Why Sociable Artists Sell More

Gallery owners tell me that it is always easier selling art of a personable artist than someone who is shy, argumentative, or self-absorbed. The dealers have to enjoy a cordial and professional relationship with the artist; and they need to know that collectors will feel good about supporting someone they already like or would enjoy meeting. That’s why dealers are more likely to represent artists who regularly attend gallery openings, take an interest in clients, are well mannered, appreciate what others do to support their careers, and deliver what they promised. There are a number of notable exceptions to that routine, but an obnoxious artist better paint like Michelangelo and sell like Damien Hirst if he or she wants people to put up with their irritating habits.

Dusk by Adam Miller, oil on canvas, 48 x 36.
Dusk by Adam Miller, oil on canvas, 48 x 36.

I hear similar comments from workshop organizers, collectors, and society officers who swear they will never again work with so-and-so because of the problems that occurred the last time. Chances are the artists in question don’t realize they lost some valuable opportunities because they infuriated someone who was trying to help them fill their class, promote their art career, marketing art, or buy their paintings.

On the flip side, I have also had recommendations of artists to profile in our magazines from people who are enthusiastic about a charming, talented, and personable artist they met in a gallery, at an art fair, in their studio, or in a collector’s home. Invariably, the person making the recommendation will praise the quality of the artwork and tell me how much they like the individual. Their enthusiasm has as much to do with their interest in helping the person as it does with selling art or promoting it.

So what do you do if you aren’t gregarious, sociable, or trusting? My recommendation is to either learn how to behave or make sure you have a spouse, business partner, public-relations agent, dealer, or friend who is willing to help you. I know several difficult artists who made the fortunate choice of marrying someone who softens their rough edges and insulates them against the challenges of the outside world; and I’ve also known artists who paid a lot of money to have a public-relations agent put a positive spin on their troubling remarks.

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

12 thoughts on “Why Sociable Artists Sell More

  1. Steve,

    This is a great topic. I believe that for some period of time, artists had the reputation for being unruly, ill-mannered prima donna’s. The short tempered Van Gogh types just don’t cut it in todays world. It’s no wonder he sold but one painting in his time. What do you think would happen to an artist today who decided to relieve himself in a flower pot in the home of a wealthy contributor of the arts? Jackson Pollack did it and got away with it but that was then and this is now. The sophistication and refinement of an artist such as John Singer Sargent is a far better approach and will achieve respect and a greater reputation in the eyes of collectors and fellow artists.

  2. Yup, Stephen, this is me. I’m outspoken. I mean no harm but once I open my mouth i do not make a good impression; I do this in print as well requiring an editor. It’s just my nature. Plus I like to have a good time so I forget to “just smile”. Best for me to stay home and have someone speak for me.

  3. Sister,

    I wrote this because I have the same problem as most other artists — I don’t edit myself as well as I edit others. The fact that you admit to being “outspoken” probably means you are less guilty of putting your foot in your mouth than the rest of us.

    Thanks,
    Steve

  4. It helped me to be in the service industry for a while. One learns by serving people that listening and being accommodating is really appreciated by clients. Gentle attention and taking time to understand a clients desire for a portrait commission pays off when they recognize their desire in the work.

    Also I will extend my service to educating about framing, and for those clients who wish to be accompanied to the framer, I will most likely do that because my closest framer is right next door and we know each other well.

    best regards,
    Donna

  5. Your article is practical and interesting. However, the work matters more than personality. If its all about personality, we need an eyewash.

  6. I’m just recently starting to “go out there” with my art and this article is very timely to some particular issues I am dealing with now. I totally agree with everything said here and have found that the opposite is also true. There is the problem of being TOO accommodating, sociable and trusting with customers as well as other professionals in doing business. This was a source of frustration for several of us who worked together at an establishment where there were no boundaries set up for customer interaction at all. This resulted in workers who were short tempered, avoided customer interaction as much as possible, were unable to perform their other duties in a timely manner, and eventually left for other positions. My solution was to try to temper both sides and come to a middle ground that was fair and pleasing to customers and not exhausting and frustrating for me. However, without support from the management and the mode of interaction having been ingrained in the customer base for so many years, this was almost impossible to do. From a greater perspective, I believe it is about relationships in general we are talking about and how we set them up in the first place. Which is…of course…a life long lesson.

  7. I’m just recently starting to “go out there” with my art and this article is very timely to some particular issues I am dealing with now. I totally agree with everything said here and have found that the opposite is also true. There is the problem of being TOO accommodating, sociable and trusting with customers as well as other professionals in doing business. This was a source of frustration for several of us who worked together at an establishment where there were no boundaries set up for customer interaction at all. This resulted in workers who were short tempered, avoided customer interaction as much as possible, were unable to perform their other duties in a timely manner, and eventually left for other positions. My solution was to try to temper both sides and come to a middle ground that was fair and pleasing to customers and not exhausting and frustrating for me. However, without support from the management and the mode of interaction having been ingrained in the customer base for so many years, this was almost impossible to do. From a greater perspective, I believe it is about relationships in general we are talking about and how we set them up in the first place. Which is…of course…a life long lesson.

  8. YES YES – to be personable is key to arts success. The Artist is an independent business agent for his/her work, and the work cannot sell well if the artist is difficult to deal with.

    I am MayBorn and uber-social and do my art and monthly shows and run things with arts lifelong , but at the dying times of a few close loved-ones, I have almost gone out of business. My personality gets a bit heavy and my lighter-than-air arts folk cannot take me. Sculpt? I can do that. But some awareness this time, since it has made a pattern by now, is helping me a lot…and I am working with me well and things have gone back progressing nicely. Some extra jogging about, water, funny movie or fun with friends who actually laugh nicely. Extra beauty. And extra show to help with the extra expenses at such times. But the main thing is , as the author says here, simply “learn ( or re-teach yourself ) how to behave” – it is YOU and YOUR LIFE – make it a shining thing.

    I counsel grieving as part of my old red cross work and my writings on the subject are published. “hang in, it gets better” is my main line and most of the time, my only one, because I like to listen, and the grieving seem to need to talk and it helps them. Now the thing is reversed and I need the ear sometimes. Praise to my friends!

  9. Next year I would like to start selling and showing my art. I agree an artist needs to be professional. I can be very social for about two hours and I need a time out. I can be difficult if I don’t pay attention to my energy levels. I have a husband who is very nice and softens my grumpiness. I get very antisocial when I am on a creative bender, I have little tricks I use to mitigate problems when I like to isolate. I find this article very helpful!

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