Thursday, September 01, 2011

POLL: What makes somebody buy a painting?

It constantly intrigues me as to what makes somebody want to buy one painting compared to another.  I wonder how often you also ponder on what makes artwork sell?

It seems to me as if everybody has an idea of what makes a painting that somebody will buy - but do we ever try and articulate it?

At one extreme, we can have artists who will produce paintings just for themselves "because this will never sell".  While at the other extreme we have artists who have to produce artwork that they know has a very good chance of selling because they have to keep a roof over their head, hungry mouths to feed and bills to pay.

Girl with the red hat (1667) - Johannes Vermeer
oil on canvas, 22.8 x 18 cm
Then we have people who say that paintings which make a point of featuring red will always sell (see addendum at end).  Then there's the art collectors who will buy anything by an artist so long as it's a collectable name and it's got a collectable signature - and it really doesn't matter what it is! While the art tutors are always going on about important it is to stop the eye from moving out of the painting.

So I sat down and made a list of all the things I could think of which makes people want to buy a painting.

Which three factors make somebody buy a painting?

Which of the following factors are most likely to make somebody buy a painting?  You can choose three
  • subject matter
  • use of colour
  • use of values
  • high contrast
  • design and composition
  • focal point draws eye in
  • the eyes 
  • complexity
  • simplicity
  • media used 
  • mastery of media
  • mastery of technique
  • "looks like a photo"
  • concept
  • fashionable / on trend
  • connects with the public 
  • status of gallery
  • selling skills of gallerist
  • selling skills of artist
  • size of artist's fan base
  • collectible artist
  • price
  • frame
  • disposable income of buyer
The survey will run until the end of the month with the results being reported on 30th September.  You can find the survey in the right hand column - just above "for your information".

Do also please comment below on what YOU think makes somebody buy a painting and why.  I'd love to hear your reasons.

Addendum:  I'm finding it fascinating to see which photos appeal to people on my new blog - makingamark - a daily photo (which is all about visual imagery and identity rather than photography).  It's a bit like having a constant experiment in which images work best!  So far the two photos which are all red both feature in the top 10 posts!  Maybe that old saying about red really is true?


  1. This is very interesting Katherine, especially in the current climate where selling is proving challenging. I would add that the way a painting is hung is pretty important. For example, if the work is well positioned and lit then it seems to give the painting a better chance of selling in a gallery space. It seems far from an exact science though. Sometimes paintings that I think are stronger don't sell and one's I'm less keen on do. As you have rightly identified, many factors often come into play.

  2. Good point David. However I'd argue these days how well the painting is displayed on the gallery's website also comes into play. Many a time I've seen paintings sold from websites and/or catalogues prior to exhibitions opening. That's why you arrive at Private Views to see red stickers already on the paintings!

    I guess I'd put this one down to status of the gallery in an"if they're good then they know how to market art" capacity

  3. Very thorough list. High on my list, are "mystery and emotion". This, of course, is captured with technique, color and other characteristics listed, but this also describes something wholistic that may capture the buyer instantly.

  4. 'Matching the living room' is one I have come across many times.

  5. Yikes - now why didn't I remember that one!

  6. There has been an extensive discussion on this on LinkedIn.
    Shall I send you the link? Or maybe you are on LinkedIn too?

  7. Could you please summarise maybe?

    I avoid LinkedIn on the basis I really don't need another social media site to keep up with! :)

  8. I understand, Katherine.
    It was a long discussion and many possible answers to the question 'What Makes People Buy My Art' came up. There was a long discussion about prices (and recession). Also if an art-piece would fit in a house, meaning colour, size, style etc. Eventually the discussion moved to that a piece of art has to resonate with the buyer. Although you may 'mentally' admire an art piece, you might not like it in your room because it is too modern, to weird, to political etc. The discussion moved then to how to find a network of possible customers that does resonated with your art. (For instance if you draw owls, you might want to show your art to ornithologists). Then the discussion moved towards how to create a network of possible customers not only marketing-wise chosen, but also based on personal preferences. Customers do buy art from somebody they know, like and admire, not by artists they do not feel connected with in any way. I think I stopped following the discussion there, I therefore have no clue if more advice was given.
    Is this helpful? I hope so.

  9. I've asked every person I come in contact with daily to help with this survey, because it will give me a better overview or the run-of-the-mill. After a little contemplation, each and every one said: "Mainly, because I like it."
    (For what it's worth . . . )

  10. Hi Estelle - I guess that is indeed a very common response - and I guess it would also be a very unusual person who bought a painting they didn't like! ;)

    The poll aims to get behind what it is that causes that explanation to be offered up. The reasons why people like something is very often due to one of the factors in the poll if you prod a little more.

    "So, WHY do you like it?....."


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