Why Some People Almost Always Make Money Selling Their Art

Have you ever known an artist whose work was incredible but they never seem to sell

"Unknown Artist Drowning Girl" by Roy Lichtenstein

anything?  Or what about the opposite?  Have you ever seen an artist whose work was not that great but they sold things all the time and for really high prices?

You’ve probably wondered how this could be.

Some artists, without ever really being conscious of what they’re doing, stumble upon the right combination of marketing and selling strategies.   Their work may not be that great, but something else very powerful is coming into play.

And other artists work hard at their craft and yet never stumble upon the right selling formulas or techniques.   And, sadly, their careers flounder.  As a result, their beautiful work ends up collecting dust in an attic.  Their genius is lost forever. I’ve known artists like this and probably you have too.

Something tells me you’re just … well … smarter than most artists looking to market online.

You’re not interested in lame “get rich quick” schemes. You’re not looking for a magical silver bullet that involves no work, no time, and no sense.

In other words, you don’t have to be Einstein to “get” this stuff. But you’d have to be an idiot to believe some of the stuff peddled by traditional Internet marketing “gurus.”

So what is the dividing line between an artist whose career takes off and an artist whose career flounders?  It’s simple.  It’s the word “sell.”

You Must Learn How to Sell

For many artists the word “sell” is a vulgar word.  I once thought the same way.  I strongly believed that selling was beneath me.  I thought my work would just naturally attract the right people at the right time.

I was once too proud and too arrogant to lower myself to sell.

And then I had an eye-opening experience……

My Story of Learning about Marketing and Selling Art

Roy Lichtenstein, American Pop Art Icon

When I first moved to New York City in 1998, I had a chance encounter with a powerful gallery director from Manhattan.

I met her at a gallery opening and we became good friends. We would often meet for lunch near the SoHo gallery where she worked.

During the course of her incredible career, she had worked side-by-side with the famous American pop art icon Roy Lichtenstein.

She took me under her wing, and over the course of several months, taught me everything she knew about how to make it in the highly competitive New York City art world.

She introduced me to people.  But more importantly, she educated me.

And here is the most astounding thing she told me about Roy Lichtenstein.  She said that he spent 80% of his work week marketing and selling.  And he only spent 20% of his week actually making his paintings.

Think about that for one minute.  That means he only spent about one day a week actually making his paintings.  And the other 4 days of the week he spent selling and marketing.

She told me that Roy Lichtenstein became an art star because he worked very hard at selling and marketing and not because he worked hard at his painting.

She told me that if I wanted to be a successful and highly acclaimed artist, I needed to do the same.

There are many artists who have created great bodies of work.  The problem is, the sale goes not to the best artist, but to those who can sell the best.  In other words, not being able to sell is very expensive.  It costs you untold dollars in lost business!  It can cost you your entire career.

In conclusion….

There’s no way around it.  You must learn how to sell.  You must learn how to sell in-person.  And you must learn how to sell on the internet, through your website or blog.

Remember how I talked about in the first couple of paragraphs of this article how some people just stumble along and by accident learn to sell well.  Don’t rely on accidents when it comes to growing your career.

Find experts who can mentor you in the art of selling.  But choose your experts carefully. 

As you follow along with me through coming articles, I will be teaching you everything that my powerful Manhattan gallery director friend taught me.

Please read these articles carefully.  Learn to sell and your career will always flourish.


About Gary Bolyer Fine Art

I am a New York City-based landscape artist.
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28 Responses to Why Some People Almost Always Make Money Selling Their Art

  1. Russ says:

    Good information.

  2. My “philosophy” regarding art is to work hard and alone in the atelier and try to jump over ones shadow every day. If a work is good enough it shows and things happen… you make me doubt, thank you! Best regards from Switzerland.

    • Hello and thanks for your comments. I like the remark where you say “try to jump over one’s shadow every day.” That’s a great philosophy. But I think this should not only apply to your artistic skills but to your selling and marketing skills as well. Thanks again.

  3. There is something very catchy there…I started painting as a hobby and now I am passionate and find that people ask me to hang paintings. As Carolyn Myss ( a health intuitive) would say: “…the community ordains you as an artist.”
    I look forward to the the next blogs about your experience! Thank you.

