Post image for Choice Overload | Cramming in too Much Art Hurts your Sales

Choice Overload | Cramming in too Much Art Hurts your Sales

by Jason Horejs on April 2, 2014 · 69 comments

I recently watched a TED talk that reinforced my opinion of the importance of limiting the amount of art you try to display when you are trying to generate sales.

I have long maintained that it’s a bad idea to try and show too much art at once. Whether the art is being shown in a gallery, or at a weekend art festival, I believe it’s better to show a limited number of pieces instead of trying to cram everything you can into your space.

I believe that having too much art in one space hurts you in several ways. First, it makes your display look crowded and unprofessional. Most art needs some space to breathe.  Your display will look better if each piece has its own visual space.

Many galleries and artists feel like they are more likely to make a sale if they offer a wide range of work. This is a kind of shotgun approach. The more you show, the thinking goes, the more likely you are to have something that will appeal. I would argue that the problem with this approach is that you may have a better chance at having the right piece in front of someone if there’s a wide range of work, but the problem is the person won’t be able to properly see the art.

Another critical problem with this approach is that offering people too many choices often makes it impossible for them to make a decision. The TED talk I watched gave me some scientific backing to this opinion. Sheena Iyengar, a prominent Psycho-economist (whatever that is!?) has done research that shows that when customers are faced with too many options, they freeze up. It’s well worth watching her talk at TED and thinking about how it applies to the art business. Iyengar’s insights about “choice overload” show that when people are confronted with too many options, they choose not to choose.

You will see in the video below that having a broad range of choice can attract visitors, but it discourages buyers. Think about that for a minute. Have you ever been at a show where you had great attendance, but didn’t make the sales you would have expected?

 

Have You Experienced Choice Overload?

Have you ever experienced the choice overload Iyengar refers to, either as a consumer or when trying to sell your art. What are your thoughts about decreasing the amount of art you show customers to boost sales? Share your insights in the comments below.

 

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About 

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

April Howland April 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm

LOL I feel this phenomenon in Costco. I totally get it! I also feel that way when I go through art displays… sometimes a “little goes a long way” makes sense.

BTW, will see you tomorrow night and am excited to see Carollee!

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Jason Horejs April 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Exactly April!

Look forward to seeing you at the opening!

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Jillian Chilson April 2, 2014 at 1:09 pm

I have noticed that my sales are consistently higher at smaller shows and outlets versus larger ones using the same theory. Each artist stands out more. It is also easier for customers to survey the overall selection. They are quicker to make a choice and they are more likely to be more excited about their purchase. I have also noticed at larger shows and venues, people are more likely to reach to shut down because they are so overwhelmed before completing their walk-through of the show.

This is a huge factor of where I decide to show and display.

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Barbara Louise Pence April 2, 2014 at 2:12 pm

You know, now that I think about it and after I watched the video, I found that this makes perfect sense. Over the holidays, I decided to clean my store room and my studio get all the paintings that were laying around on the floor either on the way, in storage or out of my life all together. Recently I decided to do an open studio this summer for my local following. After reading your article and watching the video, I have a much better understanding of how to present my work in this environment. I need to “cut”, reduce the number of the paintings hanging on the walls, categorize them by type (still life, pets, abstract, etc.) in order to reduce choices and complexity. Very counter intuitive but it really makes sense.

Thanks for sharing this!
Barbara

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Donia April 2, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I read an article about this phenomenon and the psychology behind it on a marketing blog just last month! It definitely convinced me to pare down my displays at art fairs and events — I can still have the range of stock available and can bring it out if people are looking at something similar but not “biting,” but that doesn’t mean I have to have everything on display all at once…

I’m really looking forward to watching this video later today when I have the time.
Mahalo for sharing this Jason! Great content as usual :-)

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Sherry Campbell April 2, 2014 at 2:39 pm

I notice the same thing at outdoor art shows. The space per artist is limited so many artists fill every square inch. I have learned over the years it’s best to let the art breathe, show a variety of sizes and show your best work. And I keep additional art out of sight so I can replace those that sell. Also, I always have my portfolio of work on hand which accomplishes two purposes. 1st if someone asks for another scene, I may have a photograph of that painting and 2nd if someone asks for a commission, I can show a previously sold painting and explain I can create a similar painting in any size. The bottom line is that if a customer likes your style of paintings, that will be obvious in the conversation and you can gear that conversation toward additional paintings you already have or look forward to painting just for them.

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Shelly Leitheiser April 14, 2014 at 12:53 am

A variety of sizes pretty much solves the whole problem! When everything is the same size, it’s extremely confusing and nothing will stand out.

