99 How to sell paintings Pt 1

SELLING PAINTINGS is not easy in the best of times. But there’s one sure way to sell paintings; create paintings other people value. Note that I emphasize creating paintings other people value. It’s pointless to pretend you’re a frustrated genius whose work is unappreciated by the masses. The immutable fact is that the final arbiters of financial success are other people.

To create valuable paintings you must embrace authenticity. If you’re trying to paint like your favorite artist your paintings will not be fully valued because your story will be the story of an imitator following the path of an innovator. A distinctive style indicates a unique way of viewing the world. That style is an expression of a unique personal history. To imitate is to adopt an inauthentic story.

Some people claim that the foremost art form of our era is story. The case can be made that the preeminent artform of all eras is story. Artists that became respected and prosperous during their time were painters whose stories reflected the uniqueness of their era. I’m not suggesting that we invent a history. But it’s helpful to understand how successful artists became successful. Think of the artists you admire. Is their artistic journey interesting? Is there something unique about them and their art that allows them to position their art above the rest? 

I admit that I don’t fully celebrate this somewhat off-putting reality. In a perfect world the validity of art should be independent of history. But there’s something incredibly na├»ve about such an attitude. It’s very possible that my personal journey will never be interesting enough to warrant my art being appreciated at the level I would like. But that in no way relieves me of the necessity of understanding the forces at play. What we understand we are more likely to control. We can use such understanding to our own best interests should we so desire.

Read any news source to witness how modern celebrities and superstars manipulate story to promote themselves. Celebrities embrace a sense of drama and their public lives are more theater than reality. Thankfully visual artists have a different tradition and history. Our collectors expect a different kind of story (perhaps more akin to an olympic athlete’s). But the fact remains that every successful artist from Da Vinci to Rembrandt to Van Gogh to Odd Nerdrum has a unique and inimitable story.

Read part 2 here.

Brad Teare August 2012

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Updated: 7th December 2023
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