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  • Writer's picturerahul sriskanthan

Communicating Value in Art : How Professionals Win Over High Spending Clients Online

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

Art is a High Value Business

As an artist, you are in a high value businesses. At the top end, hundreds of millions of euros, pounds, dollars, exchange hands for rare prized artworks by great masters (yes, being dead can do wonders for the price of your work!)

Being Popular Isn't Enough

In the past, without access to tools to communicate directly with their public, many great artists who were successful during their lifetimes, like El Greco, Rembrandt, Barry and Lautrec, died in poverty, because but they couldn't position their art as high value.

With mass media in the 20th century, and then social media in the 21st century, artists like Warhol, Picasso, Dali and Hirst have bee able to take control of their stories, their careers by winning over high spending art buyers.

Positioning as High Values is Vital

Today, top artists and photographers are paid millions for their talent, taste, skill, creativity, unique eye and their ability to do something extraordinary in the way they interpret color and light.

Building a large following and getting your story out there is important, and that's about branding (read more about that here).

BUT, in order to make a living you also need to convince high paying clients that they should spend money on you! That's positioning you brand, your work, as high value.

How Experts Position to Communicate Value

The good news is that communicating value is something the world's greatest artists, brands, companies and marketers have been doing for generations. Once you know what to do, it's not that difficult!

It’s all about great storytelling!

Go to a budget furniture store, or supermarket, or clothing store, or fast food restaurant; then compare that to the experience of walking into a Michelin restaurant, designer furniture store, Apple Store, Porsche dealer or a top end department store, where luxury products are provided. Whats the difference?

Budget businesses pile products high to communicate abundance. They provide a huge amount of choice to signal that there is competition. The packaging and presentation is very basic, so you know costs are being cut everywhere they can. The prices are prominently displayed, so you know where the bargains are. Customer service focused on speed, to keep costs low and deliver an efficient shopping experience (who has fond romantic memories of shopping at Ikea!)

Budget Story : We are cutting corners everywhere to get you the amazing deal you want and deserve at lightning speed, so you have time and money to spend on the things that matter!

When positioning a luxury product, this story is reversed. Products are spaced out, to communicate scarcity. There is often a limited selection, emphasizing exclusivity. The story of the product takes centre stage, how it was designed, made, and how it can change your life. This story is reflected in the packaging, presentation, promotion and is intimately connected to the product. Prices labels are smaller, and sometime absent, because the price is not the focus. Customer service is personalized, encouraging buyers to try and experience the product, or if the product is a service, such as a meal at a 5 start restaurant, it is a memory to treasure.

Luxury Story: We have spared no expense and no effort to deliver the experience you deserve, that you didn’t even know you wanted and that you will never forget!

Scarcity vs Abundance

Selectivity vs Choice

Personalized vs Fast

Experience vs Price

How Art Professionals Position to Communicate Value on their Websites

Online art has websites by Galleries that sell high value art by high reputation artists (David Zwirner, White Cube, Gagosian)

There are also websites that focus on selling affordable art to people on a budget (singulart, artfinder, saatchiart).

These sites are designed to communicate luxury on the one hand, and affordability on the other hand. There is a huge amount we can learn from them because they follow well established approaches to communicating value.

Emphasizing Scarcity

Gallery sties give each artwork a lot of space on the screen and have more space between each artwork, to give a sense of scarcity and encourage the viewer to spend more time engaging with and appreciating each artwork.

The affordable art website pack in as many artworks on the screen as possible, emphasizing abundance (and they also supply tens of thousands of artwork for buyers to choose from).

Delivering Selectivity & Exclusivity

Top galleries deliver selectivity in two ways. They offer collectors a limited selection of artists, who often share a similar aesthetic and only work with that gallery. This gives collectors not just exclusive access and the reassurance of quality, but also a sense that they are supporting a worthwhile artistic community.

The galleries also carefully control the context within which the art is seen. Art is often organized into selections, where each artwork in the selection reinforces the others and helps the collector understand the artist and their body of work.

The affordable art websites take the opposite approach. They treat the art and the artists as products that can be searched for and filtered. Some don't even list the artists, others provide thousands of artists that buyer can filter by name, region and technique.