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David Coblitz April 2, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Great talk. Very relevant. I’m going to start revamping my web presence based on this. I’ll summarize my take away with something I was once told by a hypnotherapist who specializes in the psychology of sales: “Show a dog a rabbit & he will chase it. Show him 3 rabbits & he will sit there not knowing which to chase.”

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Phil McCrain April 2, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Quite true. For a season or more I had two photographs of a similar subject with a similar color palette that I displayed together. Despite much attention and lots of conversation neither sold. The first time I put up just one it sold right away. The other sold shortly after. A very important lesson learned.

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Carol Es April 2, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I wholeheartedly agree! Almost always have…

I began slowing down my production about 15 years back for a few reasons. First of all, I realized that I could greatly improve the craftsmanship of my work if I put more time into a single painting rather than trying to create as many as I could. Also, I would be able to charge more for each painting because of that craftsmanship. Another thing is, or at least one way of looking at this, the more paintings you make, the less rarity they might have. I don’t mean that for artists just starting off however. I mean this once you have a distinct and unmistakable style about your work. If you have hundreds and hundreds of very similar paintings floating out there, and they are super easy to come by, how special can they be really?

Secondly – for the exact reasons you mention here – about having too many options and too much selection (I have personally noticed) makes it difficult for buyers to make a decision. When they have difficulty making a decision, they tend to want to “wait.” And when they put it off, the likelihood of them coming back with their choice is often slim to none. It’s kinda true, unfortunately.

And I agree, and always have, about having that white space around each painting when displayed. I absolutely hate that “salon style” way of hanging art – except in truly unusual circumstances – or cramming pieces together. Each piece can’t even breathe that way. It’s never FEATURED, it’s hard to view, picture on your own wall at home, and it’s never special in the venue.

Just my .02

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Brian Billings April 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Jason, I always struggle with this, how much is too much? I show at art festivals in a typical 10×10 booth and I have pieces that are about 2.5′ tall x 7′ or 8′ long, I paint on doors. I place 2 of those pieces on one wall, one on top the other. I always wonder if that’s too crowded or should it be on the wall by itself? I think it looks fantastic by itself as you would in your home, but I want to show as much as possible on my 6′ x 10′ wallswithout over crowding.

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Dan McGeorge April 2, 2014 at 3:38 pm

This is an interesting question I have often wondered about. I have a large collection of work and operate my own gallery which is filled with it. The question I have is when does the point of two much arrive, and how do you tell when you have too much? On which side is it better to ere, having a bit too much, or a bit too little? My collection is widely varied and I want potential collectors to see the variety. My work is carried in a gift shop at the Hotel Del Coronado. They are marketing experts there, and I’d say aside from the walking aisles there isn’t a square inch of their store that doesn’t have product in it. Any suggestions on some formula or metric for calculating what is enough, and what is too much?

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Christopher Marion Thomas April 2, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Great insight on this one. I completely agree with a minimalist approach, when it comes to exhibitions, shows, fairs etc, but what is your thinking as it relates to the web. Does the same hold true, or should one show a variety of works at different price points? I’d like to hear your thinking here. Thanks for the great post.

Continued success,

Christopher

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Judy Mudd April 2, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Jason,
Do you feel this way on websites, too? I’ve heard you should only put a few paintings on your website–obviously only your best. However, I have had people purchase paintings that they found when I thought I had taken them off my site. Still not sure how they found it but I was happy with the purchase. Even so, I’m leaning toward posting fewer pieces. What are your thoughts? BTW, good luck tomorrow and wish Carolee my best!

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Jason Horejs April 2, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Juddy – I think the principle applies on a website in the sense that you should try and create smaller groupings of work so that a viewer isn’t seeing it all on one page. You’re right that having some variety and depth on your site is good because of the broad range of visitors you are getting, but try and organize your site so that visitors are able to focus.

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Nathalie April 3, 2014 at 5:00 am

Hello Jason,
I was familiar with Sheena Iyengar’s work however I struggle with what would be an optimum number of paintings to show on a website in a particular grouping / category.

In your opinion, what is the optimum number?

Best wishes,
Nathalie

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Sherry Campbell April 3, 2014 at 10:56 am

Wow, how did I miss this. Thank you Judy! I already responded about minimizing an art show which I’ve always believed is advantageous but now you have me revising my web site. I am creating a page for each category showing only unsold paintings (my judgment of good versus bad painting doesn’t always match the customer’s view on this) and each new page will including a link to the sold paintings letting viewers know I can always paint something similar in any size they like. Only the interested will go to those pages of sold works.

