications of changing the reserve, “from a collector’s experience, if they see your work go for half the retail? But consider being the artist whose painting goes for $3,000 over. That leaves the collector watching and thinking, ‘this isn’t an artist who has shot the moon; I should get in there and buy her work.'” 

The director of the auction, in a preliminary conversation leading up the event, mentioned that she thought her price increase was smart, and that they were getting a lot of good feedback on her work. Yet, she was still feeling unnerved.

“I was feeling gender gap issues and what the numbers seemed to be doing in my head,” she said. “After our conversation, it helped me think about how to position myself in a good way.”

She went on to express her frustrations with the whole Western market and auction system.

“Big picture, there’s something about the auction; it’s a nerve-wracking experience,” she said. “I feel a lot more “good old boy’s club” at these traditional shows. I painted to a scene that, for me, feels more masculine. For the first time, I depicted an historic “comment” on the western world. I love the painting but every time I see it it feels like I painted one of the boys’ paintings as a woman. I even questioned that if they didn’t know it was me–a woman–how would it sell?”

Though she believes these are merely her own insecurities, she recalled being at a show and talking to a group of women. “One of the gals was looking through the roster and said, ‘Oh, my god! Where are the women?'” 

Back to Square One

As women’s voices grow stronger and they take on work and subject matter that is vital and compelling, the question of parity remains. I asked her why she believed men in the Western art/Realism market command higher prices?

“A man’s stance on the West is the cowboy because that’s what men did. A bunch of women on a cattle drive, that didn’t exist. A woman’s experience is more of place and home. Yes, there are modern cowgirls but the glamorous roles were male,” she said, and added, “That’s one of the reasons why I paint the landscape; there is a sense of place that holds many stories and doesn’t differentiate between gender.”   

Maybe the bigger question is: why do women feel the need to compete with this subject matter in the first place? Maybe this is part of the gender-gap in pricing; we’ve come to believe the stereotypes and women don’t fit in them neatly. In fact, women don’t fit the stereotype of artist as professional and so are treated as if they are working at a nice hobby. But when a man enters into that world it’s like, ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ His work and choice of career lands differently.

And yet the vicious circle spins: The majority of art we see is by men; it’s familiar; we studied it and were taught it’s importance and value. If collectors don’t understand the worth of a woman’s work–because the market doesn’t support that at sales and auctions–how can women ever break through?

“The cowboy and Indians, horses, tipis, white men painting Native Americans,” she said, “really bothers me. These are depictions of things that happened in the 1880s. But they still get gobbled up.” 

Post Auction Blues

I heard from my friend in a text she sent from the road as she was headed home from the auction weekend. It did not go well. Her painting went for under the reserve; she was devastated. In the weeks since, my friend looked back a bit more wistfully. “I’m proud to be one of the female voices; it’s really important that we are in there. If we all bail, that doesn’t help us. I am part of that movement, that presence. We need that counter-voice.”

As for the sale, she also heard from the organizers, who were roundly disappointed in the sale, that no one did well. Perhaps, I mused, it’s time they rethink their structure and motivation, maybe start listening to the artists?

The numbers went like this:

103 paintings and sculpture

16 women and 87 men

20% of the art went for asking or above

43% sold for 75% of asking or lower

12% were bought-in (unsold because they didn’t meet reserve)

The day after the auction there is a quick draw. My friend didn’t participate this year, but related the story of what happened in a previous year. 

Artists set up in a crowded plaza to paint while spectators mill about asking questions and making comments on the work. After the allotted time runs out, the artists set down their brushes and their paintings are judged, someone wins a prize, then the artists are told to line up and parade their work, when called, before the audience who gets to, once again, bid.

“I fucking killed it,” she said of her on-the-spot painting. “I represented myself very strongly.” The guy who won the Quick Draw, she told me, did a small sketch painting. “Something about the way the auctioneer worked the crowd didn’t sit well with me. He put his arm around that young guy and they were laughing and joking; he was the favorite, I guess. It just felt that way. It wasn’t cool.” 