The browsing experience for art is also more like shopping on Amazon, with search bars and lots of filters helping the buyer narrow down exactly what they want, instead of the Gallery or artist guiding the collector to something truly amazing.

A Slower Personalized Buying Experience

Galleries want you to get in touch so that they can build a relationship with you. Instead of buy buttons and shopping carts they have “Enquire” buttons and contact forms next to artworks because they want you to get in touch so they can provide you a personalized experience and develop a long-term relationship with you.

The affordable art websites have bug “Buy” and "Shopping Cart" buttons to help deliver the quick efficient sales that their prices conscience clients want.

Moving the Conversation Beyond Price

Gallery sites don’t prominently display the price of art, and sometimes there is no price, because it's not the price that they want to talk about. It's not the price that they want buyer so to focus on. They want us to focus on the story behind the artwork.

Meanwhile, the affordable art websites sell based on price, so make sure the price of the artwork is really easy to see so people can see which ones are bargains. Language such as "Shop," "Buy," "Cart," "Sales," "Free" communicate bargains. It’s also usually possible to search for art by price on affordable art sites, again signaling that you can easily find bargains.

Making the Conversation about Artists and their Portfolios

Finally, galleries spend a huge amount of effort telling the story of the artist and their art. The art is beautifully organized into selections, with explanations of each artwork and also of each selection.

The Gallery websites also have rich profiles of the artist, including their history, motivation and influences, that integrate with their portfolios.

Leading Artists also use these strategies

Emphasizing Each Artwork : Getting the artworks to fill up the entire screen helps remind people of their scarcity, some examples from David Hockney and Sarah Maple.

Presenting Selections : Emerging artists and established artists both lay out their portfolios carefully to stay in control of their story and guide followers through their work. Check out the website for Jonathan Wateridge and Damien Hirst.

Personalizing Relationships : Most artists don't have prices or shops on their websites, because the priority is on building a relationship with followers, not selling them products. Instead their websites have contact forms and other ways to get in touch. Check out this simple contact pages from Rafael Rozendaal that connects to all his galleries and feeds, or this contact form on the website of Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi.

Delivering an Experience : The big artists who are well established and have a sense of drama have websites that are really over the top, with innovative ways to condense and tell their stories, using striking images and animations Ai Weiwei's website is full of big statements and images. Sarah Lucas simply has a provocative video of here spinning in a chair with her iconic, erotic, sculptures and Jenny Holzer has some cool landing page animations on her site. Jonathan Wateridge has a beautiful landing page, which you need to get through before you reach his website. Anish Kapoor's website is also impressive in the way it refuses to use any images, which in itself is a huge statement.

Conclusion - Some Simple Tips

Get Your Website Right : Instagram, Facebook, Podcasts, live-streaming can all help build your brand and get your personal story out there, BUT, none of these platforms give you the control you need to position as high value. Getting your website right is vital.

Balance Two Competing Objectives : Your Portfolio and your Profile are both vital to positioning as high value. At the beginning of your career your Portfolio is important to get people to understand your artistic journey. As your career develops and people understand your portfolio, making sure people understand you becomes important. Communicating your Portfolio is about making organized, structured choices. Communicating your Profile is a creative exercise and can be achieved in many different ways.

Portfolio : This communicates Scarcity, Selectivity and begins to help people understand your experience as an artist. It allows you to lead followers through your work the way you want. Getting this right is about getting organized, having the right structure and the right layout.

Profile : Your profile deepens your followers understanding of who you are and what you do. It needs to be built around you and be authentic. If you have podcasts, or a youtube channel or an interesting Instagram feed, you might want to include this on your profile page. The important thing is to get people to quickly understand what you are about. Getting this right is more a question of judgement, there are no magic forumulas.

Product (Shop) : Be careful about having a shop because it's easy to create the impression you are selling a product and not an experience. We are working on guidance about shops for artists, but a few ways to make sure a shop helps position you as high value.

Curate it carefully so you are creating selective narratives (don't put all you works there).

Change what is available all the time - to create a sense of scarcity.

Consider derivatives of your work, such as books. This keeps the price of your original artworks out of the conversation and keeps the conversation about your experience.

Consider having your shop on a separate website, to keep the conversation about shopping away from your central message about your Portfolio and you Profile.

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