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Jim Carpenter April 2, 2014 at 5:07 pm

I had an extreme experience of overload in one local exhibit that was a fund raiser. There were about 250 paintings representing half as many artists, all in differing stages of their careers. The paintings were in a range of styles, sizes, and media. They were hung 3 and 4 deep on the wall, so that none of them were at an ideal level. You either had to bend down or look up to the paintings. And the room, which was about the size of a new car showroom, was packed to the brim with people, plus tables with food and wine, and a six panel screen in the center of the room with more paintings on it. I practically ran through the room. Every square inch of that room was busy and every single painting in it was lost in it. It was a nightmare.
I give credit to the people who actually managed to hang the show as well as they did – they were up against a very difficult situation. I use this as an example not to criticize the organizers but simply to point out an extreme situation of overload. I couldn’t wait to get out of the room!
Yes our work looks better when it has room to breath – perhaps we ought to keep that in mind and consider that the exhibit might serve as a calling card as well as a sales opportunity. I’m having a show open in May in a fairly small gallery. This is a timely post for me – a prompt to remind me to focus on quality not quantity and to showing off each piece as best as possible. So thanks for that!

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Richard Shook April 2, 2014 at 5:11 pm

When I work as a building designer I often have clients who at some point in the process will experience choice fatigue, which is one reason why they hire me. They feel they can trust me to help them make good decisions. The decision to work with an advisor is a good idea in itself, however, as a designer I don’t limit their choices but I help them organize those choices (which is strange since I have a problem with decision paralysis). A trusted dealer, consultant, a gallery, even a friend, can help improve a prospective client’s confidence choosing an artist and artwork.

You’ve often mentioned how important service is and helping people with their own choices. You try to make it easier and understandable in every way possible. It’s funny, we want choices, we just don’t want to be overwhelmed by them.

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Susan April 2, 2014 at 6:09 pm

When I have too many choices, I definitely freeze up. It just hurts my brain too much to try to make a choice and so I just don’t make any decision at all. I think creating a lot of space around each piece of art and limiting the amount of pieces on the wall increases the value in the mind of the consumer.

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A. Palomares April 2, 2014 at 7:02 pm

I can relate to choice overload. For example, I was in an art show this year where there were over 300 artists. I heard so many times from patrons that they were dizzy and overwhelmed with choices. In my corner booth I had about 25 pieces which I thought was a good amount but some artists advised to triple that and other artists said I had the right amount and that more would overwhelm people. I did learn to group like frames together with like paintings (seascapes, landscapes, etc.). As for my website, I think less is more. I would like to do a better job of grouping like paintings together on my website and maybe developing separate pages especially if my inventory keeps growing.

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Christina Plichta April 2, 2014 at 7:05 pm

I have always covered almost every inch of space in my booth with art. I have heard many times that this is bad. But in my experience, I rarely have customers who can’t make a decision about which piece to buy. It is nearly always that they can’t imagine parting with the money. I am in the Midwest, and I haven’t gotten into many higher quality shows yet, so that could be why, I don’t know, but it seems like people will buy anything other than a painting. They like clothes, jewelry, mugs, salad bowls, carved shovels, but paintings seem useless to them. On the other hand, when someone really WANTS to buy a painting, they walk into my booth, glance over 30 or 40 pieces, and zero in on one, and thats it. They look at it, think about it a while, I hold it up for them away from the other work, and then they just buy it. They never seem confused at all. And so it seems to me that the more choices I offer, the better chance I have of having “The One” that they want.

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Michelene Berkey April 2, 2014 at 7:12 pm

My husband has been encouraging me to show a limited amount of my jewelry when I go to festivals. I have just finished two festivals in Arizona and both were disappointing. I will try a more pared down look when we head to our next show.

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Patrice Celeste April 2, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Wow, thank you Jason, for this great find.

Sounds like sacristy and quality go hand and hand. It also sounds like we don’t have enough time in our lives, and we might do better if someone talks about things to help us maybe weed through and make a decision for us. I guess people are so busy that someone along the way needs to help everyone with the decision.

Eye opening, Jason! Thank you! I would have missed this video and hence the insight.

