If realistic paintings are hard to sell, how on earth do you sell abstract art? Is there even a market for abstract paintings? And if so what do people look for?
The most popular abstract paintings are sold as large feature pieces and as focal points in a living space. They complement color schemes in contemporary interior designs. Color is the overriding factor in abstract paintings for generating sales.
As a realist artist myself, I was interested to find out more and decided to research the answers. This is what I concluded.
(I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. However, I only promote products I like and recommend)
Where Can I Sell My Abstract Art?
As with all the other forms of art, abstract art does not sell itself. You have to do the legwork and put yourself out there, and that’s scary stuff.
Abstract art invites strong opinions and it takes nerves of steel to stand by your art, so where do you have the best chance of finding a buying audience?
Selling Abstract Art in Fairs and Markets
Art fairs will be one of your best bets.
There are many large and small art fairs all over the country where abstract artists can show their work to interested buyers.
These events take place at different times of the year and cater to different demographics. Some art events are booked out years in advance and many of the better shows are insanely expensive.
Your art must command higher prices if it is to be taken seriously but there is nothing stopping you from selling peripherals and pot-boilers to cash in while you wait for a bigger sale.
There are many art markets aimed at middle-income buyers and they’re often cheaper to attend and it’s possible you’ll find buyers if your work is presented in the right way.
Think young, urban, and aspiring as a convenient avatar to target your contemporary art. Young couples who want something modern and unique as they begin their careers and start a home.
Depending on your point of view, the next step down the ladder is to target the lower end in general markets, fetes, and farmers’ markets. Anywhere open to the mainstream general public with a high footfall of passing trade.
This is the trickiest crowd to please but not impossible. Anything pretentious will be found out and called out for what it is. The general public can be harsh critics.
Check this out: Selling in Art Fairs (5 Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore)
An abstract artist is better off targeting color schemes and harmonies to target people with the home decor angle.
I knew a guy who caught the wave when make-over shows were popular and he painted simple shapes, in bold colors, on canvas and made a killing. His process was fast and simple which meant that he could produce a lot of work while the craze lasted.
He was very commercial and saw a gap in the market, but you must have a commercial brain to make money, even painters with a passion for making art have to make sales.
This will open your eyes to starting an art business: Most Artists Fail! 5 Reasons Why Things Go Wrong And Your Solution
The art of selling is a skill that most artists lack, but it can be learned. This guide will show you what to do and how to do it! Check it out.
Selling Abstract Art in Galleries
The conventional outlet for artists and the one with the most prestige is an art gallery. The artist has to have a serious mindset, be professional, and have a good reputation for galleries to take them seriously.
A good gallery has a network of interested collectors and they make their money by charging prices that are out of reach for most people.
They may take half the money but that is of no concern if you, as the artist, get the price you want.
Galleries usually represent abstract artists with a more expensive style and that usually goes hand-in-hand with SIZE.
Giant feature art, to be displayed prominently, in an expensive property is going to command a premium.
People, the rich included, value art by size, and abstract artists have a distinct advantage in their ability to scale up their designs.
Check out these classes Skillshare for inspiration
An abstract artist is foolish to think too small. It’s throwing cash away. Do put the emphasis on color over form if you want to sell your abstract art.
Be realistic. If you haven’t got a name or connections in the art world you won’t get away with art-speak and the fluff that goes with it. Concentrate instead on color palettes and combinations and think like an interior designer.
Statements are all very well but most people will not buy anything that clashes with the sofa. That’s the cruel reality.
Institutions, Hospitals, and Businesses
Think outside the box and widen your scope. Many institutions want art on show, they want something that represents the image they want to convey of themselves.
Try these selling spaces: Places to Sell Art: 3 Alternative Options (Not Galleries and Not Online)
Hospitals have budgets for art and they have huge spaces to fill. Commissioning abstract art is not out of the question as long as it has an obvious healing quality. Think about calming and restful color schemes inspired by nature.
Many hospital art collections operate like galleries in that they either have a staff or hire an art advisor to acquire artworks.
Art advisors help hospitals buy and curate new artworks for their collections. They often design display areas, select artwork, and identify match-making opportunities between the hospital’s needs and the artist’s skills.
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Finding these art consultants can be a job in itself. Search Linkedin and approach hospitals directly to find out who purchases art and how they go about it.
