An interesting question was posed on an email discussion group that I read. It revolved around the issue of those who make art selling fewer and fewer pieces versus those who make craft items. In this situation, “art” was defined as work that you buy to look at and “craft” was defined as work that you buy because it is something you use. This person had observed that those who make “art” are selling less than those who make a “craft.”
I find this to be an interesting conundrum.
First, it asks how one defines art and craft (or are they one in the same?) This is a perennial topic of discussion on many art groups and one that continues to be open to interpretation. My definition or interpretation of art or craft may not be the same as your definition or interpretation.
Second, it brings into question the venues where an artist sells his/her work. And that, I think, often bears witness to how one defines art and craft.
I have two lines of work; a functional line of art and a spiritual/mystical line of art (for lack of a better term at this time.) My functional art includes the wine bottle stoppers, business card cases and pens, and perfume pens that I sell predominantly through wholesale and consignment venues.
My spiritual/mystical line of art includes my spirit messenger art dolls and pyramid vessels that I sell primarily at art shows and at consignment venues.
I’ve also been an exhibitor at a variety of art/craft shows and there is a definite difference in the type of customer that attends these shows.
When I first started selling my work I started with the area church sponsored show, the woman’s league sponsored show, and the parent association sponsored show. I brought mostly functional art. For the most part, these shows attract a variety of customers but primarily customers who will spend $10 to $75 dollars on a purchase with the sweet spot price of $25 to $50.
In the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to be an exhibitor at mid to high level shows; the type of show where the least expensive item might start at $45 and art work over $1000 is not uncommon.
So what seems to be the difference in buyers at these shows?
The buyers at the church, woman’s league, and parent association shows seem to be looking for lower priced items. A $65 piece of art isn’t necessarily the item that they are going to buy (it does happen, but not very often.) After exhibiting at several of these shows I’m convinced that the customers aren’t looking for expensive art work regardless of whether that art is functional or not.
I also think that at numerous low to mid level art shows the quality of the work varies. By quality I mean “handmade” versus “import” or “resell.” When this mix of quality occurs I believe it creates confusion for the customer (how do they know which is which?); it frustrates the artist whose work is handmade (because how do you compete with the $10 whiggy-jig next to you?) and it depresses the art market.
At the mid to high end show, the customers and collectors who attend expect to see art, possibly have a better understanding of art, and aren’t as shocked by a high sale price. Granted, they may not buy the $10,000 piece of art, yet they seem to understand why that item costs $10,000.
So are there art buyers out there? Yes, they are there; you just have to find the appropriate venues. Should you start making functional art if that is what sells? I can’t make that decision for you; however, I do believe that you should have work in your booth with a varied price point. Depending on the show your inventory might have more lower priced items with some moderate priced items and a few higher priced items. At another show the opposite may be required.
And, regardless of the type of show, it is also important to educate the person who comes into your booth. Explain what your art is about. Tell them the process. Tell them about your inspiration. Make a connection. Whether your art is “something you use” or “something you look at” having a story behind your art work will help you connect with the customer/collector.
Perhaps, if they weren’t an art buyer when they walked into your booth, they’ll be an art buyer when they walk out of your booth.
For more information on selling to customers, I recommend Bruce Baker’s CD Dynamic Sales and Customer Service for Artists and Craft Makers.