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Does Selling Prints Diminish Your Credibility?

Marketing art has changed quite a bit in the past few years and I thought it would be worth revisiting some of the points raised in this article that I wrote and posted a year or so ago….the points are still valid today..
If you’re really interested in selling your work and not just posting it in an online gallery hoping someone will find you, continue reading below

Some time ago during a lengthy session at the hairdresser, we got to talking about art….
I have been with the same hairstylist since my twenties but we rarely chat because I view it as a time to be quiet and introspective….to my surprise in the middle of a silence broken only by the snipping of scissors, he said “You paint right?” when I replied in the affirmative, he said that an artist friend is really struggling because of the current economy and was considering selling her paintings online

I perked up at this and we went on to chat about the pros and cons of selling via a website or art listing site, and the merits or otherwise of selling reproductions, as opposed to sticking with a gallery or selling from ones private studio….

Enthusiastically I went on to explain about Redbubble and how it works, the fact that I had the best of all worlds in that I could sell originals from my studio as well as reproductions on line , when he asked an earth shattering question, “but doesn’t selling prints diminish your credibility as an artist?”….
After a shocked silence, I emphatically stated “no it doesn’t”, and went on to emphasize my point by quoting artists who throughout the ages have sold work in all forms and fashions, giving examples like painters Dali and Warhol…. but he didn’t look convinced

To prove his point he explained that he had bought a painting for $10,000.00 from a local artist and was dismayed later on to see a giclee print of the same painting for $1000.00…he had been under the impression that his painting was the only one….he also said that a friend of his had intended to buy a $40,000.00 painting from the same artist and when he discovered that there were prints of the work, refused to go through with the purchase….
Smiling at his apparent naivete about the art world, I explained that art is a business like everything else and unless he had commissioned the work and the artist agreed to paint no others like it, he would probably come across many reproductions of his painting

Later that day mulling over our conversation, I decided to find out how curators feel about artists who sell outside of the classic gallery setting…
I often talk to gallery owners and curators so it was easy to get the information I needed and I also did a bit of research online…
“The truth is that only a very small percentage of working artists will ever acquire gallery representation. A much smaller percentage will acquire adequate gallery representation

One statement that was repeated often in large letters..Galleries delete unsolicited submissions..the exception is the vanity gallery who charge for wall space or the artist run gallery, but that’s a whole other article..

Before you even think of approaching any gallery you must build your art career and that means selling your work…in other words you must sell to be able to sell
Most artists are stunned to discover that you have to sell art in order to attract gallery attention. Once you learn to make sales—once you’ve learned to persuade others that your art has merit— you’ll be ready for representation…..
Art galleries sell art for a living. They carefully evaluate every artist who presents them with art and decide to work only with those who can demonstrate that their art is not only saleable, but that it will sell…..selling your work requires various techniques, so you must create a strategy

1.“You need a community of other artists in your life. You need a network. Because making art is such an isolating business, you have to make sure you are not all alone in it. We need inspiration from others. We need to see what is going on in our field, and build relationships. The world works this way. All business works this way. Artists need to learn to work this way too. Networking and researching should be what guides your career from the business side. You job is to build a bridge between your creative mind and your business mind…joining online networks like Facebook is a must…someone somewhere is talking about you”…
Join the conversation

2. “Get your work online and in artist registries

3.Research your market…select your potential market and stretch the limit of that market..

4.“Established galleries that work only with proven sellers in mid-career will not be a good fit for emerging artists. Some galleries define an emerging artist as anyone who has not had three Museum monograph shows! Know exactly where your work falls within the art world of prospects you are cultivating”.

5.“Artists need to approach creating their art career (which might include getting a gallery) with the same strategies they would use for looking for a “straight” job. Self-assessment, targeted research, planning a visibility campaign, direct contact based on research, networking their way in, working with curators/reps/agents and answering ads/ calls for shows, etc… A mix of tactics produces the best results".

6.“Do you have a blog? this might be something worth considering…
In addition by being a part of a social network, you can join the conversation on the internet, comment on others blogs, attend openings and professional lectures…if you don’t want to start a personal blog consider joining Facebook if you have not already done so

7. “It is never about you, it is always about THEM. That is the key to making the sale, the introduction, maintaining the relationship. They don’t care about you yet, so don’t expect them to.

