Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Visual Art Incomes

If you want to sell art, consumer studies provide rare and extremely valuable insight into the minds of buyers of art and into trends in art sales. The results of art consumer surveys and studies should be essential reading for every artist who wants to expand sales beyond the boundaries of their friendships. If you do not study sales (at least to some extent), you are probably involved in intuitive, inefficient and highly competitive sales program.

The Xanadu Gallery in Scotsdale Arizona conducts art consumer research. Their studies involve mostly American artists plus some from Canada and other nations; the majority of their respondents are painters [64%]. Because my students and I are interested in visual art as a career, the Xanadu statistics on income were of significant interest.

A full 90% of the 1,200 respondents are involved with sales of their work—45% of those artists earn all their income from their visual art career; an additional 45% have “another job/career” as a source of income. As a reality check for my students, I valued the Xanadu questions on income that revealed 83% of them selling less than $25,000 in annual sales; only 17% reported income above that amount. (For comparison, Statistics Canada defined the "poverty line" [or low-income cut off] for a single person living in a major city in 2007 as $21,666 (before tax). To read more about the Xanadu survey, go to their website [], click on “Blog” at the top of the page and then on “State of the Art 2012 Survey” on the top right of the page that opens.

In 2009, Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINK) undertook a large survey that investigated the impact of the recession on U.S. artists. Their findings on the income levels of artists were largely the same as the Xanadu findings, but what was unique about their study was that it quantified the optimism of visual artists.

The LINK study painted a dispiriting picture of the recession losses of artists (48% reported decreased sales, 37% reported decreased grants. 35% reported fewer exhibitions, etc.), but it also reported that artists produced more work and remained optimistic about the future. Their optimism, however, may be naïve and may reflect their ignorance of the findings of studies such as the one they were in. As one artist says, “I have to believe things will get better!”

Survey results such as the ones quoted in this article are highly effective motivators for professional development. To my mind, not enough artists actually study sales to help advance their career; too many of us are merely doing what everyone else does, thereby minimizing their development potential.

The insights provided by surveys, plus general consumer preference studies are the best sources of information for your marketing strategies. The questions they ask can serve as models for “mini-surveys” that you can conduct with your own customers. The more you know about your clients, the better for your creative business practice. Surveying your customers furthers your relationship with them; it suggests that you care about them, their point of view and your career. Try it! You might learn a lot.

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