This past weekend, Timberline Gallery held it's first-ever-in-its-26-years sale. Most of the 31 artists were selling all or part of their work at 50% off. Throughout the weekend, artists were in the gallery chatting with visitors, telling stories about their art, giving mini-demonstrations. And, of course, there were the requisite cookies and snacks. From most perspectives, it was a successful sales weekend but at the end of the weekend, the walls were still full of incredible art that was not sold in spite of the sale prices.
It makes me wonder: why do people buy art ... at any price? The first response when we think about these things is to blame the economy, and there's no doubt that disposable income is limited these days. However, if people are pepper spraying each other for a half-off Xbox and this year's Black Friday set an all-time record, obviously the economy isn't the only answer.
When I think about what sold this weekend, there are some patterns:
- the jewelry makers did well
- photos, prints and paintings of Yosemite were popular
- sculptural items sold better than wall art
This is only one sale but I think there are some inferences that can be made: people buy what they understand and are comfortable with. Everyone understands jewelry: they know how to wear it, what they like and what will go with what they wear. They have a history of purchases and a range of prices they are comfortable with. They instantly could see what a great value the jewelry was in this sale.
They also buy "connections." Most people who live or pass through this area have a love affair with Yosemite. Buying a print or a painting of Yosemite keeps that love affair with them in their homes or offices.
Perhaps one of the most dominant reasons for buying art, however, is story. When we buy something like art or furniture or jewelry, we are buying a story ... the story of the item itself ... the artist, the media, the process ... but we are also buying the story we will tell ... where we found it, what we paid for it, the experience we had while buying it, what it means to us. This "future story" plays itself out in our heads as we contemplate a purchase, even when we're not aware of it. If it's a compelling story, we make the purchase. If not, we don't.
I would love to hear from you about what prompted you to buy the last piece of art you purchased.