Be Smart About Art

The psychology of selling art, from red dots to limited editions

written by: Susan Mumford Nov. 1, 2015 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 3043 views

The psychology of selling art, from red dots to limited editions

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here

In much the same way that the acquisition of a work of art is often a personal, emotional, decision, there is a psychological element to selling art. Therefore it can of great benefit for you (the seller) to take the perspective of potential buyers, and tap into what will prompt them to purchase.

Think of it this way: Have you ever spotted an item of clothing that you had to have? It could’ve been from a local shop, market, or secondhand shop. If there’s only one in your size available, and you cannot imagine living without it, how do you feel? Think about it.

The way you feel is that you must buy it straightaway, for anyone else would surely feel the same. If you even leave it for 10 minutes, it will be gone. While this may not be the case (you might just have better taste than everyone else), the sensation of needing-it-now-or-it-will-be-gone-forever is understandable. The scarcity factor makes the availability of the garment precious.

Stay in this mindset, and consider the view of potential buyers of works of art. This is a key reason that art fairs work. People who’ve been dithering over a piece for a while will suddenly see their piece presented at a stand, where thousands are passing by. The sudden realisation that the work of art could readily be snapped up by someone else prompts them to buy it at long last. Had they not experienced this sensation, they probably would have continued to dither for a long time (and possibly even losing the opportunity).

Continue to imagine the fair stand. Say there’s a limited edition framed work on paper, and on the label next to it, a series of red dots. It’s evidently popular. Intrigued, the viewer walks up to the print to have a closer look, and to read full details. What’s happening internally? The observer is subconsciously aware that other people have bought the piece. It gives the viewer confidence in their own interest, providing certainty they’re buying into a winning work of art / artist / gallery.

Anyone who has seen the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London – or similar salon-style open submission shows, will be familiar with the rows of red dots that accompany limited edition prints. As numbers in the edition sell, it becomes increasingly likely that even more will go. You get the picture (literally).

What can you do then, to tap into the minds of potential buyers? To list but a few of seemingly never-ending ideas: specify ‘sold’ works in digital portfolios; at shows, leave out laminated press pieces on artists; line-up labels of sold works on a fair stand; etc. Be creative and tap into the minds of your own audience.  

Keen to share your own thoughts on this post? Share your own insight below - and provide a link to your own website / blog if you fancy.

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Spooky is very appropriate, given that it was Halloween over the weekend....

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This is very spooky. On Saturday night I sat and did just this with my ArtFinder gallery ... I put on one of the paintings I'd already sold and marked it sold, as well as putting on another painting in the same series which is for sale and created social media posts as always. Both have got more views than other paintings I've posted previously.
Earlier in the year a local group that I regularly exhibit with suffered from the 'ooh nothing has sold' effect. In fact paintings had sold and had been replaced by new work as the exhibition was on for ten days. A simple list of works on the wall with red-dots next to those that had gone was the solution to give people that affirmation you've described so well here.