Paint Schoodic

We're offering four workshops for 2020, at Acadia National Park, Pecos, NM, and aboard the schooner American Eagle.

Friday, September 20, 2019

How do we respond to slowing sales?

Overall, the shows I’ve done this summer have been flat, so it’s time to rethink my strategy.
Home Port, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Camden Falls Gallery.
Where is the art market going? This is a question I ask myself every year at this time. It’s more important this year than ever, since my same-event sales have been flat.

I had an interesting conversation with artist Kirk McBride, after an event I’ve been doing for six years seemed to let all the air out of its tires. “I think there are too many plein air festivals,” he said. He may be right. They’re in every town, and the smaller markets can’t support them year after year. That doesn't mean the model is bad; it means the market needs adjustment.

(An important caveat: an individual show can buck all market trends, and there may be regional differences in how your own shows are going. It requires a lot of input to decipher what's happening, which is why I'm asking for your comments below.)

But here are some sobering facts from Artsy, collected in 2019:

Adjusted for inflation, the global art market shrank over the last decade. It totaled $67.4 billion in 2018, up from $62 billion in 2008. However, these are nominal figures, not adjusted for inflation. Do that, and we see a market that’s shrunk from $74 billion to $67.4 billion.

To compare, global luxury goods grew healthily. In adjusted dollars, they went from $222 billion to $334 billion in the same time period. In some ways, a Herm├Ęs bag is more useful to a person who already has everything. It’s portable, easy to change, and you can store a revolving collection in the space that a painting takes up.
Midsummer, by Carol L. Douglas, currently on hold.
Over that same decade, the global economy roared, with global domestic product increasing from 3.3% to 5.4%, according to the IMF. That means art sales should have risen. Instead, just the costs of doing business—rent, materials, and time—increased.

I live in a boom market for galleries. Mid-coast Maine—led by Rockland—has been an amazing success. Nationwide, we’re seeing galleries surviving better than small businesses in general. However, we aren’t seeing a lot of new galleries opening. Colin Page’s new gallery in Camden is one of the wonderful exceptions.

I looked into buying an existing gallery earlier this year and walked away. I still might do something similar, but it won’t involve expensive real estate or labor costs. I’m not passionate about selling art, just making it, and that’s not enough to carry a business.
Ottawa House, by Carol L. Douglas, currently on hold.
There’s been a significant change in the model of selling art. We’re no more immune to globalization or to the internet than any other industry. It’s time to face facts: while our educational institutions threw away technique starting in the 1960s, it was always being taught in Asia. Those painters have as much access to the on-line market as do we, and their aesthetic may be closer to what’s wanted today.

“Auction houses are going begging for people to buy antiques and art,” Andrew Lattimore told me last week. “Kids don’t want their parent’s stuff. They want ‘experiences.’”

He’s right, and that impacts artists who sell to the merely well-to-do (vs. the biggest money players, who are buying an entirely different kind of art). The average United States millionaire is 62 years old. Just 1% of millionaires are under the age of 35, and 38% of millionaires are 65 and older. That means that the people with the cash to buy important paintings are of an age to be getting rid of stuff, and their kids don’t want it. Ouch.

Beaver Dam on Quebec Brook, by Carol L. Douglas, available through 
Gallery of the White Plains County Center
Then there are the ethnic patterns of wealth in America. Asian-Americans are the wealthiest Americans, led by people from the Indian sub-continent. Many of these very wealthy Americans are first- or second-generation citizens, so their aesthetic is more attuned to Asia than to traditional American painting.

Is this the death knell for painters like me? Hardly. We need to act as would any other industry in a time of flux. We adapt or die. That means rethinking pricing and reevaluating our sales channels. Perhaps it means a major strategic change in selling.

I’m very interested in your thoughts on the subject. What kind of market did you experience in 2019? What are your experiences with marketing on the internet? Where do you think we should go from here?


Brenda H. Nelson said...

I think the answer is to have as many "Art Lending Libraries" as there are book lending libraries.

Maybe they should be called "Arteries".( As in Library, Eatery, Artery.)

But lets take the $-pressure out of art-making. It doesn't have to be a business like other left brain businesses. It's right-brain art-making.

It can be in a separate realm of human homemaking, cooking, playing,Nature-loving.

A lending venue could be publically supported. It could house a few pieces by each artist, with a photo portfolio of the rest of their work they are willing to lend.

People get tired of looking at/ having the same art in their home or business forever.

At the fall equinox...the time of year of "letting go of the old"... we could have a "Repurposing Fest". Old canvases could be turned inside out or gessoed over, made into purses and totes etc. Watercolors, etc. could become greeting cards, or gift wrap, etc. Or we could have a bonfire.

The Universe is perfectly capable of providing artists money and/or "sustenance" in other ways...ways that leave plenty of time for art making.

Carol Douglas said...

All good points, but the question was really directed to those artists who make their living through selling paintings. Because ultimately, if you paint full time, you still must eat.

Anonymous said...

I’m seeing younger artists do collaborations with companies like minted or licensing prints of their paintings. I personally don’t want to get back into the graphic arts side again. Maybe fine artists need to find a way to get their paintings in front of crowds in new ways. And I don’t mean airports and hospital hallways... where do the majority of people go? Or are they just on social media??

Carol Douglas said...

"Where do the majority of people go" is a great question. Let me ask my kids. From afar it seems like a steady stream of coffee shops and restaurants to me.

Ann Trainor Domingue said...

Interesting post Carol. When I went full time making art in 2013 I thought I would be doing plein air. I love the fresh, on site approach ala the impressionists. But a year or so later after taking inventory of what environment did I feel most in tune with -- it was actually my studio. Yes I felt some guilt about not wanting to adapt to weather, bugs, and at times creepy people. But this decision was a good one for me, sans guilt. I confidently create my work in a small studio where I focus on the work and not the weather. Another decision I made --after speaking with a marketing guru friend-- was to define what subject matter I loved, what medium, what sizes etc, and define who and where was my market. I realised I needed to paint what I love and find my market area. I focused on coastal New England life and working waterfront in my work. And same area--coastal NE as my market. Took some trial and error re best fit for galleries but I have had great success with my choices. I've listened to many artists who don't define their work or market and expect something magical to happen. Artwork is still a product that has specific appeal for potential collectors. As artists we need to find the intersection of work we love to create and work certain art appreciators /collectors love. Basically I just focus on the work the one thing I control totally. And promote my work through galleries, online and my annual open studio in November.

Carol Douglas said...

Ann, I would like to discuss this more with you at some time. Those are great observations.