Marketing for Artists: Demystifying the Journey
Making art and art marketing often feel like they exist worlds apart. We’ve all heard the left-brain, right-brain cliches, and if you haven’t told yourself, “I’m bad at business,” you’ve probably heard an artist say it. But while marketing can be a difficult nut to crack, the truth is that artists have an advantage in the space; as a maker, you create unique and exceptional content. That’s art marketing, and it’s not just business — it’s your art’s journey into the world.
Create a Portfolio
In art marketing terms, your portfolio is one part visual resume, one part product showcase. As a general rule of thumb, Art Business News suggests that it should include a minimum of five pieces. Regardless of the number, these should be your most remarkable, outstanding, distinct pieces, alongside a general artist’s statement and bio. Don’t forget to include accolades in your portfolio, too, such as awards you’ve won or quotes from notable positive reviews.
Curate an Online Presence
Consider your portfolio a cornerstone of an essential part of art marketing: your online presence. While physical portfolios are still necessary, an online portfolio in the form of a website is something that’s hard to do without nowadays — Engage Art recommends platforms like Wix, Squarespace or Shopify. In addition to your works, include easy-to-access contact options, up-to-date info on events you’re involved in and pieces currently for sale. Think of your website as a work of its own, another opportunity to express your personal aesthetic, and ensure that the entirety of your online presence, from your site to your socials, shares a unified visual and tonal identity that is distinctly “you.”
Embrace Social Media
As Art Marketing News puts it, “awareness is the primary first driver,” and leveraging the social media platforms that dominate our modern headspaces is absolutely essential to building that awareness. You don’t have to hit every single one of them, but start with a handful of platforms that resonate the most with you among options like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok or even LinkedIn and Pinterest. Don’t just put content into the void; engage with the social media content of other artists, and with the responses you receive on your own content. Integrate your socials with your portfolio website, too.
And don’t be afraid to follow social media where it goes. Artists have always been on the cutting edge of global communication. So if that means an art TikTok, that means an art TikTok. Rather than positioning yourself as a salesperson, use these platforms as a medium, places to create unique, expressive content in your personal style, as well as pulpits that get eyes on existing works. Don’t just post; use the format to tell a story.
Submit to Art Shows
Social media is transient by nature, but the boots-on-the-pavement grind of getting yourself into juried art shows is the rock of the working art world. Submit to as many shows as you can within reason. To increase your chances of acceptance, Artists Network recommends targeting shows that jell with the themes or aesthetics of your work, submitting works that cohere with one another, following the application instructions to a tee, and using the most professional photos possible, presented in carefully curated order.
Getting into art shows does more than just build experience. In the long run, the process will help you bolster other key areas of art marketing, such as developing patronage and networking.
Cultivate Direct Patronage
A big part of marketing for artists relies on personal relationships. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, specialized software or an old-school notebook, you need to keep thorough track of your collectors. What did they buy? For how much? What do they like? Have they helped you make new sales or forge new relationships? Without overwhelming them, keep in touch with people you’ve sold to before, or with those who have expressed interest, via mailing lists or personal outreach regarding work that might suit their interests (and, as Agora Gallery reminds us, their budgets).
It’s through building these relationships that people who like your art become people who buy your art and those who buy your art become dedicated collectors of it. ArtBase can be a huge help here, cataloging detailed info for every single piece you sell and every person you do business with, and turning that business activity into an easily searchable information database.
Know Your Market
Another benefit of cultivating direct patronage is that it helps you develop a picture of what your specific market and local communities respond to. Collect feedback when you make a sale, or when you participate in a show, for instance. Take advantage of the website analytics that most web-hosting platforms offer to see what’s hitting and what’s not, and keep track of current bestsellers on markets like Etsy and Artsy. Pay attention to the successes of other artists in your experience, format and style brackets, not to mimic them creatively, but to get a handle on what’s working at the moment.
Put Yourself Out There (the Old-Fashioned Way)
When you feel safe and comfortable attending in-person events, attend those events. Online marketing is, of course, crucial for artists, but it’s easy to focus wholly on that aspect at the expense of analog social networking. Whether it’s an art fair, an opening reception, viewing party or exhibition, human beings love seeing faces, and they remember them. So put your face out there and become a part of the art community around you. If you don’t find it easy to socialize, it always pays to listen to everything and ask as many questions as you can.
Throughout your marketing journey, a few pillars apply to just about all aspects: Keep it consistent (in tone, cadence and output quantity), experiment, lean into what works, cull what doesn’t work, and always set and shoot for reasonable goals. Remember, marketing for artists isn’t a singular event — it’s a process, and one that comes more naturally over time.
Alongside experience as a graphic designer and on-set art director, Dan Ketchum is a northeast-LA-based culture, media and food writer of 12 years, with publishers including Ashford University, Salon.com, The Seattle Times and USA Today.