To Start an Art Business - Basic Tips

January 19, 2016

Starting an art business is far from a small feat - this literal journey will have its ups and downs, its tides and ebbs, and if you choose to take this path you must brace yourself for it. That being said, there are many directions one could follow within the world of art business, as art has diversified and found its application needed in a number of different areas. Being called “an artist” may denote someone working for a design company or an advertising agency; it may very well imply working in the corporate world as much as it could mean creating paintings for a gallery. However, if you were to ask most artists, the goal would be to eventually go into business for themselves and use their talent and their passion to make a living as their own boss.

It may sound like the “promised land” in theory, but there are a lot of obstacles to cross from one point to the other. With art having already taken so many forms and angles, it’s less than easy to be original nowadays and to find a way into the buyer’s wallet. Starting your own art business with so many talented artists already doing the same can be difficult and stressful, and with a lot of controversies and stereotypes within the art world, it might be a bigger bite than some can handle. Finding a way to stand out is crucial, and often the smallest of details can make a difference when trying to sell art. So, without further adieu, here are some tips and tricks that will help you run an art business.

art business

" need comprehension of both art and business in order to make your art business successful."

A Bit of Art, a Bit of Business

Something an artist might overlook when starting out, or even those down the road, is that you need comprehension of both art and business in order to make your art business successful. Being good at making art is one thing, being able to sell it is completely another. You may not be aware of it, but selling an art piece doesn’t necessarily correlate to artistic quality. In fact, the boundaries of art are so far stretched, that the definition of good or bad art is often determined by the price someone is willing to pay for it. Existence of emotional connection felt by the buyer toward an art piece or collection creates subjective personal value, and though its weight might not be in line with the financial value given by an art speculator, it still has an economic effect as it can be a deciding factor in a purchase.

This makes pricing of an artwork the key point in every art business, and knowing how to do it will require knowledge of both art and business techniques. It’s also what makes the art business unique. In other industries, the price of what you’re selling is in direct relation to the price of commodities needed for its production. But you’re not going to charge a painting based on the price of paint and canvas. It opens room for a lot of profit as well as possible mistakes, and knowing how to determine a price range for art work, managing your liabilities and assets and grasping the basic tenets of business that apply to any independent venture will help you turn a profit. Read some business-related books, talk to people who already run a business or take introductory classes, and it will help you start and run an art business immensely.

art business

"Consistency is vital."

Consistency in Every Aspect

It doesn’t matter which form of art you are creating or are trying to sell. Having consistent tendencies on multiple levels will ensure that those who are interested in what you’re offering know what to expect. There are several important factors, and we’ll mention a few.
Consistency in your work. Be it creating a distinct style of art or selling a certain type, limiting your tendencies to a certain field might do good on your business. Not that being divergent in either making or selling is bad in any way, but proving yourself on multiple fields might take a toll and put you in an unwanted position, especially if you’re just starting out. Specializing in a certain branch and becoming good at it will make you stand out and known for it, giving you a more passionate and reliable customer base.
Consistency in your prices. Let’s say you’ve recently opened a gallery and you’ve hosted a few exhibitions, but the price range for one was $500 - $1000, and for the other $8000 - $12,000. Not only does it raise suspicion, it puts a lot of questions in the minds of potential buyers: “How come these pieces are so much more expensive than the ones from the last show? Are the ones I bought before flukes?” or “I thought you sold expensive art. How come everything's so cheap all of a sudden? Are you trying to get out of financial trouble?” The same context applies for artists selling their work out of galleries. Minor tweaks in prices from time to time are generally ok, especially if you have a valid explanation for it, but a big disparity in price may alienate or confuse your clientele.

art business

"Building your image will take time and patience..." Photo via

Making a Name for Yourself

We’ve discussed how you should compose a valid price for your art pieces, and keep it consistent, but the biggest factor that will determine where you can place your price range and how much your piece will ultimately sell for is the name of the artist. Whether you are a solo artist starting out or a gallery owner hosting exhibitions, getting recognition and building a reputation is essential. Social media marketing is a must in the modern social environment, and an obvious “go to” when it comes to promoting work and artists. It’s a cheap, effective way to reach a broad audience, and establish your presence within the art world.

Another great way of getting into the art scene is visiting local museums, art organizations and significant art events. In case you are a gallery owner, you could also visit dealer associations, fundraisers, or even donate art to the same, eventually holding such events in your own gallery. You might not achieve your goal straight away, but you’ll get to know who the significant players are, and ultimately they’ll be recognizing you as well. Building your image will take time and patience, but if you are consistent, it is bound to emerge.

Having a functioning website is an evident bonus, and it helps not only in promoting your work, but in categorizing it as well. It becomes a commercial that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can neatly display your biography and portfolio, allowing potential buyers a clear insight into what you’re all about. Cataloging all the pieces and making a detailed inventory of your work and pricing will prove valuable in several ways: sharing your price list with collectors puts your pricing in context and increase the likelihood of a sale, the list serves as a valuable archive of your body of work and prices, it allows analyzing the evolution of your price list against actual sales to predict market-based price increases, and other marketing perks. The website is sure to return the amount invested in it, and become a valuable asset of your business.

art business

"...having a firm base of connections is a solid foundation for any type of art business." Photo via

Creating a Network

Networking is important in any industry, even more so for emerging artists looking to make a living based on their work. Whether you are referring to buyers, artists or press, having a firm base of connections is a solid foundation for any type of art business. No matter how well you plan and how far ahead you think, something down the line will surprise you and will go wrong. Surrounding yourself with people who could potentially advise you and help you get through these rough patches is invaluable, and it could mean the difference between staying afloat and sinking under.

It’s known in any business that attracting new buyers is a far more taxing task than keeping old ones. The case with art is even more tedious; if you study the history of any great collector or collection, you'll be able to see that only a handful of dealers are typically instrumental in building it. You should be that dealer, that artist, and keeping your network updated and growing will help you achieve that. Including one press or the other in your network will further publicize you, increasing your chance for sale. Even if the reviews don’t go your way, people don't remember the content of reviews anywhere near as well as they remember the names of the galleries and artists that are the subjects of those reviews. All press is good press, and the worst thing someone can write about you is nothing at all.

art business

"...keeping your head up is key."

Keep Your Head Up

Starting an art business truly is no small feat, and though you may possess the prerequisites for it, burying your hand in the sand at the first sign of trouble is a sure way to cement your failure and bring the business to a close. Much like in any other industry, a successful image and profitable margin won’t be made overnight; it’ll take time and effort regardless of what your business is about, and the sooner you accept it the better. Whichever path you may choose to take, keeping your head up is key. Set your goals, set a standard for yourself and don’t lose track of it, and it will guide you through the perils and failures.

Featured image via All images used for demonstrative purposes only.