Marketing Mondays: "Sold!" and other Annoyances

These three questions, all from artists, seem to form a triumvirate of cyber protocol, so I decided to address them together. However I am one voice—and I have no interest in setting myself up as the Dear Abby of the art world—so your comments are more than welcome; they're essential.
Q: What is your feeling about artists listing prices on websites?  One part of me thinks it is unprofessional, especially if you have a dealer that you work with. Another part of me thinks it helps folks know if they can afford the work. --M.Z.
Your website is a visual display of your current work, with a selection of related information: reviews, a statement, a resume. If you have a dealer, why are you posting prices on your website? Provide a link to the gallery and let the dealer decide if s/he wants to include prices on the gallery website (some  do, some don't). Let the dealers work with a potential collector. They know how to gauge interest, how to  encourage sales, how to close a sale. And some may be in a position to offer a creative payment plan that enables a new or skittish collector to make the leap.

If you don't have a dealer and wish to make sales through your website, you probably need to establish a dialog with potential collectors. Posting prices is not likely to do that, but talking with them might. I'd like to know how other artists do this. Do you show work in a price range, identifying each work by price? Or do you show a selection of images without prices and state the price range?

On thing I'd add is that if you are actively selling off of your website, there's not much of an incentive for a dealer to establish a relationship with you.

(And having said that, I'm going to tell you that later this summer I will do a support-this-blog fundraiser here—as I did last year with "Send Me to Miami"— my way of raising the funds it takes for me to cover the time and expense of maintaining this blog. I’ll offer digital prints for those who donate over a certain amount. It will be a selection of work available for a fixed period for a specific project. It’s not quite a sale of work, but it’s definitely an exchance of art for a donation. I let my dealers know, and they are supportive because it’s a specific project. Otherwise I happily leave the sales to them.)
Q: I know of a professional artist who has sold her work to collectors in the past, and now has put her work on I cringe at thought of this. But in this economy I realize artists are doing what they feel they must to promote themselves. So now I'm conflicted. Have you done anything like this? Would you?--K.M.

I would not personally sell my work on Etsy. But artists are at all different points in their careers, and selling on Etsy might well work for an artist at the beginning of her career, or for one who has a line of prints or jewelry or something that lends itself to selling in this way. Also, there artists who sell more commercial work under a pseudonym, whether on Etsy or through gallery/gift shops, or in one of those bright and shiny commercial galleries with the $29.99 sofa paintings. I’ve not done that, and I don’t recommend it, but I’d be interested in hearing from any artists who do. (Anonymous posting is fine if it’s to share information.)

A post script here: Did you see my post on DIY? I suggest all kinds of ways to work, show and sell.
Q: Is it OK to shoot those boors on Facebook who insist on posting pictures of their work with SOLD!!! every time they sell a painting? Not only is is annoying, it makes me feel crappy because I haven’t sold anything in a while. --Y.L.

Hold the buckshot, Y.L., though I understand the sentiment. It’s one thing for artist friends to share news in conversation or via email about sales or other professional achievements—that’s communication between colleagues—but the incessant “sold” announcements on Facebook, usually by the same small group of honkers, are annoying. They strike me as a desperate cry for validation. I have two suggestions: Ignore or defriend.
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Louise P. Sloane said...

I agree Joanne that posting prices is unprofessional. An artist's website should be where you can send someone who is interested in getting a broader view of your work and your history. If there's an interest in acquisition, you can be sure that you will be contacted. FB is well...fb and people will post whatever information they feel is important to themselves and their friends - it's the nature of the beast.

Anonymous said...

I like to look at art online, and I find it very frustrating that artists don't include prices on websites. It would be nice to at least have a price range. Then I would know if owning the art is a splurge or impossibility. I really don't understand why it is unprofessinoal to let buyers know prices. You can still refer them to the gallery for purchase. (I can understand why you wouldn't include information about prices if the art was in the $20,000 plus range.)

Eva said...

