A Question of Art


The artists survival kit part three



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The Artists Survival Kit Part Three

I regularly write new articles for members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge, and The Artist Hangout. In part three of our Artists Survival Kit, we begin to get to the awkward questions, the questions that either you have and think are just too silly to ask, and by the way, they’re not, and we look at a few of the questions that art buyers ask that you might have no idea how to answer!



As usual, my own recent works will adorn this post and you can see all of my creations right here.  Any work sold through Fine Art America or Pixels makes it possible for me to continue writing new articles regularly and without the need to ask anyone to sign up to anything or having to hide behind a paywall. Enough about me, this is about giving you a few more skills, a couple of reminders, and a couple of answers to the questions you were too afraid to ask!

My usual caveats apply, not every question has an answer, not every answer is the right one, art and artists are subjective, but that’s probably why we all love it so very much!
Over the years I have had some questions of the art world that I have felt certain the answers would be easy to find, but no matter how hard I looked, the answers were often only generic and could apply to anything or they have never been asked, presumably because either everyone already knew, unlikely, or everyone else thought that the questions were too dumb to ask in the first place.

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Tropical Parrot by Mark Taylor


Straight off, I can tell you that not every question you have ever had, or will ever have, will have already been asked and answered. The art world is a huge black hole of unanswered questions and questions that have never been asked or at least asked out loud. I know this because I have many questions about the art world even after thirty-something years of being in or on the fringes of it.

So this week, we take a wander through some of the questions that at some point in your art career you will need some sort of answer to. That question might not even be one that you have, it might instead come from a potential buyer about your own work and potential buyers do need answers when they ask. So what kind of questions should we be asking as artists and what do art buyers ask?

That question of pricing…

Buyers or at least potential buyers rarely just see your work and decide to buy it without asking at least one question, often, that question is how much does it cost. There will be times when potential buyers want to ask that question but they’re too afraid to ask it as the old adage of if you have to ask you can’t afford it, suggests. This is especially the case when showing your work at exhibitions and shows when you don’t have any pricing on display.

Most buyers will already have formed their own opinion and come up with an answer before asking how much, and once they have their own answer they almost always will have moved on.  

I have visited shows in the past and seen this, I have even moved on thinking that the work will be way beyond any price point, I could afford. Sometimes, I have to say, I move on because I really don’t want to give anyone an excuse to engage with me in a sales pitch. I wouldn’t have wanted to move on quite so eagerly if I knew the work was within my reach, and I think in part because as a buyer, I wouldn’t want to instantly form a bond with work I think I can’t afford and then leave disappointed.

There are other reasons why displaying your pricing is a good idea, not just because it will save both you and potential buyers from embarrassing situations, but because the art world can never really be accused of being overly transparent. Even if you only show prices on some pieces of art, it sends a signal to buyers that you are more open and it is also a signal that tells some buyers that they can afford the work.

I get why prices aren’t shown too. Sometimes that’s because no one else at the show is displaying their prices, occasionally the rules of exhibition preclude you showing them at all, and if that’s the case then there is little that you can do except maybe have pricing sheets available to hand out.  Not showing prices online or anywhere that prices can be shown though, can put off buyers. We have to make it as simple as we can for people to buy our work and the moment that we add in any complexity is a moment that we could lose a sale.

Galleries, on the other hand, are a very different matter. There are so many reasons not to publish prices. For some artists, prices feel uncomfortable but in a gallery, and the secondary markets, knowing what someone paid for a work can have all manner of consequences, be they for tax reasons or because the buyer is buying the work as an investment, and sometimes because the history and context of the work provides a mechanism on which the price is based. So, there is precedent to not display prices in some areas of the art market but you really do have to figure out what part of the art market your art fits better with.  

There are other reasons why artists decide not to show prices - if you sell in multiple locations and need to update every place where you display your pricing, it can be a hassle, and not having a price on display is an opportunity to talk to potential customers when they ask how much. But there are better ways to start a conversation than just going straight in and talking about the money. Talk to them about the art, the process, even you, and build up a relationship and rapport with the potential buyer instead. By doing that, it will make it so much easier to eventually get around to asking for the sale because that really is the ultimate ask.

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Rock Star by Mark Taylor


Is your art a good investment?

