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Repeated Exposure Over Time

by Clint Watson on 11/24/2017 9:03:31 AM

This post is by Clint Watson,  former art gallery owner/director/salesperson and founder of FineArtViews. You should follow Clint on Twitter here or sign up for his newsletter here.



I was once at a restaurant when Heather Locklear walked in and sat down a few tables away.  Even though she was simply having lunch, people in the restaurant were interested in what she was doing, and kept glancing at her.  Some people pulled out their phones to take selfies with Heather in the background.  A few brave or rude souls approached her to ask for an autograph.  She was just a lady having lunch.  Why were people so interested and so drawn to her?


A couple of years ago, I visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  We visited room after room of amazing artworks.  Often, I had the whole room to myself as I studied compelling works by artists I had never heard of.  Where were all the people?  I finally reached the room that housed a few Rembrandts.  Guess where all the people were?  Crowded in front of famous Rembrandts, jostling for position to take their photos.  Why were people ignoring all the other great art and fighting each other for a few moments in front of a small Rembrandt?


One year, I spoke about art marketing at the Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition.  This was after our newsletter, BoldBrush's FineArtViews, had garnered a large subscriber base.  Back then, I was, by far, the newsletter's most prolific writer.  Consequently, thousands of painters had read my articles and seen my photo every day for a few years.  The exhibit was held in Santa Fe that year.  And since Santa Fe is an "art town", nearly the whole "gallery row" area had been overtaken by artists and art collectors who were attending the OPA exhibit.  The night PJ and I arrived, we decided to go have a romantic dinner and soak up the Santa Fe artsy atmosphere.   Suddenly, as we ate, people were looking at me, pointing.  Strangers approached me to introduce themselves and discuss art marketing.  People I didn't know walked up to me on the street and starting talking about art.  It turns out, these were artists who subscribed to FineArtViews.  And as this happened over and over,  I got a tiny taste of what "fame" was like.  I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for "real" celebrities.   Why were these strangers drawn to me?


A big part of the answer is known as the  mere-exposure effect.


The mere-exposure effect suggests that people and artworks become "famous", to a large degree, because they have been seen repeatedly


The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.  This is how radio turns unknown pop songs into hits: You hear the song over and over and over until it's stuck in your head....and then you prefer it to the songs you've never heard.


There's probably no more illustrative example of the mere-exposure effect than the Mona Lisa.  The Mona Lisa is "famous simply for being famous."  And visitors to the Louvre crowd around the painting to take selfies and photographs of the painting that they've grown, through repeated exposure, to be familiar with and, for many of them, prefer.





If you've ever been to a high-end art gallery and expressed interest in a painting, the gallery associate likely whisked you into a "viewing room", hung the painting on a well-lit wall, and proceeded to tell you more about the artist and the art work.   This "viewing room" (or as gallery associates call them in private, "closing room") attempts to harness the "mere-exposure" effect.  It works partly because you are continually viewing a piece in which you've already expressed an interest and because being isolated in the viewing room keeps you from getting distracted by other artworks.  In essence, the longer you look at a painting you already like, the more you'll come to prefer it, and, importantly, the more likely you'll decide to purchase it.


This isn't just a hypothesis, there is real research to back up the mere-exposure effect.  I'm currently reading a book called "Hit Makers" by Derek Thompson.  In it, I learned of some research published by James Cutting, a professor of psychology at  Cornell University, that is of extreme interest to fine artists.  


In his experiments, Cutting showed students from different psychology classes several pairs of famous impressionist artworks.  Each pair consisted of a very famous artwork by a famous impressionist and an obscure artwork by the same impressionist.  Consistently, 60% of the time, people preferred the famous painting to the obscure one.


But then he did something ingenious....and extremely important for artists who want to sell their art....Cutting devised a clever way over the course of a semester to subtly bombard a class of students with images of the obscure paintings.  This was not done as part of an art class.  He simply randomly inserted slides of the obscure pieces into his regular lectures.  The images were presented without comment or context.  This new class saw each obscure painting 4 times for every time they saw a famous painting.   Then he repeated the preference experiment.  With this particular group, the students' preference for the famous impressionist paintings had disappeared and, in fact, this group preferred the obscure paintings 80% of the time.


Essentially, simply through repeated exposure over time, Cutting changed people's artistic preferences.


This has huge implications for the way you should market your art.  You need to get your art in front of people repeatedly.  And, specifically, you need to repeatedly show your art to those people who already have interest in you and your artwork.  And even more specifically, you need to show each artwork repeated times.  This principle applies to marketing both online and offline, but for the moment I want to discuss online marketing.


Thompson wrote in Hit Makers that "Content might be king, but distribution is the kingdom."  And when it comes to distribution, the reality of the modern internet is that the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time focus their attention in only a handful of places.  For most people, these places are, overwhelmingly:  EmailFacebookGoogle and, in the art world, Instagram.   These four places, for the most part, control the distribution of content, news, and links.  Your website is important, but few people are going to proactively go to your website.  They check their email, their Facebook newsfeed, their Instagram feed and perhaps a couple of other social networks.  Then, and only then, if they see something they like, they take some action or click through to your blog or your website to learn more.


