Most of Your Art Marketing Will Fail. Keep Going.

by Carolyn Edlund

Selling your art and growing a successful business is about maintaining the right mindset.


Most of Your Art Marketing will Fail. Keep Going. Read about it at


This month, I’m working on a number of different projects. Editing and launching a new art business course. Talking with art organizations about potential workshops. Implementing a new email campaign series for the nonprofit I work with. Reaching out personally to a hundred prospective customers.

Most of my efforts will fail, but this is part of the reality of business. Marketing and sales is a numbers game, and any good salesperson can tell you that if you close 10 – 20% of your prospects, you have done well.

The vast majority of attempts you make to market and sell will result in rejection, and as an artist, that might be hard to face. But as you gain experience, you will toughen up, be able to hear “no” without flinching, and move on to the next opportunity. To be successful, you must be willing to keep going despite difficult days, slow months and long droughts. It happens. Amazing opportunities also happen, and sales you didn’t predict. Those sales might seem like gifts, but you actually earned them. You earned them through persistence and professionalism and simply not giving up.

I recently spoke to a gallery owner who had been notified by her biggest corporate customer that they no longer needed her services. She was shocked. “I’m losing one third of my business. What will I do?” she asked. The truth is that she’s an entrepreneur who built that business in the first place. In the back of her mind, she already knew what she would do – get back to work and fill the gap left by that client. She would plan and prospect and find new customers for her gallery. She had done it before, and it could be done again. Setbacks are part of the flow of business. But you already know that, because you’ve experienced them.

Another entrepreneur I know is an artist who realized there was an unfilled need for public art in his area, and took the initiative to speak to business leaders and make some big projects happen. He ended up creating a profitable business in a market that did not yet exist, by perceiving opportunities and taking advantage of them. It was a lot of hard work and paid off. Then, he called me up and sold me on the idea of speaking at a workshop about how other artists can do the same thing – even though it was something I didn’t even know I needed.

All it takes sometimes is the willingness to reach out and take the chance that this time, your marketing will not fail. Start growing a network of contacts and prospective customers and speak with them. Do it often.

I am pitched every single day by people who want to sell me things, and I’m sure you are too. Most of them you just ignore. Others are interesting, but it’s not the right time or may not fit your budget. Once in a while something comes along that really fills a need you have or gets you excited, and that’s when you make a purchase.

Your customers are the same way. The vast majority of people in the world don’t ever buy art or handmade items. Some might pick up something at Target to hang on the wall, and that’s fine; they aren’t your customers anyway. The people who do care about original art are fewer. And the ones who care about your art are fewer still. So when you find those prospective customers, don’t let them get away. Speak with them, listen to them, gather their contact information, stay in touch, and encourage them to become proud owners of your work.

That list of prospects is essential to growing your business. Even though they might be raving fans and love what you do, most of them aren’t going to make a purchase, at least the first time you come in contact. Over time as you follow up and reach out and present your newest work, some will say yes and buy from you. Then, they become part of another list, and this is your collector list. These are people you will always want to stay in touch with, because repeat sales are easier to make than first time sales, and the word “collector” pretty much means you need more than one, doesn’t it?

Making art can be exciting, fulfilling and just plain fun. Marketing and selling it may not fill you with the same emotions. But if you want to earn your living as an artist, you are also a salesperson. One who knows that a 10-20% close rate is successful. So get out there even though you know that almost every attempt will fail. Don’t give up. Keep on going.


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  1. Max Dugan says

    This message is to aspiring gallerists: The key to your longevity resides in your aggressiveness in creating new collectors. You can no longer afford to depend on walk-in traffic. Your long arms must reach out and draw the newbies to you like moths to a flame. Your target goal should be no less than 20 new collectors each and every month. Many of you are coloring me as ‘crazy’. I’m retired now but I averaged 38 new collectors each month. I did this month after month – year after year. I did this for 15 years. Here’s a clue………..Joseph Duveen was one of the most influential art dealers in the 1930s. I quote Duveen, “To the croupier I am dirt, but to the dirt I am the croupier”. Some of you will get it – many of you won’t. Make sure your inventories are without reproach. At all times stick with quality. Your inventories should be comprised of emerging artists, living masters, and masters who are safely dead. Why does fine art have value? In a nutshell: Art is man’s record of himself. People buy art for three reasons: 1) For aesthetics 2) For short intermediate, and long term capital appreciation, and lastly 3) currency protection. FIne art is international currency. The bright ones among you will understand the gifts I have just given you.

  2. remedios zacarias santos says

    I think creativity is “not seriously” creating something. It is merely enjoying doing something and when you’re done, it makes you proud and say “wow,” and makes tou gigle about it. And then it draws a smiles on your face. – Zach

    • max dugan says

      Your idea certainly applies to a hobbyist – not to a professional.

      • I love your reply to Zach. My area is over indulged with retired people, who do buy the odd piece, but mostly are well heeled and bored because they’ve worked hard all their lives in business and farming. A large majority turn to painting and crafts for enjoyment and achievement. Many do the rounds of shows mainly to stop the build up under the bed and because they are proud of their work, but they sell for clearance prices because they only want to cover their costs. Some even sell a lot at these rock bottom prices but won’t starve if they don’t.

        The handfull of professionals out of the thousands of hobbyists in our area have to be extremely clever marketers, stunning artists and very resiliant. It’s not 10 or 20% of prospects around here that buy, its much less than 1%. Professional Artists need to create what sells for a living wage, not what they enjoy doing, that is a widely held misguided belief. There is not much opportunity for giggling. The only other option open to professionals in our area is to teach art to all those retirees. 🙂

        • Well said, Sea. I completely agree. Hobbyists in all mediums often have no idea how to price, and want to either clear out things that are piling up, or be able to afford more art supplies. It is a challenge for serious artists who are selling to earn a living.

  3. Hi Carolyn,
    Thank you for a great article.
    I can not agree with you more. I have been selling art online for over 15 years and I can honestly say that I enjoy Marketing as much as I enjoy creating art.
    Just like enhancing your artistic skills you also have to work at enhancing your marketing skills. I believe everyone can succeed as long as the have the right mind set, will to learn and will to work hard.

    Your last thoughts say it all:

    “Making art can be exciting, fulfilling and just plain fun. Marketing and selling it may not fill you with the same emotions. But if you want to earn your living as an artist, you are also a salesperson. One who knows that a 10-20% close rate is successful. So get out there even though you know that almost every attempt will fail. Don’t give up. Keep on going.”

    I hope all artists read this over and over.
    Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Thanks for reading and for your kind comment, Dave. You are an exception to the rule that artists hate to sell their work, but it’s necessary to have the ability to promote your work and close a sale to be in business!

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