Ask The Expert: The Art of Selling Art

by Howard Maslich

An art guild hired me to give sales training to a group of talented and creative artists who wanted to learn how to sell their creations. These folks were tasked with selling their own works to prospective buyers at art shows and they were failing badly. After several hours of working with the artists the problem became clear to me. They saw their work as an extension of themselves and they loved it too much. Therefore, it was impossible for them to achieve any detachment or objectivity toward the artistic creation they made. It was also very difficult for them to learn what the prospective buyer might be wanting and looking for, which might be different than what they were thinking.

In other words, if I love my product too much I may be unable to get out of my own way enough to sell it. Whether it’s a painting, or a novel.

Let me make the point in a different form. When I was in Junior High School the dances were held in a gymnasium. Typically the boys would stand on one side and the girls on another. There was a girl I wanted to dance with but I was very shy. Finally I worked up the courage to make the ten yard walk – which seemed to me like ten miles – across the gym to ask her to dance. She said no, and the walk back felt like fifty miles. I was crushed. My supportive adolescent friends were waiting for me on the other side. After much chiding my friend, Dave, felt sorry for me and offered to help. He said I needed a salesman to represent me. So Dave walks across the gym in five seconds and works through the line of girls asking if any of them would dance with me, and he gets a dozen”no’s”, then hops back as happy as when he left and tells me “I tried, but you can only do so much with a product like you Howard.” (Did I mention my supportive friends?)  

This lesson in rejection lasted a lifetime. What it taught me was that I – being totally emotionally involved with selling myself – was way too sensitive to rejection and so was completely devastated after one no. Dave on the other hand, had no stake in his product and was able to take ten rejections and skip back across the gym like nothing ever happened.

When you over identify yourself with the product you are selling, your performance will suffer. People buy for their reasons not yours. The prospective buyer is rejecting the product (book, artwork, song etc) not you. Don’t take it personally.

If you are an artist you need to be emotionally involved with your creation. But when the project is finished it is time to change roles and become the marketing/salesperson. Emotionalism will limit your sales performance because when you are anxious and emotional it is harder to think straight and maximize your brain power toward marketing your product.

It is essential to know the difference between who you are and what you do. Shakespeare said that “all the world is a stage and we are merely players.” When you are creating you are in your artist role, it is who you are, when you are selling your work you are in your sales role – that is what you do. Keep each part in it’s own arena, and you’ll find success.

Howard Maslich is the president and founder of Specialized Training Services, which was founded in 1976. Howard is a former psychology professor and has personally trained and coached more than 10,000 professional sales people. He is also the author of Sell More Easily: Tales From the Trenches Guaranteed to Make You More Money.

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