Art without sales is practice [Guest post]

Written on August 26, 2011 by in Business savvy, Guest bloggers

Editor’s note: Please welcome our newest guest blogger, John Rorer. John brings a wide variety of professional knowledge and experience to the table. He will be periodically blogging on topics including accounting, bookkeeping and sales. If you have questions related to these topics, please let me know in the comments below. Cheers!

Cold hard cash (c) Andrew Magill

There’s an old business axiom that “production without sales is junk” meaning the function of a business is the creation of a product that is delivered to a paying customer; otherwise the business is pointless. Art is different in that the business of art has two aims: first it fulfills the artist, but it remains a hobby unless the artist can sell the work to a paying customer and fulfill the second aim of becoming self-sustaining. Like art, sales is a talent the presence of which differs dramatically in individuals, and like art, learning and practicing the necessary skills can significantly enhance the result. As the beginning artist needs to understand the basics of composition, the beginning artist hoping to sell his/her work needs to understand the basics of motivating customers to buy.

Why do people buy? Ranked by result, buyers are motivated by:

  1. A need that a product satisfies;
  2. A fear that an opportunity might be lost by not buying;
  3. Pride of ownership; and
  4. Keeping up with the “Joneses.”

In the case of art these motivations do not always occur according to the traditional ranking, and in the case of famous artists, motivation #3 might be primary – the pride of owning a masterpiece has certainly prompted intense competition and prices at auction. But, what about the rest of us, not yet famous but hoping to become so while still alive to enjoy the rewards?

The #1 motivator—satisfying a need—usually relates to commercial art or wedding photography, where a need for the specific product occurs due to a unique circumstance, or professional decorating, where the art is merely one piece of a larger overall theme. The rest of the time motivators #2 and #4 can become very effective with the appropriate presentation.

When you create a unique item for which there is only one opportunity of ownership for a prospect, whether it’s a photo session with young children, an original painting, or even a sculpture, the impulse and circumstance of the creation will never occur again. If a prospect really likes the piece, and truly understands it is only available right now and will never be available again, often they will act to avoid regretting the lost opportunity later. When you use good closing techniques, which we will discuss in a later post, or offer a deal for the customer in exchange for their testimonial and referral to others, clients then become subject to the motivation of keeping up with the Joneses. Who wants their neighbor to have something that they can’t have?

By all means, follow your heart and produce works you love, but remember that being a professional requires talent in more areas than art. Only you can determine whether your art is a business, or just practice.


John Rorer is Vice-Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Currituck County, part of North Carolinas famous Outer Banks resort area. Four decades of experience in banking automation, investment securities, accounting, sales management and real estate development support his broad base of experience advising small business owners on how to make opportunities of the many challenges of entrepreneurship. He serves on the boards of and as a consultant to local non-profits, as well as provides websites, social media marketing and internet business advisory services to start up businesses in that area. John studied engineering at Univ. of VA., political science at Lynchburg College and law at T.C. Williams Law School of the Univ. of Richmond. He is a licensed real estate broker, general contractor, instrument-rated pilot with helicopter experience, avid racing sailor and horseman; and he is blessed with two wonderful grown children and an exceptionally understanding wife who forgives all his pre-occupations.

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