Please feel free to share my blog with anyone who would benefit from it. And if you have a topic you’d like me to explore, please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading! If you haven’t already subscribed, please do so HERE

artists marketing colorado

What Inspires An Artist’s Work?

Humans are hardwired for stories. Stories came before written words. Stories, passed down through time, have kept us out of harm’s way, helped raise our children, and formed communities and cultures. 

As an artist, you spend your days telling stories in paint or clay or photographs or bronze. Because art it, at it’s core, stories. 

These stories are what collectors want to hear and learn. I’ve heard many artists say, “My art stands on its own; I shouldn’t have to explain it.” To which, I say: “Good luck with that.”

Artists, please, for the love of god, understand that there is a gap between your work and your audience. Yes, collectors could take art classes and learn the amazing techniques you’ve just wowed them with, but they don’t want to. What they want is to live with art and to feel connected to the art they collect. Technique is not that connection. Stories are the connection.

This is why I want you to tell your stories in a blog. The stories are not always exciting or earth-shattering; they often are simply the idea or feeling or emotion that was passing through while you worked. 

Tell the Story, Connect the Dots

artists marketing colorado

Creating a blog does something else that is quite remarkable. It acts like your personal magazine filled with ads focused on you.

This is the best marketing you have at your disposal. And it forms the Artist’s Marketing Trifecta: Blog + Newsletter + Social Media.

Each of these things done alone helps, but when done together, they’re art marketing magic.

What's the difference?

Blog:

Lives on your website

Creates great SEO even while you sleep

The perfect reason for collectors to return to your website

Newsletter:

Individual email, sent and gone

Doesn’t live on your site

Announces current happenings and, if done right, should send people back to your website

Social media:

Lives on someone else’s platform

Proprietary

Should be used to announce new blog, which drives people to your website

Let's make it easy

I am so dedicated to getting you to create blogs and effective newsletters as a way to market your art online that I’m teaching Blogging with Pictures every other month. I developed this workshop to make it easy. We use your art and tap into the stuff you know like the back of your hand. 

I give you templates and go over all the basics. Then we make blogs and post them to your website.

Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy. 

Artist Bloggers Show and Tell

Blogs come in all shapes and sizes. There are lots of analytics about what works and the best length of a blog, but the reality is that any blog written on a topic you know well is a great online marketing for your art.

Still feeling a bit dubious? Check out these blogs from artists who have taken my workshops…

In this blog, Jan R. Carson talks about her work but does so by telling a story of how one piece came into being after watching a paper wasp build her nest. It’s a fascinating blog that let’s us into her process and educates us with her knowledge of insects.

Queen Paper Wasp Encounters

My interactions with insects have become a dynamic influence on my artistic process. Paper wasps love to build their nests on the eaves outside my textile art studio in northern Colorado. Each spring I use the handle of a metal rake to scrape off the nests before they get going. The key is to remove the nest when the queen is out foraging, which is usually in the strongest heat of the day. This means I spend some time watching the queen build. This also means I start developing a bond with her. After all, she did pick my house. To me, that feels like some kind of compliment.

READ THE BLOG

Pati Stajcar decided to answer a frequently asked question: how do you get all this heavy sculpture to an art exhibit? In her blog she takes us behind the scenes as she and her husband travel to the Easton Waterfowl Festival.

Travel Blog: Easton Waterfowl Festival, Easton, Maryland

July 21, 2023

The sounds of semi trucks and car doors invade my sleep. I have a wildlife art show in three days. My body is stiff as I carefully stretch to ease the pain. I can’t see even though my eyes are open it is unnaturally dark. Oh yeah, I have my hat down over my eyes to shut out the glare from the lights in the parking lot. The fog of sleep is lifting as the sun rises. This is day two on the road. Have sculpture, will travel. My husband Dave and I are sleeping in our van at a rest stop. Kansas or Missouri? Put the coffee on, things will come into focus.

READ THE BLOG

Here’s one by Suzanne Storer, a ceramic artist. Suzanne’s work is incredibly unique. Her blog sheds light on her subjects–homeless men and women–and gives us valuable insights into their lives, Suzanne’s process and her fervent desire to make sure these people are seen.

