Let’s talk about how to talk—productively—with your clients about art. Because how many times have you pitched an artwork that took you quite some time to source, and the client’s quick response is “Nope”? Clients need substantial motives to buy art—they’re not going to commit solely because art matches a room or fits on a wall. They need to (1) feel connected to it, and (2) be able to rationalize the price.
Here’s how you can help clients get there: First, focus on the aesthetics—the most obvious way to evaluate an artwork. And instead of asking clients if they like or dislike a particular artwork, ask if it interests them. This tends to prompt a deeper thought process, and it allows clients to start to relate to the art. ... Why does it interest me? Do those colors feel unusual together? Does it disturb me, bring me pleasure, or remind me of something? All of these questions build a foundation for an emotional connection between a viewer and an artwork.
Second, consider the medium (i.e., the materials used to create the artwork). Sometimes these materials are totally straightforward, like watercolor on paper. Other times, they’re not apparent; there’s a type of art called a photogram, for example, that involves manipulating camera paper, which is light sensitive, in different ways to create abstracted colors and forms on the specialized paper without a camera. Not obvious! Considering the materials used to create an artwork builds a new understanding of how materials can be used, and a subsequent appreciation for the creativity involved. This information starts to serve as a rationalization for the price.
Why does [the artwork] interest me? Do those colors feel unusual together? Does it disturb me, bring me pleasure, or remind me of something?
Finally, understanding the materials in an artwork leads to questions about process and motive. How did an artist manipulate that paper to get those types of forms, and how did he even think to do that? Why did she paint a canvas all blue, and how is that similar or different from what I’ve seen before? Suddenly, when evaluating the artist’s process and motives, a bigger connection between the viewer and artist is formed and a further rationale for pricing is established. This becomes a much deeper understanding of the work than the dead-stop “like” or “dislike” reaction.
The conclusion of this thoughtful evaluation will not always be: “Wow, that artwork speaks to me and I want to pay $50k for it right now!” Sometimes it will be: “That piece doesn’t seem to reflect a ton of creativity, and I’m not even interested in paying $10 for it.” But the important takeaway is that this kind of thinking helps you and clients have a productive dialogue about art, and from there, you can work toward finding something that truly interests a client in the long term.
Katharine Earnhardt is the president and founder of Mason Lane Art Advisory, a Brooklyn firm that styles walls nationwide.