Part I – Buying Art: Can We Return to the Good Old Days?

by smARTist Speaker, Jack White

Thirty-five years ago, I gave a client an exciting experience he never forgot. In return, years later, he lobbied for me to become an Honoree Admiral in the Texas Navy. (I commissioned on the USS Lexington.)  I gave my collector a “Highlighter Day” in the ‘70s, and he repaid me for that exciting buying experience with Governor Perry making my commission official with his signature.

In the past four decades I’ve seen a lot of changes in the art market; however none as radical as the years following 9-11. People are now ambling through outdoor shows and galleries in a zombie daze. 40% of the Carmel Galleries closed within six months after 9-11. Scores of artists gave up their careers.

We had a small spike in the market and then a gradual downward decline. This was a shock adjustment for us. We were spoiled. For well over a decade, my partner, Mikki Senkarik, had sold over two hundred originals a year. We had people fighting over paintings.

Wrong Fork In The Road

In looking back to see where the art industry took the wrong fork in the road, I have come to the conclusion about two things that have changed the way we market art.

1. Prior to 9-11 we were not selling art; we were providing an exciting, ebullient, experience. We fully understood clients don’t NEED art.  Art is a WANT. To make people want art our galleries made buying an unforgettable event. Purchasing art was fun, an event the client would never forget.  By 2006 galleries and outdoor shows changed. They began to believe the doom and gloom their clients and peers were preaching.

The shows and galleries we visited then had people dressed up trying to take orders like a Denny’s waitress instead of inviting the client to a concert. They were no longer pulling back the curtain of imagination and having the client enter a private performance of Cirque du Soliel.  I could see the lack of confidence in the eyes of those selling art. For them the play had been canceled and the curtain never opened.

2. Since 2006, another big change has taken place with the art buying public. Artists and gallery salespersons are seeing the client pull back. The client feels their desperation and starts making excuses. You cannot sell art out of fear or greed. I have seen those selling become more talkative, and in some cases, downright pushy. This is an art felony. Never get caught trying to sell.  There seems to be a misconception that more talk is better.

When You Don’t Know Beans From Broccoli

A few art consultants, who don’t know beans from broccoli, are perpetrating the talking myth. I have said many times, and in a myriad of ways, if you get caught selling then you have lost the sale.

First thing to remember with a client; you are not selling anything they NEED.  The client may need a car, new shoes and food for their children, but they DO NOT need art. Art is not a necessity. You don’t accomplish this buying experience by talking. You accomplish it by asking interesting “editorial” questions.

The Simple Answer

No one ever listened themselves out of a sale. Your goal should be to give your client an unforgettable buying moment. The way clients buy art today is 180 degrees from a few years ago. We either adapt to the shift or get left in the wake.

I can hear some of you say, “Jack, I’m willing to do what it takes. I agree with you selling has seriously changed in the last few years. It’s like pulling hen’s teeth to get a client to even return my phone calls. They walk through the gallery, or show, with arms folded, closing out the world.”

The simple answer: Make sure your client is having FUN.

One client emailed, “Buying art used to be fun. Now it’s a pain in the petunia.”

I fired off a fast reply asking her to explain. She was frustrated enough to give me an ear full. I am only touching her high spots:

“Jack, I used to go in a gallery or the local art festival and they knew my name. My gallery knew I love a good glass of red wine. Before I started looking, the salesperson handed me an expensive George Riedel glass made especially for full-bodied wine. It was so much fun and excitement back then.  I don’t know if the wine was better, but drinking it from a $60 glass made me think so.

When I spotted a piece I was interested in, the kind salesperson removed the art from the wall and found a place for me to view the work in private.

When we were alone, the salesperson was more interested in me as a person than selling me art. They wanted to know about my husband, my children and our latest travels. The salesperson placed the art in isolation and let me drink in the image as I sipped marvelous wine in the most expensive glass in the world.

They would dim the lights, showing me the magic of the art. We had a ball.  I used to look forward for an excuse to return. There were times I just went and purchased art to experience the process. I didn’t need more art but I wanted the fun.

Jack, all that has changed. Galleries artists no longer know how to have fun. I stopped buying art and have not purchased a piece in over four years.”

Her email prompted me to write this piece in the hope that we can bring back the buying excitement in how we sell.


This larger-than-life Texan artist, Jack White, is an art marketing legend, with the brassy wisdom to show for it, and I couldn’t be happier that he is speaking at the smARTist Telesummit 2012 on, Making and Keeping Collectors for a Lifetime.

When you register for this year’s conference (it’s our 6th annual!), you won’t miss Jack White, or any of the 13 sessions.

First step: Click here to sign up for the “Interest List,” where you get free art-career resources, and a link to all the conference details, including registration.

4 Responses to “Part I – Buying Art: Can We Return to the Good Old Days?”

  1. Maria Brophy says:

    Jack White, I love how you look at things. And you are a great storyteller!

    My new favorite quote: “No one ever listened themselves out of a sale.”

    And, it’s something I’m going to remind myself of from now on!

  2. Totally enjoyed reading this. I will take all his comments to heart and head this advice. It is in line with what I think anyway. I read Jack’s posts in FineArtViews also! Love his stories and wit … not to mention his valuable advice.

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