8.“Get out of your studio and into the world
Organize an exhibition at your library, write reviews for a blog, intern for an art handler in a gallery, work for a museum in any department, work for a gallery and serve wine at the openings, teach an after-school class in art, join an artist support or crit group, start an artist crit or support group, go to artist salons, go to lectures, go to openings…. Meet people, and see what is going on in the “scene” you want to be a part of

So you must have a pretty established art career before you even approach any gallery assuming that’s the way you want to go, and that means you must show that you are selling your work…that you have an established client base

All that said you can be an incredibly successful artist without any gallery representation… "You can be reviewed in magazines and newspapers, be featured in online Webzines, and create and contribute to blogs. You can have a core of dedicated collectors, and find new buyers, be collected by public curators for permanent collections and make a living with your work…you can be a self produced artist"

Yes… the self produced artist…not all of us want gallery representation

Finding a gallery who will work with you in the first place can be a dispiriting adventure, ego deflating and down right frustrating and demoralizing
Once you get a dealers attention, it can take years before your first show
Making enough money to split with the dealer
Not being allowed to take creative risks in your work
Not being able to deviate from a style that is selling well
Being locked into a relationship and a showing cycle that is unfulfilling

The advantages of being a self-produced artist can include:
Control over your exhibitions and what work you show and where
Tailoring your market message for your style and changes in style
Ongoing dialog that can support your work with alternative or fringe folk
Not sharing the proceeds of sales and choosing your price point
Deciding how often you want to show
Not being locked into one space or one city or one style
Independence in creative direction and installation freedom
Being your own boss and an entrepreneur

So set your goals….
Think about what your career goals are as an artist. What is your potential market? Where do you think your artwork belongs in the art market? These are very important questions, so take your time coming up with the answers. No one knows but you

I’ve taken a long time to get back to my main point but here it is….“Selling art as prints does not diminish your credibility as an artist, it actually enhances it
There are as many different ways to sell art and become successful as an artist as there are artists, and each and every one of those ways is perfectly acceptable.
The key to success is identifying those methods you can comfortably apply to your own work”….that means selling it in what ever way works best for you and your goals, whether it be gallery representation, or self production…prints, cards posters, originals, all will get your work noticed…
If you’re going to make a living as an artist you have to be able to sell your art at least as well as you’re able to create it

In the past couple of years I added a new component to my career as a self produced artist…
I have entered the shark infested waters of licensing and licensed some of my images to be reproduced as prints and cards and lately sold some of them to be produced as books, neither of which affects my credibility in any way see HERE and HERE
…Janis Z…as always, let me know your thoughts…

Sources…Gallery Representation…Trend Search


  • © Pauline Wherrell
    © Pauline Wher...about 2 years ago

    I totally agree Janis but I do sell originals for a lot more. With all the digital artwork being produced now a lot of work can only be sold as prints and that is art in its own right and more and more galleries and exhibitions are now starting to accept and exhibit this. I sell both originals and prints in the real world.

  • That’s great Pauline…up to now there has been a widespread belief that to be taken seriously an artist should stick to selling one or another, but that idea is changing which is a good thing…thanks so much for the feedback…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Richard George
    Richard Georgeabout 2 years ago

    It is so great that you take the time to enlighten us Janis…you are very talented and we can all learn from your experiance and insights. Much appreciate your efforts and sharing with us!

  • Lovely of you to say so Richard…I really appreciate feedback too…without it I would have no idea if the posts are worthwhile or whether I should continue researching and writing them..

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Cindy Schnackel
    Cindy Schnackelabout 2 years ago

    Agree, prints, etc can be a good, and needed, source of income. As far as the value of the original, to some buyers, it obviously did devalue it, but I believe that was naiive of the buyers to think there’d be no prints, unless they had an agreement to that effect in their hands. Unless there’s a “no reproductions” agreement, it has to be assumed that the artist can exercise his or her rights to continue to use the image. Those rights don’t go away on sale of the original. Prints etc are just reality today, but I’m sure that some resist it, like any change.

  • Yes indeed prints are certainly here to stay..there are even high priced auctions of prints in the top galleries…however the public at large still need to be educated about the value of prints especially the limited edition ones…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Cindy Schnackel
    Cindy Schnackelabout 2 years ago

    Yes, there is a difference between a ‘fine art print’ aka giclees, or actual ‘prints’ in the old fashioned sense of lithographs, etc, and inexpensive reprints on inexpensive surfaces like cards and so on. Price is way higher on art prints. You can get an 8 × 10 in. reprint here for less than $10 but that’s not the same as a giclee which is a more expensive process, better print, archival, and so on. Also no responsible giclee printer or artist would make giclees from anything less than a great capture of the image. No one’s going to knowingly or happily pay top price for a giclee made from a bad home snapshot. And, professional photography or large scanning isn’t cheap. A buyer should not be worried about either type print. More people being aware of the piece’s existence and wishing they could see the original won’t hurt its value IMO. You are right, a limit on the number of prints made is usually expected. Some galleries fib a bit and sell giclees limited to a certain number, but then make more in some other sizes, and buyers are not aware of this, and don’t like it. Like all things, people should be dealing openly with buyers. No one likes being deceived. But if there is no statement or agreement, buyers do have to realize that the default is wide open…the artist could make prints, anything they want. if the buyer wants to own the only one, they could expect to pay more, as that’s a form of buying rights, in addition to the art itself, and rights aren’t cheap. Or shouldn’t be. Almost no artist anymore sells their rights. They may license it like you talked about in another journal, but they don’t give up rights, at least not without being monetarily compensated.