  4. Much appreciation for the “timely” information and motivation. I have been scratching my head often for years as to what is out of balance in my painting career and so I look forward to reading more inside and interesting knowledge and obviously to put into my outdated marketing skills. Thankfully my passion is still going.
    Much Thanks.

    • Thanks so much for your excellent comments. I think many artists share your same feelings about their marketing efforts. But you still have the passion to paint and this is key. You passion alone can take you very far. Thanks again.

  5. That was a very eye opening and thought provoking commentary! Selling is such an ongoing process and what a learning curve! You really have to think outside the box! Some ideas work; some don’t….

    • Hello and thanks for your comments. Selling and marketing is a learning curve that is ongoing. I completely agree with you. The idea of my article is that you have to put as much time or more into learning about marketing as you do the art, if you care about selling your work.

      • Learning how to market on the internet can seem so overwhelming! I still find that making the old fashioned, personal contact with some items in hand seems to be the most effective albeit time consuming.
        Any advice is greatly appreciated!

      • Hi Susan. Thanks for your comments. Making direct contact with gallery owners and directors is always a good thing. Just do it with some tact and common sense. Call ahead and make sure you have an appointment. Or you can try to casually meet these people at gallery openings. Then ask them when is a good time to come by and show your work.

  6. Hi Gary,
    Your article is right on.You can be an artistic genius but if no one buys…your not appreciated.your art is your gift to the world so you must get all the exposure of your work you can and that means selling and marketing.Art is a business like most things and should be taught while in art school.

    • Thanks for you comments. I’m not sure why marketing and selling is not taught in art school. I think it is part of the failure of our educational system. It’s something we have to learn on our own or learn from mentors. Thanks again.

  7. aliceflynn says:

    I had to deprogram myself from the anti-business indoctrination I received in art school in the early 1970’s. My professors had their university salaries… they had the luxury of being able to tell us not to “sell out”. How ridiculous. I spent many years living on a shoestring, which gave me time to build up a large portfolio of paintings and drawings, but I also had no money to own even a camera and film to promote my work. “Promote my work.” Back then, promoting your work was sacrilege. Were we all supposed to join academia to support our art? Now, at age 59, I realize that there was/is a cult of art that expects artists to be genius enough to be discovered without any effort on their part to sell work. I much appreciate your article pointing out that Lichtenstein was also a salesman to promote his career.

    • I think art is a business like any other business. You have to have good business skills, which includes marketing and selling.

      • aliceflynn says:

        I agree, but most academic university art departments in the United States earlier in the 20th Century did not teach that art is a business (which is why I call that cult thinking). Fine art students were caught up in their professor’s concept that if you promote your work, it is “only illustration”, not art. It was taboo, and in some places still is taboo to be both an artist and a salesman. The fact that Lichtenstein and others were out selling their work somehow went over the heads of academics. The old debate of “is it art or is it illustration” is a dead horse, but there are still people beating it. What does it matter. I just continued to paint, even though I was told painting was dead, and my work was illustration, not art.

  8. Pingback: I Will Be Taking a Break for the Next 2 Weeks | Gary Bolyer Fine Art

  9. Wonderful, informative article – and how very, very true.
    Should be required reading for all the hot-shots out there racing for the starting gate.

  10. priya says:

    I’m in for some of the Manhattan galleries secrets; Oh I love marketing as much as I love art; how can we stay in touch?

  11. Thanks so much for the info Gary. It makes a lot of sense, as I too spend a lot of time marketing. It’s helpful to know I’m on the right track !

  12. Pingback: Gary Bolyer’s Top 5 Kick-Ass Money-Making Art Blogs of All Time | Gary Bolyer Fine Art

  13. Anne Bevan says:

    Thank you, again, Gary
    As I read this article it occurred to me that selling is itself a kind of art. And, as with singing or dancing, some are born “naturals”, others, with good advice and practice, learn to improve and polish their skills.
    Thank you for starting this series – I’ll be reading every word.

  14. Hi Gary, this article is just what I was looking for! I Found it on LinkedIn. I’m an emerging artist myself, and I’ve created a website where I intend to sell my art. I’m also an SEO, so I won’t have any problem in bringing traffic to my website.
    However, although I’m a professional in both fields art and SEO, the combination on the two might not be enough, as we all know, art can be a rather peculiar field. I’ve helped people sell countless products on the Internet, but never art. I’m really looking forward to discovering how this business works, and your website helped me a lot. Thanks!

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