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Artists: Do you know your target audience? Part 1

by Brian Sherwin on 6/5/2013 8:16:29 AM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY, artnet, WorldNetDaily (WND) and Art Fag City. Sherwin graduated from Illinois College (Jacksonville, Illinois) in 2003 -- he studied art and psychology extensively. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 24,022+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.

Do you know your audience? Who is your target audience? These questions should be answered sooner than later IF you are interested in selling art. Unfortunately, it often seems that artists don't know the answers. In fact, most take a 'shotgun' approach to art marketing in general – they attempt to attract EVERYONE. The 'shotgun' approach, in this context, may work if your artwork is varied (though that can be debated... and will be later in this FineArtViews series). That said, if your artistic direction is focused – if you regularly explore specific themes with your artwork -- your audience targeting needs to be focused as well. Reach out to the people who WANT your art.



Knowing your target audience will drastically increase your chances of successfully marketing your artwork. The success of Banksy comes to mind. For those who don't know: Banksy is arguably one of the most famous living artists at this time – he is certainly one of the most prominent street artists in the world. Past works on canvas by Banksy, such as Bird with Grenade (above image), have sold for over $200,000. Other works on canvas, including Keep it Spotless (image below), have sold for over 2 million dollars. Banksy may have never experienced this level of financial success had he not decided on a target audience during his early days. He has long targeted political / social activists -- specifically activists embracing counterculture elements. (Source of data)



I recently read a detailed article about Banksy and branding. The article mentions that Banksy originally set out to target an untapped demographic of 'young, would-be collectors'. His target audience at that time was simple enough: Banksy reached out to young men and women who were not interested in visiting art galleries... BUT loved art – specifically art with a social message aligned to their views. He made art collecting 'cool' for young people who likely viewed the prestigious circles of the art world as part of the 'Establishment'. One could suggest that Banksy's early target audience still 'fuels' his career. His artwork is sold for millions now... BUT it still attracts, message-wise, the demographic he targeted from day one – a legion of fans searching for his work online. (Source of information)


I can remember Banksy's images going 'viral' online. His artwork 'flooded' counterculture groups on Myspace back in the day – and on sites like LiveJournal (when you needed an 'invite code' to join) long before that. Once interest was established around specific works... he would offer them as prints – from that point he would have a business associate handle transactions from the trunk of his car... and eventually a small gallery space. It was not uncommon for his website to crash after announcing a new print... his fans wanted more – AND they could afford it. Banksy understood his audience. Those early prints sold for as low as $20 – the perfect price for a 'young, would-be collector'.


Banksy accomplished this level of online fan devotion by 'listening' to his fans – his target audience. He promoted images that 'clicked' with his audience online... while 'scrapping' images that received little to no feedback. He would remove images from his website and online accounts if they failed to attract enough attention. In a sense, Banksy 'pushed' the images that had the most impact with his target audience online. He did this by utilizing his artist website, taking advantage of online social networks (not just online art groups), and acknowledging what fans had to say about specific images.


Banksy gave his target audience what they wanted. What did they want? The answer is simple. His early admirers wanted affordable artwork that contained a social message they could sink their teeth into. He filled BOTH needs – he did not care about what other artists, collectors, and galleries were doing. He focused on HIS audience... and it paid off. The popularity of Banksy's artwork – spurred by a legion of dedicated fans – eventually forced prominent art galleries to see what all of the fuss was about. His artwork is now worth millions... BUT his target audience is still intact – still 'fueling' his name.


In closing, you should strive to tap into YOUR audience. In order to do that you must first recognize your audience. You can start by asking yourself who you create artwork for ('myself' is not the answer in this context). After all, if you are reading this article you are most likely a business-minded artist. Every business -- in general -- needs a target audience in order to thrive. Banksy understood this early on. More to come...


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

Remember to Respect your Audience

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Community Art Events: The Studio Hop

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Lessons From Old Art Magazines

Art and Psychology: Social Conditioning and the Art World

Keep Your Artist Website Updated: Remember to provide current information

Art Marketing History Lesson: Learning from Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) and Die Brücke (The Bridge)

How to stay connected (offline) with your local art community

Is Perfection Holding You Back?

Topics: advice for artists | art and culture | art and psychology | art and society | Art Business | art marketing | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Instruction | sell art | selling art online | selling fine art online | social networking | Think Tank 

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Michael Cardosa
Hi Brian,

This was one was great! It doesn't give any tips out right but it certainly makes you think, or cringe! The question comes up, "what have I been doing and for whom have I been doing it?"

