This question is probably at the forefront of every aspiring professional artist’s mind, whether they admit to it or not. After all, if the tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, who cares if it makes it a sound? If your artwork is not collected, i.e. purchased by someone even if only for a dollar – if it is not received or acknowledged for value – does it have an existence in the world that matters in any meaningful way? We are long, long past the days of collective living when making art on cave walls was done in exchange for food or tribal honor.
How this is accomplished, however, is tricky. And though it requires immense personal effort, I do not believe it can be done alone. There are simply too many pieces required to be fit together in the web of the art world. And people are too too various and too numerous, too isolated and too busy for any single artist with one style of art to reach sufficient numbers of them.
Of course an artist must have a website. And it had better be a good one. It should show only current, available work – not old pieces or sold pieces. It is counter-productive to show anything but your best, and your early work is not your best, and no one but you really cares how you got there. And having someone fall in love with a sold piece just gives them an excuse not to buy a new one. Also, have excellent photography and good navigation. Plus a great studio shot – you know, one with you all covered in paint, and working – and a brief bio.
After this, you need to secure two major things: gallery representation and museum placements. These are the two items that will give you more access to collectors who will actually buy your artwork than anything else. You should get as many galleries to represent your artwork as you can supply. You have to trust your art. The more people who see it in galleries, the more it will – presumably – sell. Galleries are the folks who are in the business of finding and accessing those collectors you need.
Galleries can also help you to make application to museums, if your work is museum-quality. Having your art in museums, no matter their size or quality will give you access and a kind of credibility with collectors that nothing else can. However, not every artist’s work is museum quality. But remember, there are also all types of museums in this country – and the world. Be assiduous in your search for them. Nonetheless, if this door closes, then just stick with galleries. Be sure your website links to them. And you cannot sell direct once you are gallery-represented. You refer everything to your galleries. Do not cheat on this, because it’s likely you will be found out, and it’s bad for your soul, anyway.
Also, join every arts organization in your local area, go to all the fundraisers, schmooze, meet people, tell them what you do, tell them which gallery represents you.
Learn how to talk about what you do. Many artists are way too reticent. Find a friend who will listen to you, and practice. This is important.
Note: Even though you will get asked, perhaps often, I do not recommend donating your art for charitable events. You will be told, “oh! so many people will see your art!” Yes, and then they will buy it at discount. This is not good. Let them buy travel tickets or something else at a discount. Not your painting. It will not benefit you in any way. Don’t do it.
Now, if you do not wish to go the gallery route, and if your art is inexpensive, there are many online art sites on which you can place your art for sale – Saatchi is probably the largest one. Just google online art for sale to find others. They all have various fee structures. On each of them, you post a photo and description of your art and maybe it sells. Some sites work better than others for differing kinds of art. You should be able to discern that by looking at the art on the site and seeing how well your work relates.
In general, however, online sales are not yet particularly successful for most artists – and cannot remotely compete with what a good gallery can do for you. Also, the contacts are not personal, and there aren’t shows, as there are with galleries. Personal relationships can grow and serve you well over time.
– Michelle Gaugy