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Marge Kinney April 2, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Dear Jason, I respectfully disagree wholeheartedly with the notion that less is more. I have exhibited in Art A Fair in Laguna Beach, CA for 23 years. The artists who have been there longer than me are there because they have always maintained the highest sales volume, making it worth their while. Year after year, I count an approx. number of items they have in their 24 feet by 10 feet high booths… approx. 300 items. As an example, Robert Marble, a marvelous painter has larger paintings on the wall above, then cabinets that hold simple racks with 8×10 matted prints of a huge variety of his art. Each rack holds forty 8×10′s and there are at least 8 of those, Then a rack holds some a bit larger, then a bin holds reproductions of the paintings on the wall that are larger yet. It does not look crowded, it looks fascinating. Why does Costco, Walmart, and the other box stores think the same. This is the age
of transformation. With cell phones, social networks and all, the world can comprehend huge amounts of data in a very short time. I could name many examples but I have made my point. I like your posts. I am sure they give all artists something to think about.

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Ruth Collis April 12, 2014 at 9:54 pm

Possibly what you are saying, Marge, is a similar thing Jason is describing, which is the “organization” of a lot of items to reduce the clutter, as you were talking about with the bins, racks, and repros on the wall.

The question is: “What does one do with all the inventory if you are a prolific artist? Which to sell? What to do with the rest? What to now spend our money on that will be a selling one?

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Judy Dunn April 2, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Very true. I find when I walk into a studio with nearly every inch of wall space covered with paintings I get overwhelmed. And that is just visiting a fellow artist’s studio during a regular day. Add crowds from an open studio, and I can’t focus, let alone spend time connecting with a painting.
I used to make jewelry, and when I started out I was guilty of the “a little of everything” approach of display. I finally realized this approach came out of my own insecurity about my work, and confused and overwhelmed the potential customers. By learning to focus my energy on two lines of work, and develop those more fully, my displays became more inviting, and my work was better received.
I am now painting, and I have learned to continue that focus, and to not try and get every piece out. My studio space is fairly small (15′ x 15′), and I have large paintings, so it is too overwhelming to visitors if I were to crowd the work together. Showing my work regularly helps me know which pieces more people respond to, and which ones to tuck away. I have found it is better to be thoughtful and curate my work. It invites visitors to linger, and to engage….at least those who connect with my work, and those are the ones I am interested in spending time with.

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Suzanne LeBeau April 2, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Our art league is trying a similar approach this year. In the past, we have just put up paintings by each artist in a mix and match format. We are a mix from beginners to a few advanced. We’d put similar colors together or themes. This year, we are letting each artist have a space with some blank space between. I hope it makes a difference. We’ll see.

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Judy Dunn April 2, 2014 at 7:55 pm

One other thought after watching the video…this is why I love to shop at Trader Joe’s. There is not an endless array of choices. The quality is consistent. And I don’t have to spend too long deciding which brand and style of tomato sauce I want. It also makes me more open to try new products because I have not been overwhelmed by too many other choices.

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Susan April 2, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Eye opening. I totally agreed. So often when there are too many options or choices, I tend to just skip it till I can do more research on it, the fact that I have to do research, there is a time delay and that means during this lapse of time, I have change my mind many times and I no longer am interested in what I initially was interested. Now, the exciting part is deciding what is consider too much when it comes to art. I am hoping perhaps Jason can share some info on this.

Thank you for sharing a great video. I have always enjoy TED.

-Susan

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Pat Ruiz April 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Although I have a large number of pieces on my site, everything is categorized on separate pages allowing the viewer to visit only a single area of interest if desired. However, I’ve felt for some time that I should reduce the content. In addition , I need to reduce stock drastically and am considering offering excess pieces to a bulk dealer. Any advice on how I should proceed?

Thanks for your time.
Pat

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Eileen Kennedy April 2, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Dear Jason, First, thanks so much for all of the pragmatic advice that you provide to artists. This current blog is an expansion on some of the points upon which you and Barney touched in an earlier broadcast–about the need to de-clutter our websites. I have long been guilty of putting everything but the kitchen sink on my site. I wasn’t using it to sell art, but as an easy way to show people what I did when they asked. I have been busy paring down my site, simplifying the navigation, cutting down on the rhetoric, and putting only my very best, current, and available work. I’m programming it myself and had to learn some new coding techniques to get the look I wanted but I think it is worth the effort. Luckily, the new, spare look suits my work, too I work in egg tempera and can’t be that prolific so in parallel I create some small, inexpensive watercolors to keep the site fresh. My old site (URL above) will send you screaming from the room. Looking forward to future advice. Best regard, ek

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Natalya Kalugina April 3, 2014 at 1:04 am

Dear Jason,
What do you think then is a proper amount for a solo show? 80? 40? 20?

