Taking Care of Business: The Art World’s Unsexy Side 
November 28, 2018 at 10:00 AM
by Matt Kaplinsky
Matt Kaplinsky   Abandoned Western Cabin   oil

Many artists are notoriously lax when it comes to the business side of their art. Perhaps that‘s the reason the “starving artist” stereotype remains in the world’s collective consciousness. The tendency is to just look/be strange, make art, and hope for magic.

Inner inspiration, not buyers’ preferences, usually comes first to artists. Yet if an artist wants to sell his or her work, they need to “look at what is selling and adapt,” as the staff writers say at The Artists’ Network. In other words, study not only the masters of their art form but also the masters of selling art. Adaptation does not mean ‘do something other than’ what the artist wants to make. For me it’s knowing how to make what I want to do in a way that speaks to a viewer.

Know What Buyers Look for in Artwork

It’s not rocket science. All I have to do is ask. Even the masters had their patrons, who often gave them specific orders on what to paint, draw, or sculpt. Asking for and utilizing someone else’s criticism is a great exercise in making art that is relatable and appealing. 

In the 21st century, artists have a huge number of ways to communicate with their audience—those people most likely to buy their works of art. Informal surveys of buyers who already have bought one of an artist’s pieces can give them an idea about their typical buyers’ demographics, locality, budget, how often they like to buy art, stylistic preferences, subject matter preferences, as well as their general likes and dislikes. All of this information can be used to inform the art creation process for art that becomes a conversation of its own between myself and the buyers of my work. I consider each piece I sell a direct conversation with the owner of that work. Each of these “conversations” in turn is a privilege that acknowledges who I am, confirming my existence and value to society and not outcast.

Using Buyers’ Characteristics to Discuss Works Online

Social media: Most social media platforms have ways to show ads to a strictly segmented group of people and is a fantastic way to garner some unbiased feedback for current work or projects. By singling out the typical characteristics of my buyers, then creating my ‘ad’ requesting feedback, I am much likelier to make art specific for a client or someone with similar interests. It’s a way to get an introduction to someone who appreciates art and begin that conversation through the work.

Search engine marketing: For me this is a great tool to use as well because I can stay up to date on how people prefer to design their homes, and find colors and shapes that compliment those interior designs. One piece of art can really make or break the appearance of a room so it’s important to know how to not clash with the furnishings and styles someone may use. 

Building My Brand for Better Name Recognition

A “true artist” might sneer at those sellouts on Madison Avenue who use their talents to hawk others’ products. The truth is, though, it works. You need to stand out if you don’t want to starve. I am not opposed to trying out things that are very different on a regular basis, and this has given me an edge where it once only ate at my self-confidence.

You can use some of that Madison Avenue business savvy, though, to market your work. A personal brand sets your work apart from others in your field. It builds your “tribe,” a group of dedicated fans and buyers who love your work. What is my brand or style? It’s anything but a one-trick pony, that’s for certain. It is the approach I have towards art. It is the way my mark is made in my characteristic way despite the media I use. My personality is an integral part of the art that I make- it’s woven in there.

The characteristics of my art establish my brand. As art marketer Gregory Peters puts it, “Your brand, however, should not be focused on you. It should be focused on attracting customers.” So this is why my art to me needs to feel like a dialog. Nobody wants to hear someone else go on and on about themselves. It’s not about me, it’s about what you and I are relating to. It’s the conversation.

One of my goals is to incorporate some personality into my branding so people know a little more about myself and feel a personal connection with the work. This requires an occasional added dose of confidence for a reserved person like myself. It can be real work to put myself ‘out there’. My brand image helps potential buyers get to know the person behind the art. 

Being Offline and Building My Network

Even if you’re on the shy side, (I am more of an introvert than not) you need to get out and meet potential buyers and gallery personnel. Going to activities that interest my typical buyers helps inform my art subject matter. Showing up at the gallery openings for artists who display their work in the galleries in which I would like my work to hang also offers me some perspective on the quality of work I am doing and how to improve it.

Charity events, too, are great places to meet like-minded people and get an “art perspective”. No business talk (unless someone begins that conversation), just being there to watch and listen. My interest is understanding your interests, not being a used car salesman.

Have a Winning Mindset

Know, however, that the art business can be fickle. Sales fall through. Others pop up, seemingly out of nowhere. I have gone to support a fund raiser for a no kill animal shelter only to make a large sale to someone who also attended the event there after the fact. Clients can be anywhere and everywhere and most people know something I am excited to hear about. In this way inspiration comes to me, the art is made and the conversation really begins. As long as I make my art, there will be a sale pending.

Through it all, I have an optimistic view of my business and on life. My focus on improving both my art and consequently my marketing strategy—seems to really aid in becoming both a better businessperson and an artist.

Discover more about my work and the business side of my art in my biography.