I don't like this idea that all the work on your site is for sale anyway. These are ideas, bodies of work. I have pages of work already sold (mixed with works which have not) but I want people to see it - especially now that it is in private hands. As to the "sold" thing, I have mixed feelings about it. There have been lengthy conversations about certain works of art and when it is sold, there's a kind of collective consciousness around it. Maybe I am romanticizing that! But when you went years and years without selling, it can be something to celebrate.

Anonymous said...

Is it necessary to have a facebook page for your art? I know many people like to follow events on facebook rather than via a mailing list. But I'm resistant, and I don't want to make my personal facebook public. I notice Joanne doesn't have one.

Robin Sherin said...

I use my website to "exhibit" the full range of my work regardless of whether it has sold or not. I use Etsy for my prints and recently I added some drawings from an ongoing series of small works started in 2001. I have hundreds and decided to upload some of its earlier iterations. I link to my Etsy shop on my website's links page. I provide my web address in my Etsy shop.

Even so, I admit I was (and still am) ambivalent about Etsy, but decided to give it a try when my freelance work started to dry up. I felt it was not really a good fit for me and until recently my suspicions seemed confirmed--after languishing for about a year and a half I've had some success only since February. Someone who lives locally purchased several of the aforementioned small works and also wants to make a studio visit. Others have purchased prints--some due to west elm who features selected Etsy sellers in their catalogs. They chose several of my prints to use in a furnished room. I was surprised their picture editor thought my minimal black and white aquatints were appropriate for this and too, I've seen my work primarily in my studio or exhibits, not in a home decor setting. But as a consequence a corporation purchased them for their collection. An individual who wants to start collecting visited my website and then my studio, purchased a larger drawing and is interested in another. Perhaps I should get over my ambivalence.

Lisa Call said...

A couple of links to articles by art professionals with a different opinion:

Kathryn Markel Fine Art:

"People always tell me my site is easy to use compared to other dealers. They don’t even realize that listing prices is what makes it that way."

Alyson Stanfield - the Art Biz Coach and former museum curator:

"In an interview for the Artist Conspiracy, a prominent Santa Fe gallerist told me in no uncertain terms that she WANTS to see prices on a site. "

The full articles have more detail and I recommend them for another point of view.

Anonymous said...

Selling work directly presents all sorts of problems, not the least of which reeks of a certain type of unprofessionalism; unfortunately, in the art world a professional artist must have a dealer in order to be defined as "professional." Professionalism restrains the artist from "marketing" the work directly therefore. There are those who earn an income from their work while "representing" themselves. But the tough truth about this position is that it will almost always be very limiting. Occasionally one or two artists beginning this way make it into a gallery relationship, but most gallerists/dealers don't want to work with these folks. As to the whole FaceBook post saying "SOLD!!!," that stinks as well. FaceBook is banal to begin with, adding these snarky little notes just makes it all the more so. I agree, de-friend the little buggers!

the quiet murmur of gentle things said...

food for thought, thankyou! said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. A couple of thoughts:

. Anonymous 11:23 asks about a Facebook page. I don't know. I don't have one. Not against it; it just hasn't been a priority. Maybe when I (finally)update my website this summer.)

.Lisa: Thanks for posting the links to these other sites. Kathryn is talking about posting prices on her gallery site. Dealers posting prices says, "I have art for sale." There's a logic to that.
Artists posting prices also says, "I have art for sale." But I think Anonymous 6:08 nails it; that if an artist wants a gallery relationship, selling their own work on line is not the way to go.

kim matthews said...

Art selling is about relationships. I understand that some people are afraid to contact an artist or gallery directly to ask about pricing, but they shouldn't be. I haven't had the chance to buy much art but it doesn't stop me from contacting galleries to ask about pricing and payment plans. Good galleries understand that collectors have to start somewhere, and not all of us are wealthy. A gallery I respect sort of splits the difference and posts a price range for certain artists, which I think it okay. As for artists-I'd avoid pricing. Although the work may be for sale, I think a website should be dignified and informative-not "salesy."

Anonymous said...