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Olivia Alexander April 3, 2014 at 2:35 am

Dear Jason,
very thought provoking, I have an open studio each month as part of a local arts trail and have been thinking about reducing the amount of works I hang in my studio , at least on the wall space anyway.
regarding websites , do you feel it is best to have quite a few different categories ie landscape, seascape, still life etc?
Also is it best to remove sold works from the website or leave them on? I want possible buyers to see that my work is selling but have always wondered if viewers actually find it distracting.
Olivia

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Gareth April 3, 2014 at 2:43 am

This is so true. I realized this when I went to a local tourist area; there was a shop nearby and it was literally covered from the floor to the ceiling with paintings … it was jarring … and it made the whole lot look like trash. I was surprised they hadn’t put any paintings on the ceiling! Anyway, I think this also goes for online galleries too. I intend to drip feed my paintings on to my site and with each one to add some context which i think like having some space around the painting also gives the painting even more presence and significance.

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Amantha Tsaros April 3, 2014 at 4:09 am

Thank you for this excellent reminder. It so tempting to want to put every good piece on the site to try to sell it – but a targeted selection really works. Now I have to go back and edit my brains out!

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Theresa Taylor Bayer April 3, 2014 at 6:00 am

Thanks for this great advice, Jason! Decided to try it out for my online gallery. Now it looks nice and uncluttered. Looking forward to seeing if it helps my sales. Noticed that several people in this forum were asking about how many pieces to display. In a standard portfolio it’s 12–20 pieces. Don’t know how that would translate to online display. I whittled mine down to 19 available pieces, with 47 total (wanted to show some red dots). I may yet do more trimming. Very insightful article, thanks again.

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Catie Barron April 3, 2014 at 8:04 am

Great blog post! In our studio/gallery space we rotate pieces so that there isn’t too much to see at any particular moment. This also gives people incentive to keep coming back again and again and again to see what they didn’t see before. I have had conversations with artists about “eye resting space” and I believe this also applies to exhibition space. The eye and mind need a place to rest in order to consider how something will work in their own space and therefore need that open wall space to accomplish that. It is our dream, someday, to even have a space big enough to have a “display” wall in which we can bring a particular piece of artwork so people can see it without any other distraction around it.

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Michael Ferreia April 3, 2014 at 8:41 am

Thank you Jason for this Ted Talk.

I encountered a similar topic back in the ‘old days’ in college in a sociology class. It was dubbed “The Tyranny Of Choice”. The example used back then was a high-end restaurant’s menu which had too many choices making it difficult if not impossible to choose what to eat for dinner.

However, as Marge Kinney pointed out above about big numbers of art displayed verses less, I’ve seen one painter who consistently out-sells everyone at a weekend juried market I belong to, regardless as to category of art/craft being offered at this market in general. He’s been doing this for 17 years. He is a retired newspaper advertisement executive which may or may not make any difference. He has a 10×10 booth and every wall is covered from top to bottom with paintings all virtually the same size: 11×14 and 16×20, and a few larger. In addition, he has bins on the ground next to the walls full of prints. I tell this story to some art friends who are serious painters. They all tell me his art is not serious and low quality. I frankly like it and it seems many buying it do too. It’s extremely colorful, very simplistic. He’s the first to tell me that he quit doing serious art because sales were slow and it took too long (for him) to create. Over the years he change tactics–no color mixing (out the tube only) and paints very fast with simple compositions coupled with low prices. He tells me they sell because people want original art for a low price. He may have figured out the “duh” factor.

The odd thing is, he’s a member of an art organization which offers classes (which he has taught) and has periodic blind art competitions–no names on the paintings so the judges won’t know who created the art. He most always wins when he enters his art.

I know this is an anathema for most artists in general but there it is.

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Silvia Hartmann April 3, 2014 at 9:17 am

I would be a little careful to map this idea that consumers are confused by choice to all manner of situations and all manner of art situations in particular. Take for example, a shoe shop. Full of shoes and that’s what one might expect from a shoe shop. Hopefully the shoes are displayed to their advantage and the shop looks pleasant and inviting, but there is going to be little overwhelm by the prospective shoe purchaser. We also have a general tiered approach that tallies with cost/perceived value. Pile your shoes high = discount store; fill your store with shoes = normal high street; put one pair of shoes in the window = snooty overpriced boutique! I would suggest that before anyone rushes to conclusions, to know their market on that day, in that place, at that time and act accordingly. What is good about Jason’s question is to step back and consider if each piece is pulling its weight, is good enough to be there, is a good representative of the “body of work” for an artist. Even “cheap and cheerful pile’em high” is no excuse for rubbish in the end.

