Why People Buy Art - A Lesson Inspired by Prince

Do you ever wonder, what compels people to buy and collect things made by hand? A painting, a collage, a necklace, a ceramic vase. I often think about this question.

For a long time it really bothered me. Handmade objects are usually more expensive than similar pieces that you'd see in a big box store, harder to find, less convenient to buy and the list goes on.

Admittedly, I'm from a generation who loves the artist formerly known as Prince, big time. So much that my sister was messaging me, and a childhood friend felt compelled to call me after years of losing touch when they heard he died. As evidenced by my Facebook feed, I'm not the only one mourning.

While scrolling through the Prince related posts, I was struck by one that asked why are we all so sad about the death of an artist we've never met before?

"Good question" I thought (through my tears of purple rain). The answer to that intrigued me since it applies to all artists. Now you might be thinking, I’m not Prince! I’m nowhere as big as he is. I’m not a musician.

I know, I know but this concept still applies.

Here’s the tweet that the Vox post highlighted by @Juliette:

“Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met. We don’t cry because we knew them. We cry because they helped us know ourselves.”

Wow, right? It’s that last line, because they helped us know ourselves.

Spot on in so many ways. Sure it may not be the only reason we’re grieving but I think any artist would be happy to know that they helped someone else know themselves. That’s a pretty powerful thing for an artist to do, right?

This is where you come in. You’ve got your stuff in a shop, online or in an exhibit. Your work, or at least some of it, is for sale. Why does someone purchase it?

This is a serious question.

How will your work help someone to know themselves better?

  • How does that thing you made become part of the daily backdrop in someone’s home?
  • Why does a person buy your work and decide to give it as a gift?
  • What do those things mean to the buyer?

When someone buys your work, they're expressing themselves. It’s actually a creative act on their part. This is why the Museum of Modern art exhibits the collection of so and so.

It’s something about that group of things that equals far more than the individual parts ever could. They speak to a time, ideas, values, hopes, dreams and more.  

When people buy a piece of work it makes them, well, more them.

It defines what they are and what they're not. They're filling their home with meaningful, handmade objects that show what they really care about.

Their values - made by hand, locally or nationally, being on-trend, investing in a specific artist that may go far, impressing their friends and family, feeling well-off enough to be able to afford a non-production piece, and support for the maker economy are all examples.

So, my question for you to think about this week is:

 How does your work transform someone when they buy it?  

How will your collectors feel when they make a purchase from you? What will they do with it? If you’ve sold work before, reach out and ask your collectors how your creations are enhancing their home, where they put the piece, how they use it, how they felt when they bought it.

Thinking about the answers to these questions will help you understand how to better market your work and what to highlight. It’ll help you understand how to help people make the right purchase.

And, most importantly, it’ll help you to feel more pride in your work because you know it has an amazing power to change the way someone feels about themselves.

Let me know in the comments or over on Facebook why your customers buy what you create. I’d love to hear because I know you’ve got some amazing, share-worthy stories that will help everyone see the transformative power of buying something made by an artist. 

With much making gratitude,


Posted on April 22, 2016 .