Why Some People Almost Always Make Money Selling Their Art

make money selling their art
"Unknown Artist Drowning Girl" by Roy Lichtenstein

Have you ever wondered why some people make money selling their art and why some struggle? There is a reason why some artists make money selling their art.

Have you ever known an artist whose work was incredible but they never seem to sell anything?

Or what about the opposite?

Have you ever seen an artist whose work was not that great but they sold things all the time and for really high prices?

You've probably wondered how this could be.

Some artists, without ever really being conscious of what they're doing, stumble upon the right combination of marketing and selling strategies.

Their work may not be that great, but something else very powerful is coming into play. They have, perhaps by chance, learned how to make money selling their art.

And other artists work hard at their craft and yet never stumble upon the right selling formulas or techniques.   And, sadly, their careers flounder.

As a result, their beautiful work ends up collecting dust in an attic.  Their genius is lost forever. I've known artists like this and probably you have too.

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This Post Has 55 Comments

  1. Russ

    Good information.

  2. Monica Forrer

    My “philosophy” regarding art is to work hard and alone in the atelier and try to jump over ones shadow every day. If a work is good enough it shows and things happen… you make me doubt, thank you! Best regards from Switzerland.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hello and thanks for your comments. I like the remark where you say “try to jump over one’s shadow every day.” That’s a great philosophy. But I think this should not only apply to your artistic skills but to your selling and marketing skills as well. Thanks again.

  3. Wolfgang Hermann

    There is something very catchy there…I started painting as a hobby and now I am passionate and find that people ask me to hang paintings. As Carolyn Myss ( a health intuitive) would say: “…the community ordains you as an artist.”
    I look forward to the the next blogs about your experience! Thank you.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks for your comments. Looking forward to hearing more about your career. Please keep us updated.

  4. Christina Liddell

    Much appreciation for the “timely” information and motivation. I have been scratching my head often for years as to what is out of balance in my painting career and so I look forward to reading more inside and interesting knowledge and obviously to put into my outdated marketing skills. Thankfully my passion is still going.
    Much Thanks.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks so much for your excellent comments. I think many artists share your same feelings about their marketing efforts. But you still have the passion to paint and this is key. You passion alone can take you very far. Thanks again.

  5. Susan Thompson

    That was a very eye opening and thought provoking commentary! Selling is such an ongoing process and what a learning curve! You really have to think outside the box! Some ideas work; some don’t….

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hello and thanks for your comments. Selling and marketing is a learning curve that is ongoing. I completely agree with you. The idea of my article is that you have to put as much time or more into learning about marketing as you do the art, if you care about selling your work.

      1. Susan Thompson

        Learning how to market on the internet can seem so overwhelming! I still find that making the old fashioned, personal contact with some items in hand seems to be the most effective albeit time consuming.
        Any advice is greatly appreciated!

        1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

          Hi Susan. Thanks for your comments. Making direct contact with gallery owners and directors is always a good thing. Just do it with some tact and common sense. Call ahead and make sure you have an appointment. Or you can try to casually meet these people at gallery openings. Then ask them when is a good time to come by and show your work.


    Hi Gary,
    Your article is right on.You can be an artistic genius but if no one buys…your not appreciated.your art is your gift to the world so you must get all the exposure of your work you can and that means selling and marketing.Art is a business like most things and should be taught while in art school.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks for you comments. I’m not sure why marketing and selling is not taught in art school. I think it is part of the failure of our educational system. It’s something we have to learn on our own or learn from mentors. Thanks again.

  7. aliceflynn

    I had to deprogram myself from the anti-business indoctrination I received in art school in the early 1970’s. My professors had their university salaries… they had the luxury of being able to tell us not to “sell out”. How ridiculous. I spent many years living on a shoestring, which gave me time to build up a large portfolio of paintings and drawings, but I also had no money to own even a camera and film to promote my work. “Promote my work.” Back then, promoting your work was sacrilege. Were we all supposed to join academia to support our art? Now, at age 59, I realize that there was/is a cult of art that expects artists to be genius enough to be discovered without any effort on their part to sell work. I much appreciate your article pointing out that Lichtenstein was also a salesman to promote his career.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      I think art is a business like any other business. You have to have good business skills, which includes marketing and selling.

      1. aliceflynn

        I agree, but most academic university art departments in the United States earlier in the 20th Century did not teach that art is a business (which is why I call that cult thinking). Fine art students were caught up in their professor’s concept that if you promote your work, it is “only illustration”, not art. It was taboo, and in some places still is taboo to be both an artist and a salesman. The fact that Lichtenstein and others were out selling their work somehow went over the heads of academics. The old debate of “is it art or is it illustration” is a dead horse, but there are still people beating it. What does it matter. I just continued to paint, even though I was told painting was dead, and my work was illustration, not art.

