Selling Doesn’t Mean Selling Out

Selling art is a scary thought for the early artist. Thinking back to some of my art classes in college, we would all stand around a single piece of work from a student and delve into a critique of the piece. We would talk about technique, composition, visual themes, and emotions emulating from the piece. We would be sure to note if the work touched on irony, philosophical judgement, and note how it compared to other works from the well-known masters we were currently studying in our art history classes. No one ever dared to mention the question floating around in all of our minds, “Would anyone actually buy this?”

The unfortunate thing about a lot of art schools, including the one I attended, is that we were taught a lot about making art and art theory. We weren’t taught a thing about selling art. In fact, the very thought of selling art was dangerously close to the idea of selling out. And no one wants to be a sell-out.

One of my classmates was a painter. He would take extremely large chunks of boards and paint abstract landscape-like shapes in a variety of bright colors across the entire humungous pieces. He would proudly proclaim that he could make a living off of painting, if he wanted to sell-out and paint medium-sized sunsets that could hang in people living rooms. But he refused to do so. Instead, he would make money doing back-breaking landscaping work, and continue to paint his large brightly-colored abstract pieces in his down-time, for his own artistic fulfillment.

Here’s where he was mistaken: this student was assuming that just because his audience wasn’t the largest audience, he didn’t have one at all.

You don’t have to completely change what it is you create in order to sell your artwork. You just have to find your niche audience that will LIKE what you make. Chances are, you’ll be even more successful for your ability to sell something different, and stand out from the masses all selling the same thing. It’s a mistake to think that since there is a lot of something selling (sunset paintings) that you need to disregard what you like to make (abstract paintings on boards) in order to make any money at what you do. You simply need to find the people who also like what you make, but are unable to make it themselves.

Your integrity as an artist is not compromised if you choose to make a living off of what you do.

You are not a sell-out if you can find buyers who want to purchase your work. Likewise, you are not a sell-out if you choose to optimize your work for the purposes of increasing your business. For example, creating prints from your larger paintings to enable your ability to sell smaller works (that, yes, could fit in someone’s living room.) This is not selling out, it is simply allowing your work to be more accessible to the audience that LOVES your work already. You would simply be giving them an opportunity to share in it.

They don’t really teach you this in art school, but it is possible to be an entrepreneur and and artist at the same time.

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13 thoughts on “Selling Doesn’t Mean Selling Out

  1. twistedpixelstudio September 17, 2012 at 10:39 am Reply

    Love this and thank you for posting this!

  2. Beth McCormack September 17, 2012 at 11:19 am Reply

    Makes sense to me! Great post.

  3. Morian September 18, 2012 at 5:48 am Reply

    I whole-heatedly agree! I’ve had a lot of people ask me what I think of Thomas Kinkade (If I think he’s a sell out or not.) I say if he’s painting what HE likes then good for him for making a living at it.
    If I painted something I didn’t truly LOVE painting just because I thought it would sell better I know I personally would get too burnt out to continue doing to pretty fast.

    • MegansBeadedDesigns September 18, 2012 at 10:40 am Reply

      Exactly Morian. This applies to all art/craft forms too. It’s a lot of work to create something by hand, and if you don’t enjoy it, the creative process will dry up really fast.

  4. Heather September 18, 2012 at 8:48 am Reply

    This applies to more than just art too. You should love everything you sell as a handmade artisan, whatever your craft may be. If you don’t wholeheartedly love it, it tends to show. Do what makes YOU happy!

  5. Aundrea A (@aundreaa) September 18, 2012 at 3:13 pm Reply

    Aundrea’s Art Zone
    You are FANTASTIC! Thank you so much…I needed this today:)
    FANTASTIC!!!

  6. Daphne September 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm Reply

    I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately, I must admit I don’t really understand the, “You are a sellout if you make something that sells” mentality.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this! Makes so much sense and you’re right they don’t teach us this in art school!! Thanks for helping me to cement my decision to continue developing and creating art and photography I love to do, opposed to creating work most people will buy. It’s not really being true to ourselves. If we do what we love, we’ll excell in it and there will be a market out there who will love it too, and buy it :))

    • MegansBeadedDesigns September 22, 2012 at 12:23 pm Reply

      I am so glad I could help! Good luck with your art and photography!

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