HE WAS TRYING HARD TO STAY HEALTHY.

THEY KICKED HIM OUT OF AN AA MEETING

BECAUSE HE BROUGHT IN HIS BACKPACK. 

HE HAD NOWHERE SAFE TO PUT IT.

READ THE BLOG

OK, one more. Cody Aljets is a sculptor who literally traded his fire fighter’s helmet for a welder’s helmet. Why? Because his days were numbered…

The thing I didn’t write was: I want to do this before I die of cancer. 

The problem was, I was a ticking time bomb.

It’s October, 2021 and I’m sitting in my Fire Officer One class, distracted with the uncertainties that lay ahead. So many things had transpired in the past years.  

My wife Brieonna and I started building a home while living on our land in an RV with our son Cullem, who was 3 at the time. 

I have been with Crested Butte Fire Protection District since 2013, working full time since 2019. Covid hit everyone’s world hard, but started here in November 2019. 

In April of 2020, I was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer and given less than 10% chance of surviving. Nine months later and 70 pounds lighter, I headed back to work.

READ THE BLOG

Let's Do This

Please consider joining me for a Blogging with Pictures workshop. I want to show you how easy and effective this approach is for marketing your art online. 

And, once you’ve taken a workshop, you can come to any of my virtual office hours on Zoom for help with writing, editing and layout for SEO.

Hope to see you soon!

Here’s a link: WORKSHOPS.

As always, leave a comment with questions and feel free to book a call with me to learn more. Go to my CONTACT page and scroll to appointments.

How to Market Your Art Online

A friend of mine asked if I taught luddite artists how to market your art online. He isn’t really anti-technology but is frustrated. I don’t blame him. The reality is that selling and promoting art online is frustrating because there are so many options from social media to websites to emails. Even more annoying: the technology behind those options is constantly changing.

Social Media & Art Sales

When it comes to marketing your art online, social media seems like the obvious choice. It’s free and can be a fun way to check out what your fellow artists are up to. But it’s a love-hate thing. Social media is a time suck and, more often than not, doesn’t result in sales. And yet, we all–myself included–keep posting.

Here’s the thing, as annoying as it is, I would never tell you to stop posting on social media. Far from it. In fact, you should definitely keep up with it (maybe set a timer so you get off at a reasonable hour) but keep at it because it is helping. It’s just not helping market your art online like you think it should.

Why Social Media Isn't Your Best Selling Tool

I know some art does sell through social media posts, but I’ve never heard of anyone selling there exclusively and consistently. If you are, I’d love to hear from you! 

So, why doesn’t social media work? It’s pretty simply, really.

People who randomly give your post a “like” as they infinitely scroll aren’t engaged enough with your work to make a buying decision.

How Do You Turn Browsers into Buyers?

You see, there’s a missing link between scrolling and buying.

So, you may be wondering, how do you turn “likes” into sales?

Excellent question.

Answer: get scrollers to visit your website and sign up for your newsletter or emails.

Research shows that if a visitor to your website gives you their email, the chances of them becoming a buying client jump dramatically. 

Photo of young women scrolling online

In a March 2023, Snov.io. com, reported that email marketing acquired 40 times more customers than Facebook and Twitter combined with the average click through rates for each channel:

– email marketing (3.57%)
– Facebook (0.07%)
– Twitter (0.03%)

How to Grow Your Email List

The majority of professional marketers believe email is more than twice as effective at generating leads than paid social media. Twice!

In order to effectively market your art online, you need to grow an email list of clients. There are some really important ways to do this. 

  1. Have a sign up form on your website’s footer and contact page.
  2. Ask people to sign up at strategic places throughout your website.
  3. Give visitors to your website a compelling reason to sign up.

Compelling Reason #1: Send Awesome Newsletters

People who give you their email address actually are interested in you and your work. They want to hear from you and may already be contemplating buying something from you. They are your perfect clients and your target audience. 

When it comes to marketing your art online and making sales, your email list holds the greatest opportunity. 

This is why I want you to create effective newsletters (and compelling blogs–I’ll explain next). 

