Art Business 101: Success in the Market

New Profile PicWhat is the Market?

When you hear the word “market”, maybe you think of a physical place where people buy things, like a supermarket or a farmers’ market. In the parlance of economists, however, the term “market” describes something broader. It encompasses all of the buying and selling of goods and services.

The term “art market” refers specifically to the buying and selling activity in the art world, but there are also smaller niche markets within the larger art market. For example, there is a distinct market that is dedicated to pop art.

How to Create Success

The key to success in the art market is, very simply, to connect your work with your specific market, the one that is devoted to the exact kind of products that you are selling. When you meet consumer demand with the supply of relevant products, you will achieve sales.

How do you connect with your market? The first and most fundamental step is to put your work for sale online or in a brick-and-mortar space. The second step is to let people know that your art is for sale with targeted promotion, i.e. marketing. When you are first getting started, your list of marketing contacts will be small, but as people continue to discover your work online or in person, your list will grow.

I will write more about art shows and promotion in a future post. For now, let us focus our attention on responding effectively to market indicators.

Interpreting Market Data

Humans are emotional creatures. It is very easy to take your experiences in the market personally, reacting to every sale with celebration, and to every non-sale with despair. This see-saw of emotions is part of the human condition, but it will not help you learn anything substantial about the market.

A more helpful way to react is with scientific detachment, understanding that the market is composed of impersonal forces. Economists are basically market scientists, and theycandles-and-holy-cards-at-aos work to uncover and chart these impersonal forces. You can become a market scientist too, analyzing your results with cold detachment.

An example of an impersonal force is a bullish market phase, when consumers are more likely to buy art. Another force is a bearish market phase, when consumers are more likely to pass on buying art. These phases are influenced by consumer confidence in the value of art and in the strength of the economy in general, and they are beyond the control of art-makers. If your art isn’t selling, it is possible that the market is simply “hibernating” like a bear, waiting for more favorable conditions.

Another impersonal force is market saturation. The market can be under-saturated (or “open”), saturated, or over-saturated with product, and the saturation level will have an impact on your sales. Produce too little supply to meet consumer demand, and you will lose potential income. Produce too much supply, and you will be burdened with excess inventory. Produce just the right amount of new and innovative product, and people will buy it as quickly as you can make it. This was the case during my long-running Chicago Art show, when I was making and selling 3 – 5 pieces per week.

The market was very different in late 2016, when a small preview show had better attendance and stronger sales than the larger show that followed it. I realized after the fact that we had perfectly saturated our market with the preview show, and there was no more significant business to be made.

You’re Not Psychic

Market analysts, like meteorologists, are notoriously better at commenting on the past than predicting the future. It will be the same for you. While the scientific approach will help you to understand and accept your results after the fact, it will be more difficult to anticipate results before they happen. There will always be a degree of uncertainty and risk in everything you do. Remember the adage, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Also learn to value non-monetary gains, like knowledge and experience.

One way to mitigate risk is to pay attention to larger market trends. During bearish market phases, take a more conservative approach in your production numbers and sales exposure. The stock market is a good indicator of consumer confidence, as people tend to Dean cutting out Navy Pier 2pull their money out of stocks during times of uncertainty. You can also learn about trends within the art market by setting up an account on Artsy and subscribing to its e-magazine.

If you keep your eye on the market, gather data from direct experience, and work to build a following over time, you will eventually have the information you need to create success. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your career.