Re: opposing viewpoint: There's the "transparency" of posting prices on a commercial gallery's website, and then there's posting paid ads for other businesses on the commercial gallery's blog. That is not confidence inspiring to me as a potential gallery artist or client.

Alyson B. Stanfield said...

Lisa: Thank you for sharing what I was already going to share. Every artist uses her website for her own goals and purposes.

All: I used to say "no prices," but I think (as pointed out in the post Lisa mentions above) that is out of date. At least outside of high-end circles.

The Santa Fe gallerist told me that not seeing prices was a barrier for her. If she's interested in an artist and can't see prices, she's unlikely to take the extra step of emailing or phoning them.

Showing prices is a convenience for people who are interested.

Joanne: I understand that not showing prices might open dialogue, but I tend to think that convenience is a bigger factor. People are accustomed to seeing prices online these days. If they don't see a price they 1) think it's not for sale, 2) that they can't afford it, or 3) that it's a pain in the butt to take the extra step to ask.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for commenting, Alyson. As with everything in the art world, there's no one rule, no one way. While I would not put prices on my website and would not recommend it--because I do not sell from my website and do not recommend it-- others certainly are free to do so.

My feeling remains that if we, as artists, wish to find gallery representation, then competing with the very people we wish to work with is not in our best interest.

Peg Grady said...

Thanks, Joanne for an excellent blog post. My prices are off my site as I'm looking for gallery representation and that's the important thing right now, not making a random sale. As for Facebook SOLD posts...they make me jealous then I start to feel that these people have so few sales they have to announce it to the world when something sells. (sour grapes on my part, but that ugly jealousy just won't go away).

By the way...I think of you as The Advice Goddess, not Dear Abby.

Joanne Mattera said...

Everything you say sounds good (except the goddess of advice part)

jane said...

Etsy has been quite good to me, as well - selling life drawings and urban sketches, though, as these are things I like to do but don't have any market in commercial galleries where I live.

Unfortunately, however, USPS has lost several of these drawings and I've had to close the shop while I try and figure out an alternative.

virginia bryant said...

WHAT is "snarky" about sharing info that ones' art has sold??? I LIKE seeing that other artists sell work. It gives me HOPE to see more artists being paid. I am ALWAYS glad to hear of artists getting paid, and BTW have sold others artists work as well as my own. This should happen more. It is GOOD news, and I think it is a sad comment on what is acceptable that this is seen as an insult to artists that would like to be selling more. And yes, I make those posts and support other artists that do too.
Good info on online prices. thanks.

Stacey Peterson said...

I'm failing to understand why posting prices on an artist's website is in competition with their dealers. I sell my work solely through my galleries. On my website, I post the availability and price for each painting, with a click-through link to the gallery where it is located and their phone number. If someone who loves my work finds a painting, they have all the information they need in one spot, and can contact the gallery to purchase. My galleries are all on board with this strategy as well. My prices are the same across the board (as they should be to be professional), so why does it hurt to provide collectors with this information? Selling art is a business. Art costs money. Why complicate it?

Laura den Hertog said...

Hi Joanne,
I want to comment on posting sold works on FaceBook. As an artist myself, most of my friends on FB are also artists and they are from all over the world.
One of the things I enjoy about FB is that it gives me an overview of the art world at a grass roots level.
Every time I see a posting of a sold piece of work, I hit the "like" button...Why? because every sale means the art market is recovering in rough economic times. Every time I post a sold painting of my own, it's a flag that says "Don't give up", if I can do it so can you.
I never even considered that someone might take offense. I think of FaceBook as a community where we cheer each other on and that's what my experience has been.


Meltemi. said...

My website both showcases and sells my art directly to the buyer. So it has to have the price including shipping on it..
How dare you tell me otherwise?

Laura Wambsgans said...

There are as many different opinions about the business of being an artist as there are artists. What it comes down to is what works for you, at this stage of your career and life. I believe that if your driving your business from an honest prospective, with your priorities lined up well, such as honoring your gallery at all times, you will create your best work and sleep well. The comments above are helpful in providing a good dose of ideas to consider for artists.

Anonymous said...