How to Create Awesome Newsletters

Newsletters I receive from artists tend to be focused on sales and promoting the latest painting or awards, workshop schedules, etc. This seems like the obvious reason for a newsletter, right? It is a “news” letter, after all. 

But you’re missing your greatest opportunity to really engage your audience and bring them into your world. 

If you get anything out of this blog, it should be this:

Follow the 80/20 rule: give, give, give away insights and knowledge 80% of the time; ask for something only 20%. 

The Secret to Email Success: Change the Conversation

Here’s a simple fix for newsletters that are always asking for something or sound like bragging. Turn the announcement of a new painting into a conversation about what inspired that painting or, as the case may be, series of paintings (photos, sculptures, etc.). 

EXAMPLE

STANDARD EMAIL: “Hey, I just finished a new painting in my zen series. Here’s a link.” 

CONVERT TO: “I’ve been searching for ways to find peace in my life. As many of you know, I have recently gone through challenging times. This new work started to flow after I took time off to hike and camp out in the desert where I could be in total quiet and calm, away from distractions (no internet service!) that had kept me from facing the difficulties I’ve been working through.”

WHY THIS WORKS

You’re still announcing new work, but now you’re giving insights and personal reflections that will resonate with your reader. If your reader is interested in your work, they will now have a deeper understanding, which is something collectors are always yearning for. 

In other words, you’re giving people the story behind the art. 

And, not only are you giving people a glimpse into your practice, but you are being real and showing them that you–like them–face similar challenges. It’s all about helping.

Ultimately, your clients will feel a connection to you because you are being authentic. They will further feel connected to your work because they too have had to deal with difficulties.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be difficult times. It can be joyful times, too, like the birth of a child or the addition of a new furry friend. 

The thing is, you’re an artist but you’re a human being, too, who is dealing with the same basic needs as every other non-artist. Find connection through the human stuff; use your art as the catalyst for the conversation.

Compelling Reason #2: Blogs

Blogs on your website are akin to having a personal magazine. A blog allows you to do what Social Media won’t: spread out and tell your story. 

Newsletters are the vehicle to drive people back to your website. Blogs are the destination. Newsletter are timely; blogs are usually evergreen. 

Newsletters go out in e-blasts that land in your clients’ inboxes then go away. Blogs stay on your website for years where they remain searchable. Searchable content on your website means it’s constantly working to reach collectors long after you hit publish. Newsletter, on the other hand, are a one-and-done deal. 

5 Reasons Why You Should Blog

  1. Drive people back to your website. The ENTIRE reason to send a newsletter is to bring people back to your website. If you’re not sending them to your website, you are missing a golden opportunity. 
  2. Build SEO. SEO (search engine optimization) is the great, organic stuff you do on your website to get discovered. Having a blog that talks about topics that people looking for work like yours are searching for is better than buying ads or boosting social media posts that are only randomly found. 
  3. Content lives on your site, working long after you hit publish. This content, when done right, keeps working because people from around the world who are looking for answers can find you through your blog content. 
  4. Establishes you as an authority. This space is all yours, and you are an authority on your work, your genre, your materials, your studio, etc. So get out there and talk about it.
  5. It’s shareable. People who read your blog can repost it on their social media or email to their friends. Suddenly you have a sales force out there sharing your insights and driving more people to your website. 

Compelling Reason #3: Use Your Images

You’re an artist. You have images of your work. You don’t have to be a stellar writer to make really great blogs. In fact, you can work magic marketing your art online and create a loyal following by using your images. Here’s how:

  1. Gather together images that have a cohesive theme.
  2. Simmer that theme down to one clear topic that answers a question your audience has.
  3. Make the topic something that people would look up when searching for you. Example: you’re a watercolorist. Collectors of watercolors frequently search “how to display watercolors.” Focus on this searchable topic.
  4. Optimize images for the web (your website will have recommended dimensions and files sizes–check out these standards and convert images appropriately).
  5. Write short paragraphs or longish captions that explain the images and how they help answer the question of how to display watercolors.”
  6. Link out to any and all terms that are appropriate. Using our Watercolor example, you may refer to certain types of glass. Link out to manufacturers of that glass. 
  7. Link internally. Every image on your blog should be linked to the image where it lives on your art page.
  8. Use your key phrase throughout your blog, i.e. repeat your key phrase/established topic.
  9. End your blog with a call to action (CTA). This might be asking them to subscribe to know when your next blog is published or maybe to email with other questions about displaying watercolors (you are the authority, after all). 
  10. Before you hit publish, ask a friend to read for content and typos. If you’re like me, you can find other writer’s typos but not your own.
  11. PUBLISH!
  12. Send a newsletter.
  13. Post your blog on all your social media.

Want Some Help?

Join me for a Blogging with Pictures workshop. I run them monthly. (Yep, that’s a Call To Action, my friend! You’ll learn about those in my workshop, too.)

I'd love to hear from you so, please leave a comment below.

how to succeed as an artist

Talking to Women with Power Tools

How to Succeed as an Artist

Let’s face it, the art business is tough. And the gage of “success” is a moving target. Is it money? Accolades? Galleries and collectors? Museum shows?

Or…maybe true success is found by looking inward. Maybe success comes when you reach the point where your creative vision and expression unite as an authentic work of art?

Inspiration

If successful artists are those who have found the freedom to create and have learned to actualize their vision, then I believe the sculptors in a show I curated for the PACE Center are tremendously successful.

Women with Power Tools,” May 16-July 6, 2023, turned a spotlight on four sculptors who probably don’t spend too much time worry about the definition of success; they simply are successful.

A Note About This Exhibit & Blog

A few years ago, sculptor Autumn T. Thomas told me a story about buying a table saw she needed to create a new series of work.

how to succeed as an artist
Autumn T. Thomas in the studio

She researched the one she wanted and found it at a hardware store. When she finally flagged down a salesman to help her load it onto a cart, he looked at her and said, “You don’t need that.” 

And then he walked away.

I was dumbfounded by this story, though I shouldn’t have been.

Autumn isn’t the first female artist to run up against such chauvinism and won’t be the last. But it got me thinking about the tough-as-nails women sculptors I know who have created important and monumental works, chauvinists be damned.

“Women with Power Tools” isn’t about “women” artists, not really, anyway. It’s about great art. Ingenious art. It’s also about perseverance and determination and the drive to press on past every obstacle, not the least, your body’s physical limitations.

Because the show is comprised of 3D works, I interviewed each artist for didactic wall materials. This blog is an edited version of those interviews and focuses on the qualities I believe make each artist a success.

 A shout out to my dear friend Todd Pierson who photographed the sculptors in their studios, which, for me, was frosting on the cake!

Madeline Wiener, stone sculptor

how to succeed as an artist

My mother saw me as a nice, little housewife. 

“I remember, in my mid-20s, I was running a brush through my hair when my mother walked by and noticed the definition in my arms. She was appalled. She said, “Women are not supposed to have muscles.” I thought, how ridiculous was that? Welcome to the 20th century, Mom.

“I was studying painting at the New York School of Visual Arts. I wanted my paintings to pop off the canvas; I wanted my work to look as dimensional as possible. And I was always sketching sculpture and people. One of my teachers said, “Have you ever thought of carving?”

“For the first seven years I carved in soft stone with a hammer and chisel. I love that sound. The stones were 35-40 pounds—whatever I could carry up two flights of stairs to my studio in New York City.

“Now I’m working in tonnage. I use a folk lift, grinders, diamond cutting tools. I’m 75 years old, so my assistant of the last 40 years does my chainsaw work. I’ve carved more than 60 private and municipal sculptures and learned early on to accept help.

“I had to learn by myself because my stone carving teacher was a bronze sculptor. He didn’t have the knowledge I needed. 

how to succeed as an artist
Madeline Wiener in the studio

The book “Contemporary Stone Sculpture” by Dona Meilach—a woman—taught me everything I needed to know. I still use that book today when teaching new artists. 