Your local hospital might favor local artists as a priority and that could be a shoe-in the door for you.
At the same time do not neglect other health-related areas, such as GP surgeries and clinics.
Hotels need art on their walls. In recent times many prestigious hotels also have an art gallery on the premises. It’s part of their brand identity.
With the increase in demand for exhibiting and decorating hotels with art, artists have more opportunities to sell their abstract artwork than ever.
If you think that hotels don’t have an in-house art buyer, think again. It’s worth asking and enquiring if they are accepting submissions.
It’s worth making contact, if there is no obvious submission policy, it is still worth sending an email and introducing yourself.
Most chains work through interior designers and art consultants and you can search for names and contacts online.
A strong presence on social media can only help. Instagram is the showcase of choice and many interior designers scour their feeds looking for ideas.
I’ve done the work for you: Social Media For Artists: The Best 13 Platforms for Creatives
Interior designers also love Pinterest. Choose Pinterest if you have a website and want to drive traffic to your site.
Remember you are not targeting other artists. You are trying to attract businesses, they are very different markets.
Public and Philanthropic Institutions
Public bodies try to promote art and artists and their criteria can have little to do with the commercial world.
Their awards and grants may well reward statements over charm and if you are reluctant to conform to the demands of the market and wish to serve the community you might have better luck seeking a grant.
If you have a project that could be categorized in this way then it might make more sense to approach a public body and do the paperwork.
Selling Abstract Art in Online Galleries
There’s something fishy going on. When you google ‘bestselling art’ the same list appears on every site. Abstract art comes in at number 4.
I don’t doubt that abstract art is popular but what’s selling? I suspect that prints of the old favorites are selling disproportionately well. In other words, familiar names from the past.
Try googling abstract art. It’s easy to find images but information about how well they sell is less easy to find. I suspect that’s because they really are harder to sell.
Abstract art is well represented on every major platform but you must bear in mind that your work will almost certainly be drowned in a sea of competition.
Saatchi art (affiliate) alone represents over 65000 artists. Can you imagine how hard it is to be found? let alone stand out from the crowd.
If you browse through platforms, some abstract art is marked as sold. So that implies there’s a market, that’s if we accept that everyone is being genuine when we see the sticker.
But then you must ask why that work sold when other work didn’t. It’s probably because the artist has a good grasp of marketing and they put in the time and effort to promote themselves.
When all is said and done, art is sold by artists who know how to promote themselves. It’s not a passive game. You sell abstract art by selling yourself.
In many ways, Melanie is doing just that. I found her on Udemy (affiliate)…..
….and then I found her on Skillshare (affiliate) selling multiple courses.
Why Does Abstract Art Appeal?
You might not want to hear this but people buy art to match their décor. It’s very much about interior design and color coordination. Abstract forms are a design aesthetic.
The artist might have tried to express themselves but without a recognizable subject, the viewer is obliged to interpret the painting in any way they choose.
Chances are the buyers are not at all interested in the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings and every chance the painting matches their curtains.
Then there are those people who genuinely admire the painting for its own sake and respond emotionally to the painting’s abstract nature. They like being able to see their own imagination reflected in the abstract work.
Finding buyers who respond viscerally to your work is hit-and-miss, to say the least.
Another type of buyer is more interested in bragging rights than in color, texture, and form. They are attracted to the perceived status and sophistication the painting might convey.
They are buyers who are more interested in showing off their wealth than in appreciating something creative.
Abstract art attracts some of those people more interested in how the world sees them. They want to be seen as someone deeper and more profound than they are. Let them pay for the privilege!
There are no bragging rights in ‘cheap’.
And then there are investors. Wealthy individuals who trade in art as a commodity. They buy recognized names or up-and-coming artists going through the system.
They are high-end traders with little or no love of art. They are more interested in a return on their investment.
What Are The Advantages of Painting Abstract Art?
Abstract art has two major advantages, productively and size. To generalize, it takes less time to paint abstracts and they can be painted at scale.
Larger art sells for disproportionately more money, combine that with the speed of producing more work and it is, in theory, an easy way to make more money.
Contrast that with traditional realism takes days, weeks, or even months to make, and the advantages are clear.
It can also be argued that abstract art can have a positive therapeutic value for the painter. A realist is striving to excel at a craft and push the boundaries of their skills. For most painters, there is an element of frustration.
