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What Art Customers Want
I saw some brilliant art marketing while in Montreal this summer. The artist had a show in a small gallery with decidedly different and highly popular documentation.
These are the essential components of how we document each work of visual art at an exhibition: the title, artist’s name, the year of execution, the media used and its dimensions (and often its price). Most of the rest of the information about a work that an art buyer can access is contained in the artist’s statement.
The show that I saw in Montreal reversed this convention. Each work had short and compelling statement posted beside it and none of the conventional information; the artist’s statement was replaced with a listing of work with the usual information. The gallery follows this practice because the owner learned from her customers the same lessons I have learned from every poll and study I have read.
Art buyers want “to connect” with the artist either through direct contact or by means of the information made available, and they don’t want just information, the “connection” they want is an emotional one.
Purchases of art are not provoked by a title (unless it reveals meaning), the artist’s name, a date or specific medium. Neither is price a statistically significant purchase motivator according to art buyer surveys. Art consumers say that they are motivated either immediately by the image or through an understanding of the artist’s inspiration or intent, but often this information is not available to the purchaser—not in comprehensible lay language.
Yes, they usually have an artist’s statement to read or a staff person or volunteer to ask, but the presence of the artist and the opportunity to ask questions is what they want, and the show that I saw in Montreal greatly satisfied customers. I saw them calling to friends to read some of the statements, reading with mouths covered and lips trembling with emotion. Were I showing work, this is something I would do.
Another way consumers like to purchase art is as part of a charity auction (particularly when it supports a charity that reflects good values or is of personal resonance to them). The auction not only provides them with an artwork, but also (often) prestige and the added value of supporting the charity. Still, bidders at auction greatly value expositional information.
All this is to suggest that you consider what you record and when you record it. Do you want to offer visual art consumers the traditional, unvalued information that is our convention, or do you want to provide consumers with what they want?
A successful career is often as much about cleverness in “business” as it is about talent in the studio. In light of what I have written here, consider what you offer consumers to help them understand and appreciate your work; and consider writing in order to move them.
The more prolific you are, the more valuable it might be to document your decisions about inspiration and execution for later reference and use. A well-kept and annotated diary of your aesthetic evolution can provide you with a rich, rich resource with which to inspire buyers. Think carefully about what you write and how you communicate with potential customers.
Chris Tyrell Loranger is the author of Artist Survival Skills and Making It!, an arts writer and educator. His popular opinion pieces have appeared in our newsletter since its first issue in 1986. Visit his website, www.christyrell.ca or his art marketing blog http://visualartmerchandising.blogspot.ca, to learn more.
About Chris Tyrell Loranger
Chris is the author of Artist Survival Skills and Making It!, and an arts writer and educator. His popular opinion pieces have appeared in our newsletter since its first issue in 1986. Visit his website, christyrell.ca or his art marketing blog visualartmerchandising.blogspot.ca, to learn more.