  8. Nancy Corrigan

    Wonderful, informative article – and how very, very true.
    Should be required reading for all the hot-shots out there racing for the starting gate.

  9. priya

    I’m in for some of the Manhattan galleries secrets; Oh I love marketing as much as I love art; how can we stay in touch?

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi and thanks for your comments. You can always subscribe to my blog and get the updates delivered right to your email inbox.

  10. Matthew Hamblen

    Thanks so much for the info Gary. It makes a lot of sense, as I too spend a lot of time marketing. It’s helpful to know I’m on the right track !

  11. Anne Bevan

    Thank you, again, Gary
    As I read this article it occurred to me that selling is itself a kind of art. And, as with singing or dancing, some are born “naturals”, others, with good advice and practice, learn to improve and polish their skills.
    Thank you for starting this series – I’ll be reading every word.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thanks for your comments. Selling is an art that must be mastered to be successful in any endeavor. Thanks again.

  12. Darius Martin

    Hi Gary, this article is just what I was looking for! I Found it on LinkedIn. I’m an emerging artist myself, and I’ve created a website where I intend to sell my art. I’m also an SEO, so I won’t have any problem in bringing traffic to my website.
    However, although I’m a professional in both fields art and SEO, the combination on the two might not be enough, as we all know, art can be a rather peculiar field. I’ve helped people sell countless products on the Internet, but never art. I’m really looking forward to discovering how this business works, and your website helped me a lot. Thanks!


    You are so right on.We all need to learn and market ourselves as well as our art.I look forward to learning…I learned my profession from an old time artist from NEW YORK who went to THE ART STUDENTS LEAGUE..he had many famous instructers as artist.ex.NORMAN ROCKWELL.I expect I’ll be learning info from an insider that’s valuable as well as practical!Thank you for your service to those of us who need it so very much!

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for you kind words about my writing. I attended the Art Students League for about 5 years. Maybe I know your friend.

  14. Don Rankin

    Hey Gary,
    Very good points. There is no question that making the right contacts in the proper way is very important. The field and the challenge is changing yet I suspect that certain basic approaches will not. I look forward to watching your premise unfold on this site.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hello again Don,
      Good to hear from you. The challenges that face artists these days are changing, as you mention. But this is the time to take advantage of the changes and use them for our growth. Thanks again.

  15. Don Rankin

    Not sure what is wrong with the link in my last message. It seems to carry people to a portion of my facebook page that I have not seen before. hopefully this link will work.
    My computer ignorance is no doubt showing.

  16. agnes

    Gary, I so completely agree with you! and thanks for doing this great job of dropping the clusters between art and business. Our education system is made by employees/teachers and NOT by artsits/business owners of their “art/production”.
    I started as an artist and left to others the task of promoting my work, building simultaneously an online marketing business with other products so I could get money anyway! I read Robert Kiyosaki’s books and what I learned building my business sent me back to marketing my art work!!! Academy is not about making money, and it’s a pity because it makes people feel guilty about it, with the results you invoque (lost talents in attics…). The Internet IS the future and makes things easier, BUT the human touch is still necessary -selling is all in relationship skills! I look forward for more of your teachings! with love for art and artists.

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hello Agnes,

      Thanks for your really insightful thoughts. You are right about the art schools, they seem to make people feel guilty about selling their work. I never thought about it that way but that is exactly what they do. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing more from you.

  17. Patti Garland

    Thanks for the great article, and I’m looking forward to reading your Art Marketing Course!

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hi Patti,
      Thanks for the nice comments and welcome aboard. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.


  18. yasoypintor

    Hello Gary,

    I do completelly agree with you. Artists as well as artisans and many liberal professionals I know, need to learn how to sell. The first thing I recommend them (as you mention) is to stop thinking that selling is a bad thing that “depreciates the works or service quality”. If you don´t sell you don´t grow. Selling not only means money. When selling and getting paid for you work or service, besides making the buyer happy, you get economic resources that would help you improve your work and evolve it.

    Thanks for your interesting article and good luck helping others.

    Antonio Basso

    1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Hello Antonio,

      Thanks so much for your insights here. I think that’s a great point you make when you say that if we don’t sell, we don’t grow. Selling, as you say, not only means money but being able to improve your work as well. Those are really great thoughts.

