Fact-Informed Visual Art Marketing

February 22, 2012

An arts service organization that I admire is MyArtClub.Com. In 2008, its founders, Cam Anderson and Peter Newell, designed a survey to gather some consumer and sales information about the Metro Vancouver art market. The publication, Canadian Fine Art Market Report, contains the results of that survey and provides valuable information for every visual artist selling in the market they studied, and it is relevant to all Canadian visual artists.

Recently, they completed another survey that is likely to further inform my teaching. I wish I had known about it in time to “advertise” its existence in this column and thereby increase the number of survey responses completed because the more individuals studied, the more valuable the data and more valid the deductions derived. However, studies such as theirs greatly influence my teaching even if the survey is modest.

A valuable part of their last survey was in the insights it provided into customer preferences. For example, 71% expressed a desire to buy directly from the artist and 21% reported buying two works or more by the same artist. A shocking 48% of respondents reported that they bought art made by “friends.” The implications, to me, are obvious and I cannot imagine how artists can get involved with sales without an interest in this kind of research.

Some startling results came out of another survey in the same market that not only surprised me. To this day, the majority of my students in workshops and classes at Emily Carr believe that oils command the highest prices in Vancouver, however, research undertaken by Robert Ashcroft in 2001 on the sale prices of the works of many of his fellow Federation of Canadian Artists members revealed that watermedia was vastly outselling oils (oils were garnering $3.18/in² and watermedia, $4.48/in²).

If you want to sell art, studies like these provide rare and extremely valuable insight into the minds of buyers of art and into trends in art sales. The results of art consumer surveys and studies should be essential reading for every artist who wants to expand sales beyond the boundaries of their friendships. If you do not study sales (at least to some extent), you are probably involved in an intuitive, inefficient, and highly competitive sales program.

Cam Anderson alerted me to a study that informed their research conducted by the Xanadu Gallery in Scotsdale, Arizona. The Xanadu study involved mostly American artists, plus some from Canada and other nations, and the majority of respondents were painters (64%). Because my students and I are interested in visual art as a career, the Xanadu statistics on income were of significant interest.

A full 90% of the 1,200 respondents are involved with sales of their work – 45% of those artists earn all their income from their visual art career; an additional 45% have “another job/career” as a source of income. As a reality check for my students, I valued the Xanadu questions on income that revealed 83% of them selling less than $25,000 in annual sales; only 17% reported income above that amount. For comparison, Statistics Canada defined the “poverty line” or low-income cut off for a single person living in a major city in 2007 as $21,666 before tax. To read more about the Xanadu survey, go to their website (www.xanadugallery.com), click on “Blog” at the top of the page and then on “State of the Art 2012 Survey” on the top right of the page that opens.

In 2009, Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) undertook a large survey that investigated the impact of the recession on U.S. artists. Their findings on the income levels of artists were largely the same as the Xanadu findings, but what was unique about their study was that it quantified the optimism of visual artists.

The LINC study painted a dispiriting picture of the recession losses of artists (48% reported decreased sales, 37% reported decreased grants, 35% reported fewer exhibitions, etc.), but it also reported that artists produced more work and remained optimistic about the future. Their optimism, however, may be naïve and may reflect their ignorance of the findings of studies such as the one they were in. As one artist says, “I have to believe things will get better!”

Survey results such as the ones quoted in this article are highly effective motivators for professional development. To my mind, not enough artists actually study sales to help advance their career; too many of us are merely doing what everyone else does, thereby minimizing their development potential.

The insights provided by the MyArtClub.Com, linc and Xanadu surveys, plus general consumer preference studies are the best sources of information for your marketing strategies. (I will write about the results of the new MyArtClub.Com survey when they become available), but the questions they ask can serve as models for “mini-surveys” that you can conduct with your own customers. The more you know about your clients, the better for your creative business practice. Surveying your customers furthers your relationship with them; it suggests that you care about them, their point of view and your career. Try it! You might learn a lot….

Chris is teaching four workshops for Marc Baur at the Conference Centre at UBC on March 10 between 10:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The topics are: Pricing your Work and Time Management; Understanding Customer Needs; The Importance of Direct Sales and Sales Methodologies; Communication Strategies. The cost is $149 and further information is available from Marc at marcbaur@shaw.ca.