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Curious about what kinds of art are selling these days, I did a Google search on “best selling subjects in art”, which brought up this list:

  • 1. Traditional landscapes
  • 2. Local views
  • 3. Modern / Semi-abstract landscapes
  • 4. Abstracts
  • 5. Dogs
  • 6. Clothed figures
  • 7. Seascapes, harbour or beach scenes
  • 8. Wildlife
  • 9. Impressionistic Landscapes
  • 10. Nudes

This list. Was EVERYWHERE.

The same list gets sited for 3 pages on Google. This same list is re-blogged on a myriad of other art blogs (mine included, now).

This same list is from a survey in 2003, by a website that’s not even operational any more.

I’m suspicious of this list.

Not because I think anyone is lying – this list is pretty evidently the mass market list of most popular art choices. I’m suspicious because I think it’s hiding a truism about the most popular selling subject matter in art.

Prints & Past Masters

On choosing “Best Sellers” brings up this list of most popular prints sold:

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Look at that. Not a breathing body amongst the lot.

The best sellers on are all the most well-known, household names in art – Pablo Picasso, Klimt, Van Gogh… and their most popular mass market images.

This was most popular for “Fine Art”.

Choosing “Decorative Art” produced this list of best sellers:

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I wonder if these artists know that they’ve been categorized as “Decorative”, or whether they saw the benefit of not competing in the “Fine Art” category against the likes of Van Gogh and Picasso?

The “Most Popular” category brought up this collection. (I’m not sure how they establish popularity – maybe likes or comments, but I’m assuming it’s not based on sales – that would be “best selling”, right?)

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The best sellers on this site are prints by the most popular artists of the last 2 centuries.

There is name brand value in these artists and movements.

Mass market recognition and familiarity have a lot to do with what sells on these sites.

This is not your market. These are not your customers.


Non-Offensive vs. Deeply Connected

You are not selling cheap prints of easily recognizable cultural icons like Van Gogh’s Starry Night. (Unless you’re selling cheap prints of your illustrations of Superman… that’s actually kinda the same.)

Generally, people buying Monet or Van Gogh art prints are looking for safe, non-offensive, familiar artwork to give as gifts or brighten their own walls with images that are recognizable and comfortable.

These people aren’t going to be looking to buy original art from current, modern artists.



"Tardis" Starry Night. Click the image to see more great re-interpretations of this icon image by Van Gogh.

“Tardis” Starry Night. Click the image to see more great re-interpretations of this icon image by Van Gogh.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the Starry Night is great… I’m particularly enamoured with the Doctor Who reference in this one.

Doctor Who is a niche.

Doctor Who is a niche that produces an instant connection and resonance with other Doctor Who fans.

Doctor Who is a niche that will sell Doctor Who art to other Doctor Who fans.

A search of “Best Sellers” on Fine Art America produced a very different set of results.

A reason for this is that Fine Art America, like most other POD sites tend to have traffic driven by the artists themselves.

The artist does the work of marketing and building an audience connected to what they’re creating and then sends the existing audience over to FAA to buy reproductions.

Perusing the best sellers at Fine Art America, Society 6 or Storenvy gives you a much broader view of what kinds of subject matter and styles are finding buyers these days.

Fine Art America

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Society 6

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Catholic art prints on the first page of popular… maybe that’s because Easter just passed… but that’s a ready made connected niche of buyers.

Super Mario and retro images on Storenvy, whimsical animals on Society 6 and fantasy landscapes on Fine Art America.

Lots of Room

There is a lot of room out there for a lot of different kinds of art. You don’t have to cater to a list of “traditional” subject matter (unless you want to).

There’s nothing to be gained by trying to make art to market to the masses – you will quickly lose any of the quirky “you-ness” that made your art special to begin with.

You make your art the best in the world. Do that. Concentrate on that.

…plus, the masses don’t want you…

They’re at Walmart buying Starry Night.
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New York City is one of the most eclectic art scenes in the world for artists and visitors. Symbols of artistic recognition and fame include prominent museums, leading edge galleries, cutting edge artists, top art critics, and trade shows like Art Expo.

Avoid the artists who tells you that they’ve “done it” and “it doesn’t work.” These artists will tell you that they contacted the right people, sent out the correct material, created the work that the public wanted, and even after doing all of this, they still didn’t get anywhere.

There is no shortage of artists producing very good work. I see lots of it every day. It takes more than just believing in yourself as an artist and creating good art to have an art business.

Artists who do not like to talk or write about their art insist that their work speaks for itself. If that were true, there would be no art critics, show catalogues or labels on museum walls.

Any artist who wants a successful art business cannot afford to live only in the confines of a studio where making art is the only reality. If you just want to make art, and ignore the business side, then you must have other ways to support yourself.