Why They Buy

by Carolyn Edlund

Do you know what makes your customers tick? Understanding the hidden reasons behind making a purchase will help you plan, market and sell more of your work.

artwork in an art gallery

Before addressing why people buy your art, let’s take a look at who is doing the buying. So many of us think we’re selling to the masses, but that’s hardly true. It may look that way at most local art and craft fairs, but in reality functional crafts sell to only about 5% of the public at large, and fine art and sculpture sell to about 2%. Let’s look into the minds of this small slice of humanity:

The Dream, the Myth

People who pursue and buy art actually envy the lifestyle of an artist – or at least what they perceive your lifestyle is like. They are up at 6 a.m., dressed in heels or a suit, off to fight traffic and put in 8-10 hours in at an office.  Your life and career seem like a fantasy they can’t begin to touch. Owning a piece of your work is like possessing a tiny bit of your creative spirit and soul. That’s heady stuff.

It’s Real and Authentic

In a society that’s rife with plastic, faux this and that, and “Made in China” stamped on everything, your work stands out as one of the most authentic things left. You have a skill – one that someday may be lost. You design and follow each piece lovingly and carefully through the creative process.  And that’s why you must tell your story, on each hangtag and brochure and by word of mouth to every buyer.

It’s Local

What’s growing in importance to shoppers today? Spending and supporting local businesses. As our world grows more and more global, we all need that connection to home. A huge shift is taking place in society as citizens tie themselves, their loyalty and their money to neighbors, hometowns, local stores and people, and local artists.

It’s Different

Visit any mall in America, and your will see the same thing. Over and over. The same brands, the same buttons, the same colors, the same, same. What you, as an artist, offer is beyond the mall and the narrow imagination expressed there.

It’s Luxury

True, nobody really needs to buy luxury products, but it’s a common perception (and an advertising slogan) that we deserve it. Luxury is no longer restricted to the affluent class. The concept is greater than the product itself – it’s the “experience.” And making a purchase of a piece of art or fine craft is a blissful experience to many consumers who consider it a reward for themselves or a guilty pleasure.

The Message

Since only 5% of the world buys crafts, and  2% buys art, let’s double that audience. Add words to any piece of art, whether it’s on the surface, or a tag, brochure, in the packaging or on a mat, and you have effectively multiplied your customers. The “left-brained” shopper can now understand and embrace what you offer. You’ve provided an anchor of comfort, a translation of your visual language.

Is it Price?

High or low, it’s never about price. Instead look at it as “value.” What is your piece worth, standing alone? What is it worth when infused with and accompanied by your story, your process, your signature, your fingerprints? Can the customer hold your talent and soul in their hands? Why, yes. Yes, they can.

Functional or Non-Functional?

All art, whether it’s a ceramic teapot or an oil painting, is functional. No one reaches into their wallet if they don’t have a purpose or use for their purchase. It’s more than love or adoration. Your artwork fills a void, brightens a space in their home or their heart. The more you discover about the “function or purpose” you add to a customer’s life, the more you will sell.


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  1. Great article Carolyn! I would love to quote these statistics as I’ve never seen them anywhere (5%, 2%). What’s the source on this?

  2. wow, great info! thanks for sharing…

  3. Very interesting. I’d never thought about what makes people buy art. And the 2% was definitely a shocker. Would’ve bet a lot higher than that… : (


  4. This is wonderful information. Thank you so much for posting and sharing!

  5. This gives me encouragement that the messages (written or implied) in my work really do find an audience. Thank you, Carolyn!

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