You don’t have to be exhibiting in a show for this one to be asked. Last year I had around a dozen emails and clients asking that exact question, is your art a good investment, and will it increase in value? The simple fact is that no one, no matter what piece of art they are talking about can ever guarantee that any piece of artwork is a good investment in monetary terms.

Yet, more and more people are asking but I have a feeling that in some part this is down to the media stories of works selling for millions at auction houses or because of a banana and duct tape that made six-figures at Basel. The news organisations never report that Joe Bloggs the artist sold a print on Etsy for twenty-bucks but they will report a work selling for newsworthy numbers, and they amplify this message over and over until it sticks. What you end up with are groups of buyers who become excited about the art market thinking that they will make a quick buck on anything.

I think to a point, you might even end up with a few artists who think the same way. I can’t recall ever seeing so many variations of a banana and duct tape or a frame with a built-in shredder than I have done over the past year or so. Shredders and bananas really have been done, you need to pick something else now.

I get it though, we would all love to think that the art we own will increase in value but the reality is that very few artworks do, the value is usually found in the secondary resale markets, the big newsworthy money is made not by the artist but by those reselling the work later on. There are exceptions, but those exceptions are rarer than rocking horse do-do.

Instead, the answers to give to potential buyers have to be considered. You don’t want to run the risk of putting a buyer off by giving them some nugget of information that suggests that your work isn’t worth investing in, but equally, I don’t think that any working artist today knows for certain that one day they might not be highly collectable. Much of the future value will be dependant on future buyers, future critiques, future actions of the artist, future representation, and of course the future scarcity of the work and the ability of any secondary market that might take the work on, and past performance is never any guarantee of future success.

Instead, sell the enjoyment of the art, the experience, and whenever you can, give the buyer at least some assurance that you won’t be doing anything that would totally wipe out its value like recreating that exact same work a thousand times over or deeply discounting it which immediately wipes any past value away. In short, use the cliché that is, buy the art because you love it and let’s see what happens.

Questions artists ask…

In my previous Artist Survival Kit features I mentioned some of the more popular questions I have been asked over the years by artists and from readers of this site. The biggest question has always been, how do I find my audience? But even before this website began and way before I was even born, this question has been asked by artists. As I said before, you have to first ask yourself who you are creating your work for.

Discovering who your market is, most certainly isn’t the easiest challenge that you need to overcome as an artist. We could begin to find answers in demographics, females between the age of 24 and 30 or males between the age of 40 and 49, those demographics certainly narrow the field and can help you to focus more intently on those who are more likely to buy your work, but there are still a heap of people within those numbers who still won’t be interested in what you are doing or creating.

Instead, narrow it down and then start picking out the traits and characteristics of people who might be more interested in seeing and buying into what you have to offer. The number of females between the ages of 24 and 30 who are into your subject as much as you are will be fewer still, and then you have to ask who of them then goes on to buy a piece of art or at least might.

There is no quick way to find out who your audience is, there are no magic formulas or guides, art is far too subjective for that. For me, I know that it took me a good decade of grinding away before I began to have any real idea who was buying my work. Back in the day, there was no internet to make things easier, but even when the internet came along it was often a case of figuring them out pretty much one by one.

The good news is that it does become slightly easier with experience and with this experience, eventually you will begin to work out who is buying what and why. But the grind can be made shorter if you ask that question about who you are creating your work for first, then you need to repeatedly ask it over and over again. People change, their tastes change, your demographic ages and others might just move on.

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My Adrift Collection needs a follow-up series! 


Other questions artists have…

As expected, a lot of artists will have questions about their potential market, how much they need to charge for their work, and those are absolutely the best questions to begin with at the point you are ready to face the world commercially. But, I think there are a heap of questions that artists also sometimes forget to ask, and they are questions that could change the way you see and create your art.

When we look at art from any artist, we each see that work through the lenses of our own lives, through our own experiences and understanding, and to an extent from other influences. I don’t necessarily think when thinking more about it, that even answering that question of who we are creating our art for will necessarily bear the most fruit unless we kind of have some idea about the art that we are creating and the reasons we are creating it. We kind of have to know a lot of stuff.

As artists, I do think we have to be exposed to a lot of art to really get a feel for things in our own work. I have never met an artist who has never been influenced even just a little bit from another artists work, but how do we figure it all out, it’s complicated right?

