The Gallery Experiment

Since starting Artichoke Art I have learned a lot about consumer behaviour and motivation when it comes to looking at and buying original artwork. Last week a couple of friends and I decided to hang some new artwork and get out there again. In the spirit of market research I decided to run an experiment during that art show aimed at getting feedback around these points: 

  1. How much are people willing to pay for art? 
  2. What factors influenced the decision to buy? 
  3. How do they feel inside a gallery? 

Here is what I found 

  1. Art pricing is a super controversial topic both for artists and for consumers. Art is one of those categories that ranges so much (too much) in price that most consumers are utterly confused about why one piece costs ‘x’ and another ‘y’. To a large extent there is no way to standardize this because pricing is set by the artist. Of the four pieces I sold at the one day pop-up here is what I know for sure-  all of my customers had a specific budget range in mind when they came into the gallery. Instead of telling them how much a piece cost I asked them how much they were willing to pay. They were super uncomfortable talking about this at first because they were confused about the prices and didn’t want to offend the artist(me). What was interesting is that what they were willing to pay was very close to what I wanted to charge. 95% of consumers of art are first time buyers with budgets under $500. 

Tip for buyers: If you like a work of art talk to the artist directly. Try to steer clear of in-gallery purchases because all galleries take a 50% cut on all art sales- this means that the price is either inflated as a result of being in a gallery or the artist only gets 50% of what they would like to. 

Tip for artists: Have a price range that can accomodate all budgets. Most people will land under the $500 dollar mark for a first time purchase and they tend to go for smaller pieces that would be easy to incorporate into their space. Also allow for ‘some’ flexibility with your prices- someone might be 20 bucks below budget and will assume that they can’t take the work home with them. 

  1. Here are the top factors that influence a decision to buy art: looking for a unique gift;  wanting to have a unique space- ‘adulting’ anyone; felt good about supporting local artists; felt good about having a special piece at home that set them apart; knew the artist and wanted to support them; fell in love with a piece and wanted it! 

Interior design plays an important role in purchasing artwork. Half of my customers had a specific place they had in mind inside their home and were making the decision vis-a-vis that space. The other half wanted to give a memorable gift that was out of the ordinary. One customer actually took a photo of my work and conducted an impromptu Facebook poll with 8 of her friends to help her decide which piece to get. Awesome!

Tip for Buyers: If you have an empty wall in your space that is screaming for art have a photo of that space on your phone. It’s very helpful to be able to visualize the piece and artists can often help with that. When in doubt- poll your friends! 

Tip for Artists: Helping your customers visualize a work of art is a big deal. Allow them to take photos and if you are savvy with photoshop show them what it could look like in their space. 

  1. Probably the most interesting part of the experiment was the gallery experience for customers. Most people hate being in that space. They are torn between wanting to look at art and not wanting to come in. It was fascinating to watch people linger at the doorway, peek through the window and in some cases come in for a 1 minute circle before walking out. Here is why: people find the space intimidating and unfamiliar; they feel watched; it’s too quiet; they feel pressured to say something but don’t know what; they are not used to looking at art and are not sure how you are supposed to behave in a gallery. Sound familiar? No wonder artists in Toronto are having a hard time selling their work- the whole experience is painful.

Tip for Buyers: Artists are as nervous about showing your art as you are about looking at it. If you see something you like get in there and have a look. Artists are people too.

Tip for Artists: Don’t sit in a corner on your phone occasionally glancing up at people. You need to make your viewers feel welcome- be friendly and easy to talk to. 


Participating in an art show again really brought home the friction that exists between customers and artists. There are too many roadblocks to a good, mutually beneficial transaction. The gallery system was invented over a hundred years ago to serve an elite. We need to reimagine this connection and involve everyone in the conversation. After all art is the universal language.