Art Marketing: Past, Present, Future


The world of selling art has vastly changed – and so has the collector.

Let’s take a look at history for a minute. We know that art, like other products, has always been sold in the same way. You get it out to the masses and someone just might like it. The purpose is the same; but the mechanism has changed.

  • 300 hundred years ago, art was sold on roadside donkey carts. A simple person-to-person transaction.
  • 200 years ago printing presses revolutionized communication, and as a result, began to widen the audience for art.  People could learn about art without seeing the original, thus changing commerce forever.
  • 50 years ago the popular definition of art was still limited to bronze or marble or two dimensional work on paper or canvas. This was the world of the parents of your new collectors. The value of art was defined by critics and auction results.

Yesterday artists searched for places their work could be shown, and for people who would purchase it.

Today collectors search for artists.  For the first time in history, the marketplace is reversed.  In addition to this, for the first time, artists have the tools to seek out collectors with very specific interests. This ability places a great deal of power in the hands of artists who understand and take advantage of the enormous opportunity that can be grasped.

Artists have always derived income from multiple revenue sources, and that continues to be an essential strategy.  They are wearing many different hats in an effort to attract a broader audience and spread their brand. The “artist as businessperson” concept is one that all creatives need to embrace and understand fully.

Production artists are exploring one-of-a-kind work again, and those same production galleries that sell $65 boxes and bowls have nurtured their customers and can now sell work that is priced up to $3,000.

Educators realize that job security is a thing of the past.  The erosion of tenure has forced them to put one foot outside the classroom and into the marketplace. Today educators are out in the community, active at fairs, exhibitions, managing their own independent studios and earning a living through their art, not just through teaching. For the first time, educators are able to share real life career experiences with their students.

One of a kind artists like Dale Chihuly have discovered ways to nurture younger collectors — with work that sells for less than $3,000.

The walls of ego, elitism and arrogance in the art marketplace are crumbling down.

The internet has leveled the playing field between the critic, the consumer, the collector and the enthusiast.

 Today, collecting art is more adventure, less investment.

The next generation art collector has a college education and lives in a global marketplace and culturally diverse neighborhood. They are wise consumers and demand good design.

The role of art in their lives is expanding, from household items, clothing, and television. Today some of our greatest art is not applied to any particular surface. It can be found online, in comic books, magazines, videos and on t-shirts.

Art has entered the mainstream of American life. 

Today’s art consumers (Generation Y) are unlike their parents. The country club or church social groups are less important. They have new friends,  and unusual niche identities. They’re not interested in working as hard as their parents. They don’t live to work; they work to live. They demand personal fulfillment in their lives and want to spend it in a meaningful way. Art is a personal statement, an expression of their individual tastes and interests.

What makes a person you meet today interesting?  It’s probably not their job, sports or even their religion. Chances are they have something they will share with you as an identity that separates them from other people you may know.  They have “something” to talk about, a unique special interest.  It might be traveling, scuba diving, hot air ballooning, short wave radio, social media, anime or collecting art. They very likely will have tattoos, adorning their body with a very personal type of artwork.

Today, while most daytime college art classes are shrinking – evening classes are filled with professionals, seeking a diversion from their boring lives of law and accounting. They are returning to night school to study jewelry making, ceramics and woodturning!  Are they your future competitors? Maybe. But more likely, they are your future collectors.

Today, artists are a vital economic element in many cities where they provide seeds for revitalizing rundown urban areas. They are a magnet for affluent tourists and they just make people feel good about their communities.

There are those among us who believe that any artistic pursuit should be without the understanding or consideration of the marketplace. However, look at history again – the artists and sculptors of the past who were not controlled by royalty, church, academia or wealthy patrons would make a very short list.

Art without business, whether you make small objects or large sculpture, is not more than a hobby.  What is the value of a compliment without risk or commitment?  The marketplace of the future will allow us all to find customers for the work we want to create . . . not make us create for the customers we can find.

Artists as a dynamic, important engine of change, will move forward in a new direction, to invent a new industrial revolution for things made by hand with thoughtful purpose.

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  1. What a great post I love so many parts of it but the last sentence is the perfect close “a new industrial revolution”. I first would like your take on this post – And I would love to incorporate part of your post in one of mine – of course with proper accreditation. I feel inspired, Bravo!!!

  2. My favorite… “Art without business is not more than a hobby.” I know many people in this boat. The fear of rejection, will I be the BEST? Gotta be the BEST… so they “talk” art. They take another class…
    Thanks for a great article… PJ

  3. As a person with marketing background in jewelry industry I believe that today there is an increasing demand for new forms of art. Customers are searching for something out of a kind. Jewelry that will reflect their mood. Clothes that will stress out their unique personality. It is a good time for self-employed determined designers.

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