Sometimes that influence will carry through into our own work, sometimes even a little more than influence. I have mentioned many times on this site about never simply making a copy of something that has already been done because that will only ever see you finishing in second place. But influence can come through elements that we pick out from works just as much as it can come from the works themselves and I think every artwork I have ever seen is in part influenced by at least an element from another work. I’m not suggesting that all art has been created and we should stop trying, but I do think there are only so many ways you can draw a straight line, I guess the real mastery is in finding a way that a line has never been drawn before, and realising at the same time that you might not ever find it.  

So rather than copy another artists work, maybe some of that mastery is in picking elements out and figuring out new ways to draw the straight line but I don’t think we can do this unless we first observe as much as we can from the works of not just us, but from others.

I think too, that in some cases, we need a better understanding of what is going on in our own artwork, after all, if we can’t work it out how will potential buyers? So this week, I have pulled together a list of things we might not only want to pay more attention to in the work of others, but in our own artworks too.

A question of art…

  • What are you trying to express in your work? Sometimes it is easier to write a story about the art that then illustrates those words.

  • What is going on in the artwork of others, are they seeing things you don’t immediately see?
  • Do you fall in and out of love easily? I’m not talking Tinder dates here. Giving a new work time to rest in between calling it completed and finally releasing it will give that artwork a chance to resonate with you, give you time to pull together a description and a title, and give you the opportunity to add the element you wanted to add but forgot.

  • Take a look at the artwork of others but go back to it later. Work out the differences in what you see between then and now.

  • What colours are you using, some colours carry deeper meanings and they’re often subtle.

  • When looking at the work of others, which areas carry more of an emphasis?
  • How did the artist use space, does the negative space add anything to the story?

  • If the painting had a scent, what would it smell like?
  • If the painting could talk, what would it say, how would it sound?
  • What do we find out about the artist from the artwork? Even subconsciously we all add elements of ourselves into everything we create.
  • What’s missing from the work, and what should be taken away from it to give it a deeper meaning?

  • What’s the first thing you notice each time you see the artwork?
  • Does the artwork have a feeling of nostalgia? Does it transport you to a previous time in your life, and how does that make you feel? The reason to include this is that nostalgia is a key trigger, often reminding us of simpler times. Hence one of the reasons why film studios keep re-releasing really old films in a new wrapper!
  • If you were buying your own artwork, and by the way, you shouldn’t necessarily be painting just for yourself, how long would you keep it hanging on the wall? How quickly would you tire of it? 3-months, 3-days, 3 years, is it even hangable?
  • What makes you connect to one painting more than another?
  • What do you like most about this artwork?
  • What do you like least?
  • What message are you getting from the work?
  • If you could change the work, how would you change it?
  • What does the artwork say about the time it was created? Does it relate to a specific time and what was going on that might have influenced its creation?
  • Does the work give you a different opinion about anything?
  • Why do you think the artist created this?
  • What does the artwork mean to another culture? I have included this because artwork really is subjective and especially when it comes to different cultures.

And so, you get the drift. We should indeed be questioning art as artists and building up a library of answers that we can respond to potential buyers with, but trust me on this, buyers will always ask a question that you never would have considered and haven’t got anywhere near a good enough answer to give them.

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Adrift Under a Glowing Sky by Mark Taylor


There will be stock questions that you might get asked repeatedly as your career progresses and sometimes we are put on the spot and expected to provide an answer. But we can’t have an answer for everything and there is no harm at all in saying that you will get back to them with one. But not having answers to the basic questions can give buyers a sense that you haven’t really thought this art thing through, it is even worse when you don’t have an answer for a gallery owner who has been thinking about taking your work on.

Other questions buyers ask…

Buyers always bring a few questions to the table, a few can be anticipated like how much does this or that piece cost, and those are answers you most definitely need to know before you introduce your work to buyers. They will ask searching questions too and I relish these because it is within these searching questions where buyers seem more willing to make a connection, assuming, of course, you are providing a coherent answer and not just one that you think the buyer wants to hear. So, what are they?

  • What inspires you to create art? While it might be tempting for some artists to completely overshare, this question is usually asked in my own experience to assist with deciphering your art. The buyer is often looking for that connection point, so implying that you are in this just to pay the bills isn’t going to provide you with the best of starts. Think about this, because your art has to inspire others in so many different ways and paying your bills isn’t usually one of them.

