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On selling my art and seeing it sold

By Paul Watson on .

Like most artists I create artwork because I feel that I need to - for me it’s a necessary process to manifest the non-verbal web of thoughts in my head, which when completed leaves me feeling exorcised, sated, and satisfied. Well, until the next piece, of course.

This blog post isn’t about that: there’s enough nonsense already written about “why an artist creates artwork” and most of it is pseudo-intellectual art-speak bollocks anyway.

Medea print on wall
My Medea print on a customer’s wall in New Jersey, USA.
Photograph copyright K.S., New Jersey, USA

1. Seeing my artwork on your wall

Instead this post is about the phenomenon of seeing my artwork on other people’s walls through photographs they have shared online, and the relationship between my artwork and those people.

This is sometimes a taboo subject for artists, presumably because even admitting to thinking about how other people respond to their artwork is considered tantamount to declaring that they’re making work purely in order to sell it, and their creative process is led by “what will sell”.

You hear the same sort of refusal to analyse other people’s responses to your art from just about every newly-signed indie/alternative/rock band, who are contractually-obliged to say “We make music for ourselves - if anyone else likes it then that’s just a bonus.” (and then, having ritually declared themselves to be pure and free from any crass commercialism, they dutifully pose for their press/marketing photos).

Any artist—or musician—is capable of analysing how other people respond to their art without being controlled by those responses. In fact, as with most thought processes, the more information and opinions you have access to, the more informed your thinking is. An awareness of how other people respond to your art can also be used when marketing/selling your artwork, because if you know why some people have bought your work then you can amplify those reasons in your marketing.

2. Social validation, starving artists, & social media

Similarly, even by showing that other people have bought your artwork can convince other people that it’s worth buying - it’s a phenomenon called social validation which can be summed up as “if everyone else is doing it, then it must be OK for me to do it too”. It assures those who are risk averse that it’s probably not risky to buy some of my artwork. It says: look at all these other people who already have bought artwork off this website and they’re so happy with their purchase that they have spontaneously taken a photo of it and shared it with their friends and family.

Badb Catha print on wall
My Badb Catha (2) print on a customer’s wall in New York, USA.
Photograph copyright M.F., New York, USA

Now in some quarters of the art world mentioning the subject of marketing or selling your artwork is another thing that’s seen as a dirty business - usually those quarters that have got huge incomes already! This affected distaste for daring to think about how to sell your work is just romanticisation of the starving artist myth, and it’s a bit silly. I do think about marketing and selling my artwork because I don’t want to starve. And I also like that other people like my artwork enough to want to own it and display it in their homes.

One of the fun things about social media is that I get to see my artwork in other people’s homes - people who I have never met, whose homes I have never visited and probably never will. That’s because people have posted photographs of my artwork on their social media accounts, either as soon as it has been delivered or after it’s been framed and hung on a wall.

These posts aren’t for my benefit (although I definitely love seeing them), but a part of their normal daily online “conversations” with their friends, family, or followers. I’m fairly sure that it’s not vanity on my part that interprets these spontaneously shared photos as very positive comments about my art, and their possession of a piece of my artwork. They’re happy, excited, proud, satisfied - and that makes me feel the same.

Drawing postcards on desk
My latest set of 4 postcards on a customer’s desk in Germany.
Photograph copyright Mara Art, Germany

3. Seeing my artwork from a new perspective: your perspective

Simple things such as the frames people choose often make me look at my artwork with fresh eyes. I’m not used to seeing my artwork framed and carefully presented - when I’m making a piece of artwork it sits on my easel or printmaking table surrounded by charcoal dust, smears of printing ink and paint, and the general chaos of a very small studio.

To see it outside of that environment means looking at it anew from a completely different perspective. To see a piece of your own artwork in a frame—either dominating an otherwise blank wall or hung with other people’s work—in an unfamiliar environment and lit by different lighting is in some ways a shock (in a good way). It makes you consider it as a finished, standalone, piece rather than as a fragment of your ongoing process of artistic experimentation, discovery, and endeavour.

As most artists are putting the finishing touches to one piece of work a part of their mind has already been working on the next piece or pieces for some time. For an artist, an individual piece of artwork is another step in your artistic practice—an incremental movement forward in technique or theme or style—and by the time that step has been taken it’s behind you and your eyes are always looking ahead.

The shared photos from customers who’ve bought one of my pieces allow me a rare chance to see a point in my own artistic practice from an outside perspective, and that enables me to see artistic connections and considerations that would never otherwise occur to me.

My artwork is available to order in the online shop on this website so please buy some—like all these other people have—and please post a photo of it somewhere I’ll see!