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Artists: Do you know your target audience? Part 4

by Brian Sherwin on 6/20/2013 10:21:40 PM

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 24,173+ 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.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

As mentioned previously in this series, artists who create varied works of art will likely have multiple targets to consider audience-wise. In some ways that is a blessing -- in other ways it is a curse. I put it that way because with varied artworks you will likely have to work double-time (or triple) in order to market your artwork successfully. Having a solid focus -- at least with the artwork you plan to sell– makes things a tad easier.


If your artwork varies you will need to think about how to approach each group: This will likely involve dividing up your time. For example, the audience that loves your landscape paintings may not be overly fond of your abstract paintings. In that scenario you will need to approach art marketing on two fronts. In other words, you will need to find a way to reach your landscape audience AND your abstract audience -- whereas the artist with one solid direction will likely enjoy a clearer art marketing path. (Note: My point is that it is hard enough to secure one audience -- targeting several increases the difficulty overall.)


Targeting one audience is a lot easier than targeting several: Take artist Chet Zar -- a past BoldBrush judge -- for example. Chet's artwork is deeply rooted in classic horror films -- and in many ways he targets that audience. He makes his love of horror films clear on his website, Facebook, and other sources. Additionally, he has paid homage to classic horror films, such as Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls, with specific paintings. His fans -- they tend to be horror film fans as well -- take notice of these references. It is a plus that he has a background in creating creatures and designs for Hollywood films... he uses that to his advantage.


That said, those same fans would likely show little interest if Chet started to offer paintings of flowers in addition to what he has become known for -- unless, perhaps, the flower paintings included elements that his artwork is known for. He would likely have to explore different avenues in order to market the flower paintings IF they have zero connection to his 'standard work'. Needless to say, that time and energy would distract from the market he has established for himself. Would it be worth the investment of time and energy? Perhaps. BUT there is only so much time in the day.

This is what I want to stress: An artist with varied artwork will likely have multiple audiences to consider. The audience attracted to his or her landscape paintings may not be attracted to his or her still life paintings. Additionally, the audience interested in his or her sculptures may have zero interest in his or her paintings (even if the general theme is the same). That means that each direction will need to be promoted with those multiple targets in mind. The artist in this scenario is at risk of spreading himself or herself thin. Thus, he or she may need to decide which direction is more marketable. (Note: That does not mean that he or she should stop exploring the other directions in his or her studio... but for marketing purposes -- it might be best to have a solid direction).


Think of it in a different way: It is easy for me to think of this issue in terms of authors due to the fact that my wife has a MASSIVE book collection. Many authors branch out in different directions with their writing -- and they do that knowing that their center fan base (main target audience) may not come along for the ride. They attempt to target multiple audiences... and it does not always go over well. In that situation it is not uncommon for an author to fallback to 'what works'. (Note: The author of the Harry Potter novels recently found this out the hard way... her first non-fantasy book 'bombed'.)


Take author Anne Rice for example, her vampire novels have a strong following... that is her center fan base (target audience). She knows if she writes a novel about vampires it will most likely be a best seller. BUT she also writes pure romance novels. My guess is that your average Lestat fan probably won't be interested in that kind of romance. I'm certain that Anne Rice realizes this... and thus looks for ways to attract fans for those specific books beyond her target audience (she has used an alias for some of those books) -- all while offering books 'tailored' for her target audience. She knows which direction is her 'bread and butter'.


Author Mercedes Lackey is another good example. She is known for fantasy and sci-fi novels. My wife LOVES her fantasy novels... but she loathes her sci-fi novels. With that in mind, Lackey clearly has two directions going... to groups of readers. If she is interviewed by a fantasy magazine or blog she does not mention the sci-fi stuff... and vice versa. If she is interviewed by a magazine or blog that does not have a clear focus -- she may mention both directions. That is targeting, true? She approaches each audience differently. You should do the same if your work is varied. This is not a 'one size fits all' situation.


In closing, I know there are exceptions to what I've stated -- but that does not mean that my opinion should be dismissed art marketing-wise. In general it is a lot harder to attract several audiences. It is far easier to have a solid focus... and to work toward gaining a following for that specific direction. Think of that when planning your art marketing strategy.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

Artists: Do you know your target audience? Part 1

Artists: Do you know your target audience? Part 3

Artists: Do you know your target audience? Part 2

Remember to Respect your Audience

Selling Hubcaps

Hubris Precedes the Plunge

Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art marketing | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Instruction | sell art | selling art online | selling fine art online | Think Tank 

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I've really enjoyed this series on targetting our audience Brian.