Your online efforts need to be focused on showing you art repeatedly over time to your followers in these places.  Don't forget the "over time" part.  Cutting didn't change people's preferences by showing them obscure paintings over the course of an hour, he subtly showed the obscure paintings many times over the course of a semester.  Remember, it takes repeated exposure over time to change people's preferences.  Most artists don't show their artworks nearly often enough and don't take enough advantage of the overlap between these different platforms.  When you have a new painting, you should be sending an announcement with the image to your email list.  Then a day or so later, post it to your Facebook Page.  And the next day, to your Instagram feeds.  And, over time, post it several times.  Also, to increase this phenomenon, post each artwork several times while it's in progress - this invests people in your process, plus....important for our gives you a legitimate reason to expose each artwork several times over a longer period of time to your followers.


In the modern world there is a lot of noise.  There are a lot of people and brands demanding our attention.  Even if your art is great, you can't assume people will simply find it, prefer it and purchase it.  You must find ways to distribute and expose your artworks to the world.  Fortunately, despite the noise level, we've all been handed some of the most powerful...and free...distribution channels ever devised. 


That puts you in a much better position than those obscure impressionist works that had to wait a century until a psychology professor decided to change people's tastes.  You can take control and utilize these powerful platforms:  email, Facebook, Instagram and other social networks to build a following, and start changing people's tastes, so that they prefer your artworks, now.  


And that's a goal worth risking having a few restaurant dinners interrupted! 




Clint Watson

BoldBrush/FASO Founder and Art Fanatic




Editor's Note:

When you're ready to take a fresh approach to marketing your art, a professional and secure website can be your most valuable tool. And FASO is the easiest way to build (even for non-techies) and maintain a gorgeous website, we also include amazing marketing tools that automate many common marketing tasks for you.  Sign up today for a free, no obligation 30 day trial. 


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Related Posts:


The Needs of the Few Outweigh the Needs of the Many

Not Every Artist Needs a Blog

Do the Opposite with Your Blog and Newsletter

The Biggest Mistake

Topics: advice for artists | art and psychology | art and society | art appreciation | Art Business | art collectors | art marketing | Clint Watson | email newsletters | exposure tips | Facebook | FineArtViews | Instagram | sell art | selling art online | selling fine art online | social media 

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Raymond D. Hunter, Sculpatora
Thank you Clint.....onward!!!!!.....with joy! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas, Happy Days to you and family.

Dianne Cinkovich
I so needed to read these words and to listen to their wisdom this morning. Thank you.

Sharon Weaver
The familiar is always the go to for most people. It is one reason why many millennials do not appreciate fine art. The have not been exposed to it unless it is selling for 400 million dollars and makes the news. Repeating an image is always a good idea. Combining repetition with isolating the image should help an audience to focus. Getting that focus is the important factor.

Skye Coddington
Omigosh!!! Thank you for posting this!!! I really needed to read it. I have been somewhat anxious about reposting the same artwork repeatedly on social media, feeling like I need to have a new painting every couple of days to be posting on social media everyday. What you've written makes complete sense, and is a big piece of the puzzle for me. So helpful! Thank you!!

Lori Woodward
Clint, My husband and I just finished watching a youtube video where the concept of Preferential Attachment was illustrated. It's essentially the snowball effect, and then I read you blog just now, and you are writing along those same lines.

Last week, I discovered that many more people visited my website when I posted in the way you describe here.. by showing the same new painting across social media and including it in my newsletter. What a difference that made! My website visitors increased for no apparent reason other than that I posted the same painting at least 5 times with a direct link to my opening page which again, showed that same work.
I've been showing step by step postings lately too. You're right, friends look forward to the next iteration.

I'm going to need to read your blog here a few times over. It's really hitting where I itch right now, and it makes perfect sense. IIt seems that many of us artists have been diluting our views by posting a different works each time on social media.

BTW: Over the years, many artists, some even very famous artists, have walked up to me and said, "You're the blogger." Some followed up with, "I thought you were much taller." Makes me smile.

Thanks for writing again Clint. These are so valuable!

Marsha Hamby Savage
Thank you for this article. I have been trying to post consistently to both Facebook and Instagram. But I thought it would be best to show different work each time. What you have said makes perfect sense. I like the example of the "progression" of how to do it. Good stuff and I will be trying to implement this process. I've been negligent on the newsletter part, and will make it a priority to add to my "consistent" marketing effort.

Marian Fortunati
Really interesting article, Clint. It makes me want to read that book you referenced.
We humans are certainly malleable, aren't we?

Good info. -- Thanks!

Marilyn Rose
Thanks Clint, for reinforcing what I'd been wondering for a while - am I being a Social Media pest by showing a painting more than once? And Lori, I appreciated your comment as well. Good to hear about the proof in the pudding

Does it seem like a twice weekly post to each social media platform would be reasonable? When you say over time post a painting several times, how often would you suggest?
Do you recommend posting it along with a comment or story that the painting somehow ties into? Or just post it again with title, size...and.... BTW, when you post do you let people know it's for sale on your website?

Jodie Sarah Masiwchuk
This is a great article. I have had artwork displayed in the town I live in at a small boutique, the local bookstore, the juried summer art fair and on display in my town's library. I have sold original pieces after people have said they have seen my work in these places as well as online. Actual, in-person exposure to my art in a brick and mortar environment coupled with frequent social media posts have been good for business.

After completing a new painting, I often post it on Instagram or will buy an ad for my Facebook page--and have just started including a link to click on back to my website. I always try to make the post friendly, engaging and accessible--much like my art! Posting in the progressive way mentioned in the article is brilliant and I'm going to give it a try.

Thank you for this newsletter, I get so many good tips and advice from reading it.

Gosh darn it, I need to get on Instagram! Another great piece, Clint.


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