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Steven Shapiro April 3, 2014 at 10:36 am

I attended a large indoor show in New York this past fall. It was poorly attended, which did translate into poor sales for almost every artist, but I became convinced that I had made my situatiuion much worse by bringing too much work and too many varieties of work (observational, landscape, figurative and abstract!). Although I had taken a lot of care with the arrangement of work and I thought my booth was clean and attractive. Though in retrospect it was impossible to notice my work among the visual competition through the entire show, booth upon booth. I sold nothing and returned to Baltimore, puzzeled and dejected. A month later I was part of a small group show in the basement gallery of a church in Baltimore with 4 other artist. Out of convenience and necessity I chose five works all landscapes and architectural scenes, in similar materials and sizes. The show was nicely hung but nothing fancy, yet the work had room to breath and little competition in subject matter or style. By the end of the show I had sold a landscape with nothing but a bio and contact number hanging on the wall. I’m still not sure what I did right, but I think I’m learning. Less is more.

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Patricia C Vener April 3, 2014 at 10:41 am

I, too read an article about this phenomenum last month. The study took place in a grocery store but the psychology is valid for all purchasing circumstances. It seems to be a valid generality except for the occasion when the item I’m specifically looking for is not among the choices given.

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Sandi April 3, 2014 at 10:59 am

This is thought provoking for me. I am on a large art website. I get a lot of “likes” and I have a lot of “followers” but few sales. When I looked at the artists who sold the most on that site, they were in the same price range as mine. but, one difference was that they seemed to post new work at least 5 days a week. (Each one generates email to all your followers and also keeps you on top of the website where you have more visibility. Well, I decided to try that as much as I could, but that means adding more choices….so, what to do??? And, I had wondered if the pieces on the back pages wouldnot be noticed, but a couple of them still get more “likes” than work on the front pages…ponderous.

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YoHana - The Heartist April 3, 2014 at 11:52 am

I remember myself entering Walmart for the first time about 6 years ago when I came to California.
I stopped a few steps after entering, breathed, overwhelmed from the impressions around and in me.
It was a culture shock.
As I interpret it, It is part of the complexity of the mind that eventually separate us from our heart.
The heart is simple and the mind is complicated.
Society create a demand for many things that we don’t really need in order to make more profits.

When I exhibited my art in a NY art fair in 2011, I filled the walls with paintings, unaware of my desperate need to be seen and “gained” exactly the opposite.
I had no sales.
Today I would put 4-6 paintings altogether.
There is much more clarity and emotional space when the customer is invited to really look into the paintings rather than scan them and keep on going to the next….

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Kate Gwizdak Dardine April 3, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Jason, this post has come at a very opportune time as I am “curating” which of my paintings I will put in my upcoming one-woman show at a gallery. My tendency is to put as much as possible in, but I am going to be very selective, put in only the best pieces, while also trying to have a few different price points.

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kathryn April 3, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I’m glad I’m not the only one that gets overwhelmed by too many choices, whether it’s a menu or store. I never thought about applying this to my art, but in contemplating the idea and in reading the comments I realized that I really like to view art that has space around it, otherwise it’s super distracting and I can’t appreciate each individual piece. I have an upcoming show in May and am going to apply this principle and see what happens…it’ll be a fun experiment!

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Margaret April 3, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Thanks for all the valuable input. My first art show is coming up and I was debating this very thing.

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Connie Rodriguez April 3, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Jason, This is such great information. I get overwhelmed in any big box store and don’t even want to go inside. With that said, how many pieces of art do you hang in e allergy for one person? What is the number that becomes too many do you think?

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Jodi Murphy April 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Thanks for the information. I totally agree, too much is confusing to the eye. I’m still not sure how many paintings will fit in my 10 x 10 space for the show I have coming up. This will take some thought.

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Jane Wilcoxson April 4, 2014 at 6:10 am

Oh, I love the TED videos. I watch them through netflix. Yep, overload is a pervasive problem in our society at large. We have too much stuff and too much stimulus. So if we cram art into a display its like shouting “HERES MORE STUFF!” and as you know we are all running away from stuff and overload. What we want is something calming, rare and special.

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Jane Wilcoxson April 4, 2014 at 8:19 am

Jason I have a question for you. Can you put too many images in my website gallery ????

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Jason Horejs April 4, 2014 at 10:09 am

Dozens, okay. Hundreds, too many.