It's helped me to tighten my focus, and opened up new ideas for me.

Thank you.


Michael Cardosa
Hi Brian,

This is an interesting post. I know that some artists want to just paint the things they like without a thought to an "audience". They love and want the creative and artistic freedom to do what they want. I think that's fine but I also think that is unrealistic for an artist with an eye to selling their work especially when they are trying to get established. And by selling their art I mean a full time career not an occasional sale here and there.

Yes, there are some artist's who can pull it off but I wonder how successful these artist's really are and do their different "audiences" have equal financial balance. Floral painters might slip into more of a still life from time to time and a marine artist might do a few landscapes but the first might still have a flower and the second might have a lake or shoreline not too far away.

I think your examples of popular authors is a good one. If I latch onto an author I like it's more than likely because of a genre that appeals to me, not their writing style alone. If they go off in another direction there is a better than even chance that I won't follow them UNLESS I like that genre as well.

I truly believe that there is difference in painting what you please and painting as a commercially viable artist. Mixing the two can be detrimental to your marketing and income.

Thanks again,


Betty Pieper
Thanks, Brian. Identifying this dilemma and trying to put meat on the bones is key for me.
I still have no real idea who my 'target' audience is. Years ago when I sold at least one original a month online I knew that I sold mostly to men and in California. My most recent sale of four originals was to a woman in California. Yes, people say what they like is the expressionist, strong, colorful aspects of my work. How does that help me focus? As far as subject matter for most "representational"
(quite abstracted) I'm all over the place...water, beaches, landscapes, cityscapes, flowers, weeds, people et cetera. Of course, all in the same manner. I make images available along with millions of other images, but do no marketing per se, keep no lists, do not blog or use social media....perhaps because I have no 'target' audience. Why would one use scatter shot into the wind? Thus your theme is of interest to me.


I, too, have enjoyed this series and will definitely read it all again. Thank you for writing it.

Identifying my target audience is not something I can say I've done and you've really made me see how important it is to do it.

I think I may be closer than I realize to learning who my audience is. And just saying that makes it seemingly easier to get cracking on my business plan.

Thanks again,

Thanks for this series. It's helping me more narrowly define my target audience. I'm a wood sculptor and was doing a lot of western themed sculptures (horses, buffalos, Mountain men, Indians, cowboys, etc.). In the last two years at art shows I've found my female and female with child sculptures along with some of my sports related sculptures are what sell and get the most response and comments. It's helping me define where I need to go with regard to figurative carvings with my work. Your series has given me a lot to think about along this same line. I appreciate it.

Brian Sherwin
Alison, Michele -- I'm glad the series has helped you both out. I don't have all the answers... so I do hope that others will chime in with their experience. This is one of those 'get people thinking' articles. :)

Brian Sherwin
Michael -- You make some strong points. I agree. By all means, an artist should create what he or she wants to create. BUT when it comes to actually selling art... it is best to have a uniform approach, if you will.

I've interviewed hundreds of artists over the years. Most of those artists exhibit frequently -- and of that group... practically all of them exhibit work that is connected by a theme. That is not to say that they don't explore other directions in the studio... but for exhibiting / selling -- they stay on target. ;p

You can think of this in other ways as well. Consider video games... Rockstar is known for creating 'open world' -- often violent -- games. Their fans WANT those games. If Rockstar released a 'closed world' game that involves hugging characters in order to level up... their audience would bail. Period.

Michael Cardosa

I think if you're a successful artist the last thing you need is a collector saying "I don't get it" or even worse, "I don't like it" because you've drastically changed genres without some preliminary marketing to those same people. Keeping your collectors in the loop at least makes them aware of what you might be trying without shocking them with something they find disappointing.

Just a thought.


Brian Sherwin
Michael -- Another good point. Still, going with what you know works is probably the best choice overall. I mean, you may end up feeling 'stuck'... but as I've said, there is nothing wrong with exploring other directions in your studio. As far as your market goes though... think before you take a huge jump.

Jackson Pollock comes to mind. His paintings garnered fame and wealth. BUT apparently he would have preferred it had his sculpture had the same impact market-wise. He created most of his sculpture in private... all while creating more paintings for exhibits. He knew that his painters were far more marketable than his sculptures.

Artists have tough choices to make. Period.


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