There are many great mysteries of life. Why do we exist? What do women REALLY want? Why are men so...(you fill in the blank)? Bill Cosby once told of the college professor who posed the question to his class, "Why is there air?" Bill noted with some self-satisfaction that any phys-ed major could tell you that. "It's to fill up volley balls." Perhaps the question was intended to be more profound but the response sounds good to me. Art abounds with such profundity. I've dealt several times with some of the more ageless of these mysteries. What is art? WHY is art? Why do we make art? All have both dull, deeply considered responses and crisp, smart-assed answers. However, let me say that for the professional artists, there is no deeper, desperate, or more mystifying question than "Why does art sell?" To state it more precisely, why does someone buy a particular work of art while next to it sets what the artist might consider a much BETTER work that's been around since the Pope was a choir boy?
There's no one answer to that, of course. Try something on the order of a maybe MILLION different possibilities. As a friend pointed out yesterday when this subject came up, those of us who are point-of-sale artists have perhaps a bit more savvy in this area, but even at that, we too often go more from instinct than reason in trying to paint salable work. There ARE formulas of course, and we've all seen the art and artists who use them. The rest of us make fun of them AND their work while they are supposedly reduced to tears, riding in their stretch limos all the way to the bank. The question is also tightly bound up in the "M" word...marketing...yuck. Here there are three approaches all having to do with ballistics. There's the "shotgun" approach...the one most of us probably use. You shoot a bunch of work at the public and hope one of them knocks off a buyer. The other is the "rifle" approach. You zero in on a particular buyer (or small group of them) and ZING, you make a sale. And the other is what I call the "bomb run." You fly over, drop lots of ordinance, make lots of big explosions, not giving a damn whether ANYONE likes your work and, surprise, surprise, you sell some.
Personally, I have used (and continue to use) all three. Recently in fact, I've become just cantankerous enough to start favoring the last approach more and more. But marketing and loud bangs aside, what IS the magic that makes a person buy? The key element is an emotional bonding between the buyer and the art. Except for institutional purchases, it is the one thread running through all art transaction from multi-million-dollar van Goghs to the cute little kitties I use to paint and sell for $25. It's like falling in love. Actually, it IS falling in love. Usually it has to do first with the content of the work. Then, to lesser degrees, size, colors, style, and price play a factor--just as in falling in love. Ancient philosophers and syrupy song writers have long regarded LOVE as THE great mystery of life. In art, when the cash register "chings" that love is consummated. And if the buyer has chosen wisely, the fruit of that love is great happiness. Ahhhh, love, sweet love...I should probably save this one till Valentine's Day.