  • Do you get lonely painting all day? I have been asked this so many times over the years, and no, I have no time to be lonely at all! Like many artists, I love spending time alone creating my art but there is so much other stuff that we have to do as artists beyond painting. I have always said that artists sort of need to be both introverted and extroverted, and it is quite a skill to build.
  • How do you create such bold colours, rich textures, that glossy sheen, and it is at this point when a few artists begin their onward run to the hills. Mostly, I don’t think buyers are interested in your deepest trade secrets, if they want to know how to make something nice and shiny they generally have access to YouTube and the internet, but what they are usually asking for, is simply an insight into your process.
  • How do you know when a work is completed? Again, this is another question I have been asked over and over and the simple answer is I don’t! Generally, I think it comes down to the point when everything I think I need to do is done, or at the point, we decide to abandon the work for whatever reason. This is another reason that I give my works time to breathe before I release them.

  • Did you paint that? Yes, that one still gets asked despite standing over me and watching me every inch of the way. I still haven’t quite figured out how to respond with anything other than a simple yes, but in time, this is one you will get asked. It may though be a great talking point to discuss any influences you have included in the work.

  • What is your workday like? For most people, my average workday would sound boring and most people are surprised that there is also another day job in the mix. Explaining tax returns, marketing, and every other task an artist has to complete can be dry, but I think what they are asking is again, about the process, the time, your approach to your art. Include some of the dry stuff too, a lot of people don't know and some maybe don't care, that an artists life is not either completely solitary or filled with artsy parties!

There is no textbook from which potential buyers ask questions. Some will ask if your work will match their home décor but without knowing the intimate details of their home décor, it is a difficult one to answer. You could in these situations use the opportunity to signpost to alternative framing and matting options, but I guess the real art is knowing how to respond to questions that you simply don’t have the answer for, and to some extent, interpreting what the buyer means.  

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Making Stars by Mark Taylor


Questions from new artists…

For those who are wanting to join the art world and who are looking forward to a creative career, you are probably already thinking that this is one tough gig. It is, but despite that, it is so very worth pursuing, but, there is no easy way of saying this, it can be a long and arduous slog!

That also seems to be the findings of a new report published in the UK this week, Disconnected: Career aspirations and jobs in the UK. The report is based on an international survey of over 8,500 people aged between 14-18, with more than 7,000 responses from young people in the UK.

One of the key findings was, for instance, five times as many young people want to work in art, culture, entertainment and sport as there are jobs available. Over half of those respondents do not report an interest in any other sector.

My feeling is that there is a similar aspiration/career disconnect that happens around the world, and whilst it doesn’t make it impossible to carve out a career in the arts, it certainly makes navigating the path more onerous. You can read the full report right here

The ultimate question an artist needs to ask…

Once you figure out who you are creating your art for, what your art is and means and everything else, there still remains one ultimate question that you absolutely have to ask and that is the one that asks for the sale. I mentioned it earlier but it is the one that gets forgotten about so often.

Some will say no when you do ask, but some will say yes, and as with most things in life, not asking almost always means that you absolutely won’t get that sale at all . How you phrase that question really depends on who your audience is, but whoever they are and however you say it, you have to ask.

Summing Up…

Be prepared to answer not only questions from potential buyers but to also ask questions of yourself if you are looking for any kind of success in the art world. You also have to define what success really means and I think to an extent, understand the difference between dreams and unicorns.

The latest report should also be a wake-up call to art schools who might be selling the concept of unicorns rather than helping future artists realise their dreams. I have seen this first hand when my own daughter considered a career in the arts and was told by a college advisor that there are so many jobs available in the arts. There are, but often the roles in the arts that are available also require experience, they’re at the pinnacles of careers more so than from the outset.

It is gruelling, frequently, a long and difficult road, and everything else, but the best tool you will ever find in any artists survival kit is the one that helps you to manage expectations and the ability to never give up on the dream, even when you can’t find the unicorns and know that the rest of us are relying on you to do just that!

Over the coming weeks, you will find printable briefing papers for the artist's survival kit series and each one will be sans images to make them easier to print out and pop into a folder so that you have some references to remember, all too often we know the answers but they’re usually buried under everything else that we have to remember too. In the meantime, if there are things that you would like to share for the toolkit, let me know and as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Best Wishes and Happy Creating

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   
 Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything! You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

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