The 'SOLD!' thing on Facebook is such a weird thing to me. I want to ask those who do this- first of all once you do that, do you have to keep doing it every time you sell something lest we all believe you've only sold one piece? Also, do other professionals on FB announce every time they get a paycheck or have an invoice paid? It's somehow a subset of the 'starving artist' thing which grates me.

Joanne Mattera said...

You are free to do what you wish. That was not and is not the issue.

Leslie said...

Glad the subject of Etsy came up, and found Robin Sherin's response of great interest. I have been on the fence about Etsy for a long time. If my financial situation were better and I had several galleries selling my work, of course I wouldn't be thinking about Etsy at all. If I try it, I would use a business name rather than my personal name and focus on small, lower-priced work.

Christine said...

@ Meltemi. "How dare you tell me otherwise?" Really?
I guess you missed it when Joanne said..."so your comments are more than welcome; they're essential." and "I'd like to know how other artists do this. Do you show work in a price range, identifying each work by price? Or do you show a selection of images without prices and state the price range?"
No one was telling anyone anything.

Anonymous said...

I know artist friends out there with gallery shows and representation and they have to juggle several jobs to survive. So there aren't any easy answers...just good questions that you have to answer for yourself.

I live and work in a big town with numerous art schools and an infinite number of artists and many recently retired baby boomers now turning artists. Every year another gallery closes and an art dealer moves on or retires. No new galleries except by artists in alternative spaces. So in my town to survive, I sell directly. I list the categories of my paintings and give the range of sizes and prices.

I also show in galleries outside of this town. Painting is my only source of revenues and income so I have to make this all work. Each painting has the information where it can be seen and a link through to the gallery where it is showing. I have a one price sells the same through a dealer as it sells from my studio.

Janet Bludau Fine Art said...

I could go on and on about these various issues but maybe I will just bullet point a few opinions:
* I don't mind seeing "sold" on fb. I am happy for my fellow artists who sell a painting and hope that they will, in turn, feel encouraged when I post a "sold." I do appreciate when there is some interesting info attached such as, "sold to a collector through gallery" or "sold at an outdoor show", etc. It helps us all see where the sales are coming from. People who overuse the posts, do get annoying however and now that I have read all the previous posts I think I will remember to post "one of the sales from my recent show", rather than, say, 3 sold posts in a row!
* Websites: This is such a difficult one! I like to check out someone's site and know if it is within my reach to own one of their works. I recently erased most pricing from my website because of new gallery representation and a show. Problems do arise when representation is through several different galleries and you are also participating in local art fairs, etc. I am in the middle of trying to figure this all out but I like the earlier posted idea of stating a range on your website home page. This idea may work for me for now. Please keep throwing ideas out there!
*Facebook: someone was resistent to showing work on their personal page. You can start up a Business page and limit your art postings to that page only. It is another "job" to get it up and running and then you have to encourage all your collectors and friends who really are interested in your art to click on and "like" your page.

Anonymous said...

Referring back to Alyson's comment, "....I tend to think that convenience is a bigger factor. People are accustomed to seeing prices online these days. If they don't see a price they 1) think it's not for sale, 2) that they can't afford it, or 3) that it's a pain in the butt to take the extra step to ask."

Speaking as a person who follows a number of art market newsletters and artists' blogs and websites - and who makes considered purchases from time to time - I completely agree with Alyson's remarks.

The Internet is here to stay, and it's a wonderful way for "every-day" collectors to discover artists whose work we might not otherwise ever know about. I may never be able to attend an opening at a gallery in Tucson, AZ, but I can visit the work of any of the gallery's artists who has a website or blog. And my "every-day" cash has the same value as the high-end investor's!

However, if I don't see a price on a piece I'm interested in, or some indication of availability, I will probably move on, much as I may like the piece. There's too much good contemporary art out there on the net to waste my time searching for somewhere to inquire about pricing and availability.

Is convenience important? You bet!

William Duncan said...

Dear Joanne,it's great to hear all the different views about selling on a site.I think that if someone is interested in a piece,they'll get in touch!You've got a wonderful blog.