“The other person who taught me about power tools was Frank Swanson who put a grinder in my hand and walked away. That grinder started arcing the second I turned it on, and I threw it across the studio floor. When I brought it back to him, he said, “You broke it, you fix it.” It was his mean way of making me become self-sufficient. He did me a favor that I didn’t understand at the time.”

To learn more about Madeline Wiener, visit www.MadelineWiener.com.

Autumn T. Thomas, wood and mixed media sculptor

“I’ve become attuned. If I’m cutting wood and it has tension or a knot, I can feel that through the vibration of the tool, so I know if I should slow down.

how to succeed as an artist

There’s a different language that you learn when working with bandsaws and table saws. Blades sing or vibrate differently.

“There are nuances with power tools. You have to trust the tool’s power and respect it. Once you do that, you can sort of wield its power to your advantage.

“My pieces are fragile. When I started out, it was devastating when something would break. But now I think it’s the nature of art. There are no mistakes. There are no rules. I’m making something that doesn’t exist. I’m making something that no one asked for. If I make a cut too far, I accept it and embrace it. This understanding has allowed me to be freer.

“I’m a spontaneous sculptor. When I’m at the point of cutting the wood, that’s also the point in which I’m developing the idea. When I’m taking away from the wood, this is where I’m embedding my ideas and feelings into the piece. I have to be in tune and focused to be safe. All these ideas and feelings combine with me and the power tool to go into the wood. Once I’m finished cutting, the wood is imbued with emotional power. The final step is to take it from a beautiful piece of wood into a beautiful piece of art.”

To learn more about Autumn T. Thomas, please visit https://atthomas.com.

Pati Stajcar, bronze, wood, and stone sculptor

“I’d always been the wild child. Definitely not a girly-girl. Using power tools was just a means to an end. I never thought I was doing anything different than anyone else.

how to succeed as an artist

I’ve got more diamonds than any woman I know. And they’re all industrial strength.

“When I was learning to carve wood, I only used hand tools. It’s a really good way to learn; you get the feel of the wood. When I got more confident and started using power tools, I had to learn to go slow and work in stages.

“The first thing you have to master is confidence, that you’re not afraid of your tool. That confidence comes with the comfort of the tool in your hand.

“I love mistakes. I have almost never made a piece that came out the way I envisioned it first off. Every time I’ve had an accident—might not even be my mistake, it might be in the material I’m working with, a rotten piece in the middle of the wood—once it’s exposed, I learn how to get around it. If I go in with an open mind and let the wood or marble take me on its journey, it becomes a better piece than I envisioned.”

To learn more about Pati Stajcar, please visit https://stajcar.com.

how to succeed as an artist
Pati Stajcar in the studio

Alex Branch, interdisciplinary

“In college, I had a drawing instructor who made us keep a sketchbook. I started sewing objects onto the pages of mine and attached different materials that made the books become three-dimensional. At one point my teacher told me that was a strength, my use of materials.

how to succeed as an artist

I’ve always liked to take things apart and put them back together.

“I spent a lot of time on a decommissioned lighthouse boat that’s docked on the Hudson River. In the hull, I noticed how the sound from outside resonated like the body of a cello or guitar. And the boat’s rigging lines made it look like an instrument. I thought, what if I intentionally made a hybrid of the two?

“When I was living in New York City, I didn’t have a space to make a boat so, I got a residency in New Mexico, which is ironic because there’s not a lot of water there. I had to make a boat in six weeks. I used an old form of boat building called “stitch and glue,” which is a descendant of the sewn boat building technique.

how to succeed as an artist
Musician playing Alex Branch's Piano Boat for the Rio Grande

“I play guitar but I’m not a musician. I think there’s a difference between someone who plays and someone whose medium is music. I can play my boats but something different happens when a musician plays them.

“It’s mysterious where ideas come from. You get an idea, and you go after it. You catch the scent of it and go after it and you don’t know what will happen along the way.”

To learn more about Alex Branch, please visit https://alexbranch.com.

Subscribe to my blog to get news of new writing, and please feel free to pass on my blog to others. As always, thanks for reading!