I would venture that most artists, and certainly "most" artists here at FASO, paint what they like and not to an audience. I say that because even though there are some spectacular works presented daily here and in the monthly art competition, most fit the same limited group of genre. Now, that doesn't mean that some artists haven't found that their collectors love their still-life, landscapes or figure paintings and are extremely successful with great careers but I think that most have "fallen into" their collectors cross-hairs and didn't start out saying I'm going to paint for "this group". I think that artists that do this, Max Ginsburg comes to mind are rare. I'm not including artists that do commission work in this because that is an obviously directed painting but those are not aimed at larger groups.

I once did a painting, it's still on my site, called "OH OH, We Are in Kansas". It may not be PC right now because of the devastation to so many in Oklahoma recently but I liked doing "weather related" works and tried my hand at a twister. When I finished it was OK as a painting but really, who cared. Then I put in Dorothy and Toto and the painting took on a whole different "meaning". I thought that painting "straight" subjects and interjecting whimsical figures might be fun to do and hit a specific group but never did another.

On the whole, I would almost think that what you've posed here is the hardest marketing idea to figure out. How to paint what you enjoy but attract a specific audience that buys...

Thanks again,


Brian Sherwin
Michael -- Banksy's story... specifically his early years -- kind of reminded me of some of the stories Jack has shared on FAV about his career. For example, I believe Jack has mentioned that he started out selling artwork while traveling around. I assume those works, like Banksy's early prints -- sold from a trunk, were affordable... at least at first. It appears that strategy can work for some artists -- building a fan base in that way.

As for what Banksy does. I assume he loved creating that kind of work before he decided to market it. BUT due to his solidified direction, if you will, he knew exactly what groups to target in order to propel his work once he decided to make art a business. That said, I'm certain he has tackled some issues based on what his audience embraces.

Again, he has a HUGE activist / counterculture following. In general, he takes an anti-government view of the world... and he knows that many of his fans do as well. So if he notices that people are criticizing their government in some way... he may comment on it visually. He makes a visual statement that they will likely agree with -- and that image may very well be profitable in those circles.

Shepard Fairey has done the same thing. For example, he offered Occupy related prints once he noticed that many of his fans supported OWS. That kind of backfired on him though... many Occupiers denounced it as opportunistic. Sooo Fairey quickly did damage control -- removed images online that he had control of, and so on. He tackled another social issue... an image his fans easily stood behind.

In many ways it seems he has borrowed a few of the rules from Banksy's playbook. Ha, ha. Focus on what your core / target group wants... test the waters with it -- and move on to something else fast if that image fails to 'click'.

Brian Sherwin
I could put this all another way. For example, lets say that you focus on fishing scenes. Well... the deer hunters probably won't 'bite' if you try to target them. The hikers might like those paintings... BUT not every hiker is interested in fishing. Go where your audience is. The rest -- if interested -- will follow.

The audience you should be focusing on was there all along... people who share that specific interest -- have that same passion. Look at Banksy. Banksy's fans tend to have a passion for 'rebellion' -- social and political rebellion -- he taps that on the shoulder. He shares that same interest... and expresses it -- giving those fans a visual voice, if you will.

The artist focusing on fishing scenes will probably gain more of a following -- a heightened reputation -- by sharing images on fishing forums, groups, and so on. In fact, that strategy -- in this scenario -- is likely more valuable than posting artwork on 100 online art networks.

After all, your average fishing fanatic may not be the type to visit a gallery... he or she may not frequent online art networks for that matter. BUT he or she may LOVE to view those fishing themed paintings... and perhaps want one on his or her wall -- all because the artist reached out to that community directly by taking part on forums / groups dedicated to fishing.

While responding I thought of the late Thomas Kinkade. As I'm sure you know... he was not exactly known for receiving art coverage from the BIG sources. I doubt any notable art critics wrote about his artwork... at least not in a positive way. His audience simply was not there. He had to snub circles of the art world that snubbed him... by reaching his audience elsewhere.

You won't find his work in the pages of ARTnews, Art in America, or any of the other mainstream art magazines -- unless a 'jab' is involved. His audience was more apt to pick up a rural lifestyle magazine, visit a Christian blog, or take part in a forum focused on crafts / home decorating. He knew this. He targeted that (or at least his PR team did). ;p

Brian Sherwin
I'll add that if you focus on multiple directions... you likely have multiple targets to consider. I will touch on that later in this series.

Uriel Mendiola
Im A student at marble Falls highschool.I want to know more about the target audience of Art for My Entrepeneur Class


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