Here, let me illustrate what I mean, here were some of my stories that tended to "sell" artwork:
Authentic Stories "Sell" Art
There was the story about painter Richard Iams and the leopard
. You see, Richard sometimes painted wildlife and had arranged for a professional cat handler to "pose" a full-grown leopard, while Ricard took reference photographs. Unfortunately, the leopard wasn't in a cooperative mood and somehow broke off her chain and in one leap of about 20
25 yards (I confess, I don't recall the actual distance, but like any good story it gets longer every time I tell it) was on top of Richard. Fortunately, Richard is a tall, muscular guy and was not knocked off his feet, and narrowly averted being seriously harmed. The handler later told him if he had fallen to the ground as many people would have....well.....he would have been seriosly hurt.
Here's another one about my friend, Kevin Macpherson
. Our gallery hosted a juried exhibition and we brought in respected artist CW Mundy as the judge. CW had selected one of Kevin's paintings as the winning painting. We all agreed it was a true masterpiece. Kevin was travelling in Europe at the time, so we couldn't easily call him, so we decided to email him. However, none of us wanted winning to "go to Kevin's head." Kevin had a tendency to give us all a hard time (all in fun), so we decided to give him a does of his own medicine. We took a photo of CW, me and a couple other gallery people with Kevin's painting as we all held a sign that read "paint by numbers" and pointed at Kevin's painting.
Or there was the Chinese painter, Calvin Liang
. I used to rib him about his name. "So is Calvin
a traditional Chinese name that runs in your family?" I would ask him. We all wondered if he was distantly related to Calvin Klein. The truth is that Calvin's real name is "Ge" (pronounced similar to "Guh") and, when he immigrated to America, his friends told him it would be easier for him if he took an "American" name, so, while he stood in line at the immigration office, he and his friends went through a few different names, "John", "Ralph", "Mike" and someone said "Calvin" and it just seemed to fit. The funny thing is, when you meet the guy, he does seem
like a Calvin. (As an aside, Calvin is one of the nicest
guys you'd ever hope to meet).
Artists are "Social Objects"
If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that all these stories have something in common - they really don't have anything to do with art methods, awards, exhibitions and the like. And yet, over and over, I noticed that people I talked with in my role as "salesperson" just weren't that interested in knowing what awards an artist had won, what exhibits he/she had been in, what magazines had run feature stories.....nope what they loved was hearing about how they guy almost got malled by a leopard. I'm not being glib here. I "sold" a lot of art this way.
I suspect that is because art is, as Hugh MacLeod
would say, a Social Object
. Actually, now that I think about it, it seems that in most cases it's not so much the art that's the "Social Object" as it is the artist
Consider this, an acquaintance walks into my house and sees one of my Kevin Macpherson paintings and says, "hey is that a Macpherson?"
"Why yes!" I reply proudly.
"I met Kevin last year at a workshop, man that guy is hilarious" My new friend says.
Bingo - we've just connected...and Kevin in the "Social Object" that connected us.
Now, I can really connect as I launch into my story, "Yeah, Kevin's a riot, hey did I ever tell you about the time we sent him a photo poking fun at his style, calling him a 'paint by numbers' guy......"
Telling Your Story Online
What I'm seeing now, as we move into an era where artists are "marketing" themselves online is that the most successful artists seem to be doing the same thing...being themselves, telling stories, being authentic. In fact, it's more powerful than what I did because I was just some poor schmuck sharing the little tidbits I picked up here and there about the artists. But online people can connect directly with the artist.
To sell art online, what you need to to is be yourself, be authentic and tell stories.
Think about Hazel Dooney
. She's become the "poster child" as an artist who has been successful in abandoning the traditional gallery system and selling her art directly. I love her blog. But you know what it's about? You guessed it - stories about her daily routine, her struggles, her thoughts. We're all following as her story unfolds. She's as authentic as they come and she's doing just fine.
Or look at Hugh MacLeod
. We've all watched as he's shared his unfolding life story for the past several years via his blog, gapingvoid.com
. We watched as he created cartoons on the back of business cards. As he helped various companies develop their "global microbrands." As he moved to west Texas. As he launched into offering his art pieces for sale. Again, Hugh is Hugh and that's the way it is and it works. What he shares are stories about his life, not endless lists of awards, exhibits and accolades. And people love his stories and purchase his art. In a neat twist, those people write him and share their
stories about what they've done with his art. They send him photographs. And he shares their photos and stories on his blog and that makes people even more interested. Yeah. He's a Social Object.
Closer to home, one of our very own FASO
customers, Brian Kleiwer
decided to start sharing his stories with his followers via email. He sold 82 paintings in about 100 days
. What Brian did is tell little stories about each one of the 100 paintings he created during that time. Stories about where he was and what he was doing when he decided to paint a particular subject. Stories about what he felt like and what he was thinking. Even stories about what kind of music he listens to in his studio
. People wrote Brian and specifically shared with him that his conversational tone motivated them to buy the paintings. You. Should. Tell. Stories.
Artist, Linda Blondheim
said, in a recent forum
thread, "I have felt for a long time that some artists are on the wrong path in marketing. Most of the artists I know focus entirely on other artists and the artistic community. I think that is a mistake. 70% of my patrons are not artists, and they are not really involved in the art community. They instead,are involved in all of the things I love, like land and water conservation, history, nature, dogs, wildlife, cooking and foodie interests.
I think many artists have a narrow viewpoint and a narrow interest...They would be surprised to find that many art buyers are buying because of the subject and interest in the artist because of non art related interests."
So I guess what I'm saying is that while there are always devils in the details, the basics of being successful with your art are, at least theoretically, simple:
The success formula is this: Make Amazing Art, Be Authentic, Tell Your Stories and the Art Will Sell.
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic
PS - Speaking of stories, I recall a night in Santa Fe where we polished off a couple of bottles of wine. It was during the Oil Painters of America show, so several artists were there.....but we'll save this one for another time . . .