How to get into galleries

How to Get Into an Art Gallery

With so many online opportunities to sell your art, a lot of artists are wondering if getting into galleries is worth pursuing. This month I’m exploring the pros and cons of working with a gallery as well as offering professional insights on how to get into a gallery, should you decide to go that route. 

I asked dealers I know to give me their thoughts and best advice. Special thanks to Doug Kacena, K Contemporary, in Denver, Maria Hajic with Gerald Peters, in Santa Fe, and Nikki Todd of Visions West Contemporary, Bozeman, Livingston and Denver, for sharing their thoughts.

Readers, if there’s something I didn’t cover, please leave a comment below so I can answer it for everyone! 

where do you find new artists?

The answer to where dealers find new talent was unanimous: 

1. Art fairs (prime territory to consume a lot of art in person, says Nikki);

2. Instagram;

3. Through trusted artists.

Maria Hajic cites museum shows, independent curators and fellow dealers as other great resources. 

Where dealers are NOT finding new artists?

From people who drop in and make cold calls.

“People do wander in off the streets wanting to show me their portfolio,” Doug Kacena tells me, but warns, “it’s not a good idea.” 

He says the worst possible time to hit up a dealer is during an opening, which happens surprisingly often. “When artists do this,” Doug says, “I usually ask them to imagine this was their opening. How would they feel if my staff and I were off in a corner looking at someone else’s website instead of tending to your work? They usually get it then.”

How to Get Into Galleries
Doug Kacena, K Contemporary Gallery

What About Emails?

Doug put it this way: “Have I brought on an artist from a random email? Yes, but I get more artists through recommendations from artists I currently work with.”

The Big Takeaway

1. Put yourself out there where people in the biz can find you. 

2. Keep your Instagram account populated with strong visual content.

3. Getting seen at an air fair requires a dealer to take you, which may sound like a catch-22, if you don’t have a gallery that attends art fairs. An alternative is to applying to Calls for Entry to shows that dealers working in your genre attend. (Subscribe to my site for my e-Book, “Upping Your Game” for help with this process.)

4. Ask artists you know about their galleries and if they would put in a good word for you. 

How Important Is Your Online Presence?

Social media is definitely a factor these days. And though posting can feel like shouting into the void, there are things you can do to increase your visibility, such as having a business account and using hashtags wisely. 

You should expect that when a dealer does reach out, chances are good that they’ll ask what kind of following you have. 

Beyond social media, make sure you have an up-to-date website. If you don’t have a website or are frustrated with you current site, check out FASO sites. You can be up and running in an hour. 

Other online opportunities include having your work listed on Artsy

“Artsy is gallery driven; you have to be in a gallery to get on Artsy,” Doug says, “which means you’re in important galleries, because Artsy is not cheap, but it’s important. If your gallery puts you on their Artsy account, that means you have a following and an audience of people interested in purchasing your work.” 

Keeping up: Tips for Managing Social Media

Concentrate on just one or two social media outlets. 

Convert those outlets to business accounts and keep your posts professional.

Be positive and spread the love by commenting on other artist’s work and successes. 

Share great posts you see, especially if they’re coming from a gallery you’re interested in joining. 

Set a timer to remind yourself to get off the infinite scroll.

Look into time saving apps such as Later or LinkTr.ee that will help you broadcast to various platforms.

Canva is an invaluable tool for creating exceptional creative materials and they have a feature for scheduling releases over several weeks.

Qualities of a successful Artist-Dealer Relationship

“I look at this as a business partnership,” Doug says. “We do a lot of development strategy with our artists, mainly, how do we get them in front of collectors and in museums? So, for me, I want to know: is the artist all in? Is this their job? Is this how they’re making a living?”

How to Get Into Galleries
Maria Hajic, Gerald Peters Gallery

“Professionalism,” Maria says, citing that this is her favorite trait in an artist because it encompasses things like time management, attention to details and deadlines, and indicates that an artist is a clear communicator, and responsible. 

And she adds, “Honesty, clear boundaries, willingness to collaborate, flexibility, and a sense of humor always help during a rough patch.”