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Bobbe April 4, 2014 at 9:19 am

I don’t disagree with the concept, I see it in my daughter and others who can be overwhelmed with choice. This doesn’t bother me, I’m a decision maker – some call that compulsive. I use my gut instinct and it has rarely ever failed me. However, regarding the display of art I totally agree that a display must be eye catching, with consistent work, and adequate space to complement the art. At a recent show, I made the decision to crowd 5 paintings of birds onto one panel. They were slightly different sizes and framed slightly differently, but the display was attractive. Within hours of set up, I had a woman come up and say “I’ll take the birds.” When I asked her which one she was interested in she said, “I’ll take all of them.” Decision maker? Compulsive? Good Display? Lucky?

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Daphnae Koop April 4, 2014 at 11:57 am

Great talk, and it’s given me much to think about. We have a handful of tent shows as well as a studio crawl coming up in the next month – I am going to try to pare down our displayed inventory, and have some ideas about how to both categorize things and how to move from simple to more complex. We’ll see how that goes!

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Allen Smith April 4, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Great subject, Jason. Thanks for posting. Timely for me, as I have just helped two friends curate shows, one with recent work, one a retrospective. In both instances the artists wished to demonstrate their abilities as broadly as possible. It was very hard for me to help them understand that too much visual information can overwhelm the audience. I have found that when there is too much to look at, each piece gets fewer seconds of attention and drives a spectator out of an exhibit faster. White space gives the brain resting room to enhance the aesthetic experience.

This is especially true for art fairs and outdoor shows. Artists must understand that their 10 x 10 booth is one of many. Their artworks are competing for visual attention with thousands of other objects (and people) at the fair. A crammed booth may demonstrate a busy worker, but the claustrophobia can be a deterrent. A booth with three significant works will astound the audience, and give a serious collector time and space to think about an acquisition. (And, just think how much easier it is to load the car with less stuff!)

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John April 4, 2014 at 6:14 pm

I currently have 14 artists in my gallery (small country town).
Wall space ranges fro 32-40 sqft plus they have the option of displayin on a 2′x4′ table in front of their space…of couarse, this limits teh actual usable wall sapce.What is the maximum number of pieces should thy be displaying?

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Mason Parker April 5, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Absolutely true, on many more levels than displays of art too. Early on in my selling art I’d short circuit potential customers by telling them all the different colors and styles I offered my glass pieces in, even though the displays themselves were fine.

I had another interesting variation of this truth when I did a small, school gym style, holiday arts and crafts show. I’d done the show a few times before with my watercolor stationery, and did evenly well on both days the show ran. But one year I tried bringing my glass pieces along too. Zero sales of either for half the first day. I had an irrational hunch I knew what was wrong and removed the glass pieces. And I’ll be damned, sales of watercolor stationery picked right up and continued throughout both days.

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Sharron Vincent Porter April 5, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Such great timing for this information! I’m getting ready for a solo show at the end of May, and have been madly painting to fill up the walls. Since I read this, I went back to the gallery space, and realized I already had enough work…and then some!

Thank you, Jason!

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Charles Wallis April 7, 2014 at 5:28 am

I have just begun a solo show and have 52 pieces in the show in a room that is 20′ X 20′. Opening night 11 pieces
were sold last Friday. My opinion is that if it feels crowded it is bad but if it does not feel crowded all is well regardless of how many pieces are there. We had wine, tasty bites to eat and live music from a classical guitar. That helps people forget about the spacing and loosens their purse strings.

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Molly McGuire April 7, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Thank you for this! This helps so much!

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Matt Durant April 11, 2014 at 4:57 am

I’ve always felt this way about hanging, even in coffee shops and art festivals under tent. Funny thing is, I find the opposite goes for studio visits.

I have a separate decent sized room in my studio for hanging completed work for those who come to see the studio and are potential buyers. I used to always hang work there as impeccable as possible, tucking away secondary pieces so the experience is more gallery like. It works, but I started to realize that people love coming to an artists’ studio to see things a bit amok- paintings everywhere, paint everywhere, they enjoy seeing a frozen moment of time where they can imagine the artist hustling through a hard days work.

I still hang my newest key pieces in the prime real estate of my space, but I allow for a slew of other works to lean on the floors, walls, each other more candidly as well. People like feeling like they are physically a part of the pick, rooting through canvases, a kind of treasure hunt.

M

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Lucy Dickens April 13, 2014 at 7:12 am

I agree with much that has been said and know thatI do have a tendency to put in to much work in a show togive more options. I would love to hearfrom Jason and each of you, what is the ideal space between paintings at an open studio show?

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Ruth Soller April 13, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Dear Jason;

Thank you for all you do to educate and encourage artists in marketing and selling their artwork. I thoroughly enjoyed your mentorship broadcasts with Carolee Clark and seeing her sold works in your Red Dot Blog. It is helpful to me to see which art is selling and to reaffirm that there are collectors for a wide variety of paintings and sculpture. I appreciate you asking us to share our own sales this spring.

