Selling Art & Separation Anxiety

Giving Up The Goods

Many artists feel a certain amount of separation anxiety when it comes to selling off their most precious work. After talking in-depth with a group of artists who feel this way, I’ve put together a list of the most common anxieties and the roots that make them so darn frustrating. If you’re that artist who wants to overcome this anxiousness, this blog is for you.

Mr. Jackson

1. ”People want to buy the ‘best’ pieces (which are also the ones I like)”

It shouldn’t surprise you that they want the best pieces. The same reasons that they are your best pieces are the reasons that they want to buy them. Understandably, selling a quality piece means that you’d have to cherry-pick the crowning accomplishment from a grouping of work. Usually, the person who has this anxiety has few choice pieces to select from in the beginning. And of course, no artist wants to represent themselves with their B-Team of work (most likely from many years ago).

The solution:

Make more work, more often, and attempt to push your achievements beyond the last achievement. Soon you’ll look back at those ‘best’ pieces and find that you have newer (and better) work on tap after steadily creating more. Eventually, the need for space and production of new quality pieces will start to outweigh the favorites game of past pieces.


My sketchbook

2. Content is too personal/For artist eyes only

Our art is personal. Before it exists in reality, it exists in our hearts and our minds. It’s necessary to acknowledge that our souls are being exposed to the gallows. I’d argue that if there’s no soul in the work I wouldn’t want to invest much time viewing it anyway. Willfully showing your work to someone and not wanting to discuss the content can be uncomfortable for the artist as well as the viewer. 

The solution:

If you’re drawn to showing off your artwork to anyone besides yourself, you’ve already agreed to talk about the content through visual conversation. Most artists inherently speak better visually than verbally. That’s why we make visual art. Ask yourself what are the top questions you don’t want to be asked about your work and practice speaking about those answers. Educating yourself on the loopholes within your work and understanding the honest reasons why you make your artwork can be a very helpful tool in creating more potent work in the future.

If you need help overcoming your loopholes within your work, click here.

My 1950 Craftsman Tablesaw
My 1950 Craftsman table saw

3. Transitional/Documentation/Not Complete Works 

Have you ever made a piece of artwork that just doesn’t fit with your other work? Professionals and amateurs alike have to fight through the transitional phases of our artwork. Sometimes a piece is a test proof or a sketch towards a greater goal. Some fields of art making actually provide a niche for this experimentation. Printmakers often use the term ‘test proof’ or ‘artist proof’ to describe a piece that is just in the testing phase and could be sold for a separate price than the final version. On the other hand, some artists take years to perfect a piece. This is completely ok, provided that this isn’t a source of a masked inferiority complex for the artist. If this is the case, there’s an opportunity for growth here.

The solution:

I’m quite comfortable saying that not all pieces need to be for sale. Especially if it’s something that is just for the artist’s sketchbook or process ledger. That’s our documentation process–like note-taking. But, if every piece is never done, you’re probably just not comfortable with the skill level that you’re at. Set more time aside to practice.


Image via
Image via

4. Pricing & Professional Development Woes

Proper pricing practices are probably the most prominent concerns from artists. Here’s an article about “Pricing Your Artwork”.

That post addresses some normal concerns regarding actual pricing practices. However, sometimes the worry is more a central fear of “… Am I doing it right?”. Thankfully, we live in an amazing era where Googling your art-related concerns can produce quite a handful of books, blogs, and organizations that help artists navigate through this minefield. Follow the link below for a book that I highly recommend for artists of all fields. Though originally developed for graphic artists and illustrators, the easy-to-read explanations of copyrighting and countless sample contracts make this book a must for all artists. Visit their link below to purchase (or purchase via etc.) The Graphic Artist Guild’s Handbook For Pricing And Ethical Guidelines


Get the book: GAG Handbook For Pricing And Ethical Guidelines.


5. The Giver

Far be it from me to suggest that one needs to give less away. I truly believe that the world needs more generosity. However, there’s a difference between a generous person who enjoys giving their work away and the person who privately longs to sustain themselves in part or in whole from an art-based income, but struggles to understand their price points and in turn, just gifts work out of this struggle. Another variation of this person is one who self-deprecates their art’s worth and therefore consistently undervalues the merit in profiting from it.

“Thanks For The Snack, But I’m Late For My Dinner Date”

The Solution:

Understand that your time and skills are worth something. Make a continued effort to decide which moments are gift moments and which are lucrative moments. How well do you know the patron? Would they give you something of equal value from their occupation if the situation was flipped?


6. The client isn’t the right person for the work

1. Bargain Bullies

Saying “No, thank you.” to a business deal that doesn’t feel right is your right as an artist/business owner. Some people love your work, but love getting a deal more. Don’t take it personally, make a business decision. It’s really up to you if you want to indulge a behavior from someone who is inclined to haggle or bully their way into a deal.

2. Assessing Appreciation

I must warn against the common error of assessing a potential buyer’s appreciation for your work, and in turn, your availability to sell said work to them. You can no more calculate a client’s emotional connection to your work as they can yours. Basing a sales decision off of such emotional strings will also cloud any professionalism that you may want to promote.

3. Re-sale Art Agents

You may have run into a situation where someone wants to purchase your work with the sole intent of reselling it to another person. Most artists have an understandable buck at such a clear lack of interest in the actual artwork. I can certainly appreciate this aversion as I often feel this buck. There is however an upside to this process that should be considered. If an agent wants to make a profit, they have to pick work that they think can sell. This can be seen as an affirmation that you’re at least a sellable artist. Also, sales at a higher price point can increase the value of your other work as well. If they raise your prices, so can you. This is a viewpoint that considers the long-game. Just something to think about.


Not all artists feel the need to sell their work. There’s certainly a place for the hobbyist who likes making work just for fun. However, if you’re of the mindset who yearn to actually make an income from your work but have a hard time letting go of those gems of personal expression, might I give this simple advice:

The artist’s love affair happens in the process. The viewer’s love affair happens in the finalized piece. Look at this situation as a way to complete the life of the work into existence.

You can find more free articles like this on my Artist Resource page. My mission is to provide free and accessible tools for artists, educators, and enthusiasts. I encourage you to share and refer people here as often as you wish. Naturally, these articles take many hours to thoroughly research and write. If you’d like to support me as an artist and advocate, please consider donating whatever you can. Thank you!

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