Abstract artists by comparison have free range to play and follow any direction their intuition takes them. The concentration levels are quite different. It’s hard to go wrong, and if something displeases, very easy to start again.
If anyone can zone out and meditate while painting, it’s an abstract artist.
One last advantage abstract art has over conventional paintings is interpretation. It is what the artist decides it is and the same rationale applies to the viewer. It’s so subjective that there’s no right or wrong.
What Are The Disadvantages of Selling Abstract Art?
It’s because abstract art is so subjective that it demands an opinion from the viewer. Those opinions can be both strong and negative. Some people cannot, and will not, accept abstract art as a legitimate art form. They reject expressionism as meaningless pretension.
In the eyes of many, and I would argue the majority of people, art is inseparable from recognizable form. It doesn’t have to be realism, it can be naive, stylized, or primitive, as long as it can be clearly interpreted using objective criteria.
Critics may well dismiss abstract art as a synonym for talentless. Ouch
Above all the viewer requires the art to possess a noticeable skillset if it is to be valued and admired. The artist is taken seriously only if the viewer feels they could never have done the painting themselves. That’s regardless of whether there is any truth in that belief.
Abstract artists are open to ridicule and derision in a way few conventional artists suffer. It takes a lot of courage and self-belief to present an abstract painting to the world.
Abstract art cannot be easily exhibited outside of a gallery context. It must be presented in a spotlit showroom to be taken seriously. Abstract art is not art for the masses. The general public sees abstract paintings as the artistic equivalent of the emperor’s clothes.
If public perception matters, abstract art is a field day for critics. You have to have thick skin. It’s not for everyone.
How Do You Price Abstract Art to Sell?
There is no definitive formula for pricing art, there are too many variables to have a one size fits all calculation.
A very common method is to price your art by the square inch (25mm). Of course, you still have to determine what price that should be.
Let’s say you decide to charge $5 per square inch. You times the length of your painting by the width, so in the case of a 16″ x 20″ painting, it equals 320 square inches. Do the math, 320 x $5 and you have a price of $1600.
Add the cost of your canvas and frame and you have a retail price. That’s fine if you are selling it yourself, but don’t forget the 50% commission a gallery will demand.
If you are selling your art for $1800 (inc framing) you will receive $900 from your gallery.
Pricing your art is bloody difficult that’s why I wrote about it here: Pricing Art For Beginners: Originals, Art Prints, and Formulas
You might decide on a higher or lower price but at least it’s a way of pricing. In truth, the easiest way to determine the value is to go along with what the gallery owner recommends.
If you are a beginner with no track record to guide you, take advice from a professional and let your gallery price your work.
Sure it might be lower than you expected but the prices can always go up until you reach the sweet spot. Don’t forget the gallery owner wants to maximize their income too.
Art has no value beyond what the buyer is prepared to pay. Your art is worth what the market dictates.
Why is Some Abstract Art So Expensive?
Some abstract art is very expensive because it’s a commodity. If you look for logic you’ll be left wanting. Anything with high demand and limited supply will gain in value.
Why does some abstract art attract a high demand? For the same reason, any non-essential commodity does.
If enough people believe there is a speculative value and jump on the bandwagon, prices will rise. It’s self-perpetuating.
That’s why Banksy’s self-destructing artwork was a stroke of genius when it sold at auction. He highlighted the art market for what it was, a shallow, venal, investor-driven sham.
For us mortal souls who want to make a living, there is still an incentive to aim high.
It’s a sad fact that psychologically art that is priced high is perceived as being better. It implies that if the artist can command the asking price and if others are willing to pay that much money, it follows that the painting must be good.
This is related to the question: How to Negotiate the Price of Your Art Prints and Make Money
It’s all tosh, but since when did sense come into it?
A high asking price is not an indicator of quality, it’s a better indicator of salesmanship and a brass neck. Who knows if the art on show with a daft asking price ever gets sold?
It could be a device to elevate the artist’s other work priced more realistically.
It’s a classic retail trick.
Selling Abstract Art: Final Thoughts
At its core, abstract art is ego-driven. Without the objective confines of realism, it can only be an expression of feelings.
The artist can paint anything they want, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. It’s a powerful form of self-expression and creativity.
The most successful artists are those who know how to communicate in a way that connects with people. They sell abstract art by selling themselves.
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Before you go, you should check out my guide. Take a look.
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