Art Business: Christian Art Market

13 Sep 2008

Numerous artists have found success selling art to the Christian market, a large segment of the population consisting partly of art collectors but mainly of people who are looking to purchase prints and posters that reflect their beliefs and values.

by Daniel Grant

The Lord’s Blessing by Kathy Lawrence, 2005, oil, 16 x 12. Collection the artist.
The Lord’s Blessing
by Kathy Lawrence, 2005, oil,
16 x 12. Collection the artist.

Numerous artists have found success selling art to the Christian market, a large segment of the population consisting partly of art collectors but mainly of people who are looking to purchase prints and posters that reflect their beliefs and values. Representational in content, the art is stylistically diverse and covers a wide range of subjects, from peaceful landscapes to pictures of Jesus. Although the style may vary, the hopeful and uplifting theme of the imagery unites the entire Christian art field.

A number of the major print publishers have developed a presence in this field. Greenwich Workshop, in Connecticut, for instance, sells “Spiritual/Inspirational” art, while Applejack Publishing, in Arlington, Vermont markets a line of “Religious Images.” The most active publisher is Florida’s Mill Pond Press, which in 1995 established an entire division called Visions of Faith, which distributes its offset prints not through its network of art galleries but at Christian bookstores, most of which are located in the Southeast and the West.

Noting that the Christian art market is volatile, Linda Schaner, the president of Mill Pond Press, says Visions of Faith accounts for between 15 percent and 35 percent of the company’s total income. Money is made through volume, with the average sale in the $100 range, as opposed to the $500-to-$1,000 range for other types of giclée prints sold in galleries.

Other major print publishers have ceded Christian bookstores to Mill Pond, preferring to distribute more diverse images to the higher-end art galleries. “Our market for religious and inspirational art is regional,” says Scott Usher, the publisher of Greenwich Workshop. “It’s Arizona, Utah—the West. Our galleries in Utah, for instance, do very well in Christian art. The audience there is more predisposed to narrative Christian artwork.”

 

Greenwich Workshop, like Mill Pond Press, has been strongly identified with nature, wildlife, and Western imagery. The publisher first moved into the Christian-art realm in the 1990s rather tentatively, exhibiting a narrative image called The Widow’s Mite by Utah artist James Christensen. The edition quickly sold out, which led the company to pursue the Christian art market in a more concerted way, bringing in new artists and publishing the more inspirational work of the artists with whom they already had a relationship.

In 1994 Mill Pond experimented with a Christian image by one of its Americana painters, Greg Olsen, titled In His Constant Care, depicting Jesus Christ holding out his hand to sparrows. The image was well received, leading the company to commission more work in this realm and establish its Visions of Faith division.

Many of these artists find that although their religious paintings are for sale, sales don’t happen very often. Michael Dudash, a Pennsylvania painter who creates both secular art and more clearly identifiable Christian images, states, “The bulk of the Christian work that I have done is largely sold through print publishers”—mainly Texas-based Somerset Fine Art, whose “Christian” art is one of 16 categories of artwork it distributes to galleries around the United States.

Inspirational artwork has a greater likelihood of selling, but that work is less illustrative of biblical stories and more metaphoric of “God’s love for mankind, the beauty of the world God created,” says Wisconsin painter Daniel Gerhartz, who is well known in the Christian art realm but largely supports himself from the sale of figurative and landscape paintings through several galleries that represent him. “Collectors find spiritual overtones in my art resonate with them,” Gerhartz says. The owners of these galleries agree, referring to the artist’s work as having spiritual content, which is usually conveyed through a special light that shines on a particular subject.

A pioneer in this market is California artist Thomas Kinkade, whose paintings of rural and small-town life—offered primarily as giclée prints through galleries and the artist’s website—sell for high prices. Kinkade’s images are not overtly Christian, but he built his brand around being an artist with a strong set of Christian values. 

Potential collectors who value faith may be inspired to purchase the work of an artist with strong spiritual beliefs. Artists can communicate their Christian beliefs through artwork titles that make biblical references. They sometimes signal their beliefs on their websites by including a statement of faith rather than a customary artist statement. Dudash paints a cross next to his signature on his paintings. “I don’t think that has ever hurt me,” he says, “but I think it may be a real plus if a collector finds out that an artist he or she likes is a committed Christian.”   


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