The artists become like family. We are lucky to count several of our artists as close friends. I think when artists really listen to our advice and know that we are striving to advance their careers as much as just selling the art and putting money in their pockets, that's when I feel like we have reached a successful place in the partnership.

Doug adds, “When I sit down with an artist, I am always asking, what’s the next goal, what are we trying to achieve? Each artist is different, and each has a different path, but they are serious; this their career.”

Interestingly, he says having multiple galleries is a good thing. “I don’t think it’s the same for all galleries but I think it’s better to have multiple galleries supporting them. It’s in everyone’s interest.”

How to Approach Galleries: What Not to Do

#1 response: Do NOT show up unannounced. 

“I would advise never just popping in and asking for the work to be looked at on the spot.,” Nikki advises. “We get that so much and it just shows lack of respect for the business and for the artists that are hanging on the walls.”

“Respect our time,” Maria says, and adds, “No cold calls, please. I prefer an email approach as I can give the artist’s submission my full attention when I am free.”

According to Doug, the biggest issue he sees is that many artists are not self-aware. “You have to be honest with yourself about where you really are in your career and ability,” he says. “And if you can visit a gallery in person, do so before reaching out. Get a feel for the price points of the artists that gallery represents.”

how to get into galleries
Nikki Todd, Visions West Galleries

So, though it feels like a catch-22, if your prices aren’t there, hold off on applying until you’ve built your career up to that point where you’re pricing is commensurate with the others in the gallery. 

Another major faux pas is submitting your work to a gallery online when it’s clear you don’t know anything about the gallery, the kind of work they carry, their goals, and mission. 

“I will tell you that 99% of the submissions that come in are from artists who haven’t done their homework. It feels like artists send out blanket submissions–copy and paste–without researching the gallery.”

Fun Fact About Most Dealers

“Even though, on the website, it says we’re not looking at new artists,” Doug says, “I do love looking at art.” He says he used to respond to everyone who emailed but now he doesn’t have time. So, whether you get a response or not, know that Doug, as well as most other dealers, are looking at every single solicitation they get via email.

Tips for Submitting Your Work

Don’t send materials through the mail. No one wants to deal with returning them to you.

Do send via email:

Multiple jpgs of current images

Resume/CV

Artist statement

Cover letter

Do you need help creating cover letters, artist statement, CV and bio? Schedule some time with me to get this done. Click Here and scroll to Calendly to book time.

Is the Process Worth It?

“Galleries are the king and queen makers,” says Nikki. “I don’t think that will ever change. Galleries will take artists to fairs and give exposure that is impossible to achieve from Instagram or a website presence: a brick and mortar place to exhibit; dedicated staff whose sole job is to promote, sell, organize your work and career; and networking with important clients, institutions and museums.”

“If you want to sell online, you have to continually feed that beast,” says Maria,” which takes precious time. Most, though not all, artists would rather concentrate on their art. Cultivating relationships with clients and viewing artwork in person is very different than viewing it online. Of course, a gallery must do both in this digital age. Does an artist have time for all that?”

Doug agrees and adds, “You can’t go to an art fair without a gallery, and every curator in the country shows up to fairs. I know some artists who have gotten big enough that they don’t need a gallery and can do it on their own. But how do you think they got there? Other people were doing the work for them.”

Ultimately, dealers are taking care of you while you’re concentrating on your work. They’re motivated to make sales for you because it keeps their doors open and the lights on. They’ll handle the negotiating with collectors and make sure your work is put in front of the right audience. They speak for you when you’re not around.

 

Final Thoughts: Playing the Long Game

Only you can decide whether it’s worth the effort to get into galleries, but consider the vast benefits that come when you do find the perfect fit. 

Understand that this is a process. You will get rejection letters–or simply not hear back–don’t let that stop you from trying. It’s a business, so keep searching for galleries and dealers who are excited about your work; they’re the ones who will become the kind of partner, promoter, and confidant you most need.

Check out my blog The Artist Curator Relationship for a deeper understanding of the nuances of working with professional dealers and curators. 

Do you need help putting together your presentation pitch to galleries: cover letter, artists statement, CV, etc.? I can tackle this for you. Schedule some time with me to discuss.