My contemporary style of painting western themes using intensified hues, symbolic motifs and dramatic contrasts is gaining attention. My painting Night the Stars Fell on Bents Fort depicts an historic and celestial event and sold in The Russell: First Strike Friday Night Auction.
http://ruthsoller.fineartstudioonline.com/works/1303671/night-the-stars-fell-on-bents-fort
Six of my oil paintings featuring flora and fauna of the west sold in the Western Masters Art Show and Sale. My drawing for a miniature oil painting of Moraine Park was won by a young Air Force family and helped to grow my contacts list.

http://ruthsoller.fineartstudioonline.com/works/1155077/red-fox-study
http://ruthsoller.fineartstudioonline.com/works/1395292/buffalo-grazing
http://ruthsoller.fineartstudioonline.com/works/1395301/white-buffalo
http://ruthsoller.fineartstudioonline.com/works/1350750/nina
http://ruthsoller.fineartstudioonline.com/works/1371739/beavertail-cactus
http://ruthsoller.fineartstudioonline.com/works/1376092/yellow-prickly-pear-cactus
http://ruthsoller.fineartstudioonline.com/works/915356/moraine-park-rmnp

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Ruth Soller

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Shelly Leitheiser April 14, 2014 at 12:49 am

I don’t think this is good advice for art fairs at all…. I have seen people with “tasteful” and pared down displays sell nothing while my more packeddisplays lead to more sales. I think of art fairs like good book stores, if they are crammed full of books people can’t resist buying just one. (I never leave a book store empty handed and they are always overcrowded stores with total sensory overload.) I don’t agree with this concept of keeping displays uncluttered. Art fairs only give you a limited amount of space, so use it. Same with studio visits during something like an art crawl.
To each his own, I guess. I’d say a much bigger factor in sales is location and is your art being marketed to people with money or to less wealthy people? That makes a huge difference. Presentation in general absolutely does matter though. I agree with the comment above about a treasure hunt. Everyone has a different style. Do what is right for you and your art.

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Naomi April 19, 2014 at 1:50 am

Actually in my experience, the “cheerleader effect” (things look more attractive the more of them there are – also conversely known as the “last slice of cake effect”) works extremely well in my favour at craft fairs. I never sell anything if I only have a few, very different items but I will pretty much sell as much as is humanly possible if I have many, similar items.

The last fair I went to, the biggest seller was a stall absolutely overloaded with very similar, themed jewellery items. They were at a higher price point than most stalls too, but they were selling hand over fist – I think it brought out the magpie/foraging instincts in the buyers – everyone wanted to frantically search through the huge display to find the “best” piece. The stall with the most “tasteful” stripped-down display, sold nothing, despite having items at a lower price point.

Maybe the key is to have items which are similar, rather than many, very diverse items. I suspect that it is the range of diversity that is offputting rather than the volume, per se.

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Naomi April 19, 2014 at 1:52 am

It might also be worth adding that this approach works really well at printmaking sales too – I almost always sell lots if I have many works in browsers, not so much if there are few works framed on the wall.

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Robert Akers May 9, 2014 at 8:22 am

If you’ve ever been to the Louvre in Paris, you’ve surely experienced art overload. Anyone who has been there will tell novice visitors to not try to take it all in in one day, to spread it out with smaller “bites” in three days if possible. It’s just too damn much great art. Beautiful to look at but totally overwhelming. Now think about going to a smaller museum with some select masterpieces widely spaced in multiple galleries. Ah, you can breathe. And in these examples, you aren’t even buying (unfortunately!). Now add in that factor and it’s easy to see why too many choices is a bad idea for sales.

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Maxee May 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm

Thank you Jason Horejs for writing this article. I certainly agree. I have always ascribed to the “less is more” belief. A cluttered display of ones art just leads to confusion. Having a space between images whether they be paintings, prints, photos, allows for the viewer to take a breath and rest their eyes before moving on to the next piece. I am sharing this article on one of my Facebook fan pages. Thanks again.
http://ArtByMaxee.com

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Kathryn Burke Petrillo July 1, 2014 at 7:21 pm

This is an amazing article. My experience as a graphic artist makes me recall the oft repeated expression, “Less is More.”
I have so much going on in my work that my last series was called Chaos. I always maintained it is better to show just a few things, rather than everything. They should be a series that relates to one another. I have much to learn and find your blog and site to be amazing. I guess when the student is ready the teacher appears.

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