  • I read of a buyer who got really upset when the painter created a second original painting of the same scene…she felt that she had bought a one of a kind painting and would be the only person who owned it, not understanding that artists have a perfect right to do anything they want with their images…what was worse in her opinion, was that the later painting was much better as the artist’s skills had improved considerably in the interval..
    I guess she had not seen or heard of artist like Monet who painted the same cathedral a zillion times…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Mary Campbell
    Mary Campbellabout 2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information. I know a lot of new artists do not understand the gallery system, and yes their are lot’s of galleries today that will hang work for hanging fees each month and that’s not a bad thing. It distributes the risk to the gallery, and ensures that they have an income even when the market is weak. For a new artist it’s a way to get know in the community and build that sales portfolio. Have a few shows, before approaching an art agent, or the type of gallery you talk about. Also art associations may have galleries of their own that members can use, I find this in many cities here in the US.

    I do think selling in galleries is more lucrative than online but the draw back is you have to have the funds to produce the work framed ahead of time at your cost. Online is easier in terms of production and costs of production. I do think you can do both as you said, but the key is to keep some special work for the galleries and limit their editions.

    For the painter, I do not think prints devalue an genuine oil painting, or watercolor as they are so totally different. But again I think you should consider offering limited edition prints and make sure the print price is proportional to the price of the original you sell else where. For the photographer I think should keep your gallery prints separate from what you sell online and having limited edition prints for your gallery work.

    As an artist I’ve worked in several galleries just to get to know the business, before opening my own and that was a valuable learning experience for me. So I totally agree with your advice. If you want to be an artist, it’s involves much more than just producing paintings or taking a picture. However you get that experience whether it’s joining an art associations, networking, working in a gallery it’s all important to learning the business end of being an artist.

  • Wise advice from one who has direct experience in this area of the market…thank you so much for adding these valuable insights Mary and I am so glad you did not find the post lacking in any way…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Jim Phillips
    Jim Phillipsabout 2 years ago

    I think selling prints and helped me earlier on establish better pricing for my originals. Example, if on one site a double matted and wood framed of an 16"x 20" giclee print may sell for alittle over 300 dollars somehow better justifies my asking price of the same original. I can remember many years ago when I sold originals for that price. It still just amazes me what different individuals think they should pay for original art. I quoted a lady a price for a possible full length portrait of considerable size the other day and soon as I gave her the price there was a long pause and she just hung up on me. Generally individuals who collect art don’t blink an eye over reasonable prices. Bottom line: I can’t see where selling prints has had an effect on me at all. They seem to be very different markets all together. And yeah, Janis, I’m looking at the book market, just not real sure about it just yet.

  • Thanks so much for the feedback Jim…any advice from an experienced seller in both markets is really valuable to the members and other readers of this column…I look forward to see your entry into the field of art books…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Terri Maddock
    Terri Maddockabout 2 years ago

    Thank you Janis – I’m really enjoying your articles – they are full of really worthwhile information and a great reference when thinking about one’s own art & how to market it.

  • Thanks so much Terri…your comment really helps me to decide whether to continue researching and posting these articles….glad you are finding them helpful…

    – © Janis Zroback

    IDGARAabout 2 years ago

    I really like all the issues and considerations raised in this article.
    Thank you Janis.

  • I am glad you do…thanks so much for letting me know…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • Kathie Nichols
    Kathie Nicholsabout 2 years ago

    Thanks Janis, a most informative read. I also enjoy reading all your journals, there is still so much to learn regarding selling and marketing ones work. Much appreciated. Love to read all the replies too……great info guys!!! Thanks!!!

  • You’re very welcome Kathie…glad you find them helpful…

    – © Janis Zroback

  • emmajb
    emmajbabout 2 years ago

    While I think there is a big difference between a POD print and an original artwork, prints certainly have a place. They have not just allowed more artists the opportunity to earn a living from their work, but also for people to buy artwork. How many people can afford original artwork? I’m not sure at the real reason for David Hockey’s “The Bounce for Bradford” which was published in a local newspaper, one art tutor told me it was to allow more people to have access to art or something like that, could be nonsense. But why not, I like that the internet and POD can de-mystify the art world, I’m sure many people feel more comfortable looking at artwork on-line than in a gallery.

    As to diminishing credibility, that means you would have to be known in the first place to have acquired credibility, something which was has always been limited to a very small number of artists, on-line galleries and POD is helping to change that and allowed people to gain credibility.

    Having said this, I’m not sure how I would have thought about it years ago, I think my opinion has changed over time.

  • The Internet has forced all of us to change our opinions about many things including art…the world is changing so fast, that I would not be surprised to see tablets and smart phones take over the computer world entirely..that means shopping for art will change drastically too…it will become even more affordable as artists have control over their sales and galleries become more least the current system will..artist run galleries and online galleries will become more prevalent…
    As a result all forms of art will be available for sale with no stigma attached to any…the state of the economy will also play a role…only a very few can afford to pay large sums of money and in turn artists have to earn a living…good art remaining in the hands of a very few galleries will disappear…

    – © Janis Zroback