      Thanks again,

  19. Everything you have written is so true Gary!! What a great post and I think more artists who want to have a career as an artist need to pay attention to this. I too spend more time selling/marketing my art than actually creating, but I have a large body of paintings created over the years that I’ve learned to sell over and over again in the licensing world. But, none of the opportunities I’ve had would have come about if I hadn’t made a concerted effort to market and sell my art in all the venues I think will be a fit for my art.

    As a result I’m a very successful online artist with high visibility and I’m constantly being contacted by companies to license my art. All the time and effort is paying off, but I don’t just sit back and rest on what I’ve already done, I constantly forge ahead to find new and better opportunities every day for my artwork!

    Thank you for such a great post 🙂

    1. Alix Pierre

      Hi Magan

      Thank you so much or sharing your story with us. I wish you continued success. I’m a fine artist who is in the process of finding a good licencing company for my artwork. I would appreciate it very much if you would refer me to one.

      1. Hi Alix,

        Are you looking for an agent? I represent myself but there are plenty of agents out there to do all the marketing/selling/contract work for you, for a percentage of royalties of course, usually 50%. Joan’s Beiriger’s blog has a list of agents to contact and lot’s of other great licensing advice: https://joanbeiriger.blogspot.com/2009/11/list-of-over-50-us-art-licensing.html as does artlicensinginfo.com and mariabrophy.com Hoping you have great success!

        All the best,

    2. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

      Thank you Megan for your inspiring story here. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

  20. Emiliya

    Even though I agree with Gary , but only partly. Yes, undoubtedly, artist MUST take care of own marketing needs and spend time researching, sorting through, writing blog, uploading the images, working towards selling , but ratio 20/80 sounds unrealistic to me. For one – to start to sell , you have to have a body of work, good quality work, and that’s why number one priority for artist is own creative development and growth. Secondly to create something worthy, express who you really are as an artist, you need to concentrate on preparation of the concept and execution strategies. From being in art business for more then 10 years I learned one sober truth – Customers are not stupid, they won’t buy low quality art no matter how hard you try to sell it!
    But , by any means – Gary is right about importance of learning to sell your artwork. We need to learn ! My time creating/selling ratio would be 60/40.
    Thank you Gary for great tips on this very important subject and educating all of us!
    Sincerely, Emiliya

  21. N@S g@llerY

    thanks so much for this valuable information I was really looking for …..
    I have the same vision and the same way of thinking that’s why I create my Facebook page for marketing and selling artwork for the artists … being an artist myself I Shaffer from not be able to market or sell my paintings …it’s not that wow but I’m on my way ….plz kindly visit my page and I’d like to hear more advises from you sir …thanks again and good luck

  22. Elisabeth

    Thank you!! I am really interested in reading more of your advice. It is so very inspiring and is a great new perspective which really makes sense!

  23. Gilda

    Thank you Gary for writing a book to help artists succeed. The art is the art. And the marketing is an art as well. Or should I say there is an art to marketing well! I look forward to reading your online course.

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Hi Gilda,
      Thanks for your comments here. The business of art is an art in itself, I agree. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

  24. Maddy Rosenberg

    Gary, I always tell people my career is my day job. The more you do towards it, the more chances you have of getting opportunities.

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Hi Maddy,
      Good to hear from you again. How was your trip to Germany? I want to come over to Brooklyn and see you in your gallery soon.
      See you later,

  25. salahpoly

    Thanks Gary Bolyer..

    1. Gary Bolyer

      You are very welcome.

  26. pierre dingley

    I have left a full time job after 23 years to get back to being a full time artist…took 9 months to build a portfolio, build a studio, create a giant reservoir of works- 100 paintings, develop website,go to art fairs and exhibit in London, calculate time to survive on savings, (come the worst) get into two galleries, and build my online presence, could not have done all that while working full time…the time to just do my art has allowed me to focus on what Im trying to do…I studied art to a masters level. But everyone around me told me I needed a set job years ago…no faith…the normal attitude of non artists to someone wanting to be a full time artist!! I have now tried to play catchup…for all the lost years…and am loving it…I run 7 websites, belong to online galleries and am for the first time in years running my own life and following my heart…I work Monday to Thurs and market/sell on Fridays-online. How is it going? I’m selling more work as my outlets increase…by March 2014 Ill know if its been a wise business decision.

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Hi Pierre,
      Thanks for your comments. It looks like you have had an interesting journey. You are following your heart and your passion is taking you to new levels of success and fulfillment. Keep up the good work and let us know more of your progress as it unfolds. Thanks again.

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