Innovation and selling paintings

If you’re not selling paintings, perhaps you need to convince yourself of their value before you can convince others.

Home port, by Carol L. Douglas, available through my open-air gallery.

One thing I’m learning this summer is that I’m a pretty rigid thinker when it comes to business. Not that painters are inherently innovative anyway. We stubbornly insist on representing reality with pigment suspended in plant oil, when technology has given us many more sophisticated mediums.

But COVID-19 has given us a strong hint that the old marketing systems are passing away. Most of us are groping toward new ways to sell. Many of these ideas haven’t worked. I’d say the ‘virtual opening’ is a bust, for example. The excitement of the room is an integral part of painting sales and we haven’t yet found an online substitute.

Victoria Street, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. Not only does it take time to integrate a new idea, all the pieces must be in place for it to happen. Leonardo da Vincimay have sketched something that looked a lot like an airplane, but it was a pipe dream until the development of the engine. All major changes are built incrementally by a lot of people over time.

Not only must we make changes in how we work, consumers need to be won over to new ideas. That includes how they’re going to buy art. Consider the parallel careers of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Most engineers agree that Tesla was the true genius, but it was Edison who was the master showman. It was Edison who put electricity in the forefront of American consciousness, who told the American people how it would benefit them.

White Sands of Iona, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

To be a success as an artist, you have to learn to sell. Period. That ruffles my amour-propre, just as it does yours, but I see no way around it. The stupidest thing ever written was, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” (Don’t blame it on Ralph Waldo Emerson; it’s a misquote.) 

I came across the following in a personal advice column recently: “Never be without a $100 bill in your pocket: Money in our pocket gives us confidence. This is especially important for people in sales, as salespeople tend to sell to their own pocket. If they don’t have money, then they think their customer doesn’t either. Those people lose a lot of sales.”

Tricky Mary in a Pea-Soup Fog, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

One of my biggest hurdles in selling paintings has been my own upbringing. It took more than a literal $100 bill to convince me that there are people who believe art has monetary value as well as intrinsic worth. I needed to move among those people, absorb their conversation and observe their behavior.

My paintings are in approximately the same price range as handbags from Nieman-Marcus, and that’s where they belong. They’re a luxury, albeit for people of a more intellectual bent. But luxury does not mean “waste of money,” as it meant to my parents. It is part of the softness that makes the world more bearable. Once one’s own needs are met (including the need to be charitable), why not make life sweeter? Why not surround oneself with beauty? If you’re not selling paintings, perhaps you need to convince yourself of their value before you can convince others.