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I went to see the Tempe Festival of the Arts this weekend. I went on Saturday (2nd day) afternoon and went into a painters booth and she had several works on her walls with a large sign marked sold. Her paintings ranged from $3,000-$8,000. My wife didn't think she may have actually sold them but put a sign up to get people talking and yes I saw people wispering about the sold signs. Now I don't think any artist would mark a painting sold if it wasn't really sold but my wife thinks people may do that to make people think that their art is hot and selling well. Has anyone done this or know anyone that has done this? I'm not accusing anyone of doing this, I was just curious if this was a marketing strategy or not?

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Comment by Maria Reyes Jones on December 17, 2012 at 10:48am

Sorry, that comment sounded like judgement. I'm just speaking from hard, painful, miserable experience.:-)

Comment by Maria Reyes Jones on December 17, 2012 at 10:45am

Oh please! Why would anyone do that? The question is when did the pieces sell? It could have been years earlier. Or the artist may not want to sell the piece, not have enough sellable work to fill the booth, and put up the sold sign so people will know it's not available.

I know it's extremely hard to do but I find that my attitude and outlook on my show experience is sooo much better when I try to focus on my own 10x10 foot space and not other people's. It's like yoga- you get much more out of it when you focus on what's going on on your own mat.

Comment by Blaine Owens on December 17, 2012 at 10:06am

I think it is kinda silly to place "sold" on art or leave an empty space on the wall. After all, we are paying for every square inch of display space at shows. You can't sell your art if it is not on display.

When I sell a print, I immediately place it behind my sales area and hold for customer, then replace it with another one.

Comment by Brian Billings on December 13, 2012 at 2:07pm

Thanks Robert! I love that question "Would you want your use of this practice to be on the "Front Page" of your local or regional (or national) newspaper?" This questioned can be used for anything you do.

Comment by Albert Jonas on December 13, 2012 at 11:35am

When honesty for its own sake ceases to be such little by little there is a devalueing and eventually a lost appreciation for The Artistry and Poetics of Life.

The children,mentioned in an earlier thread assisting their parents to fake a sale,speaks to us in a mythic manner of the need for guardianship in our own adult lives; without which slowly but surely we lose our sense of self.

Comment by Robert Wallis on December 12, 2012 at 6:41pm

If anyone is interested further in this discussion, here's a link off site,, to a photography site where this same topic is posted on their forum. Some of their comments are interesting. One of the administrators on that site, who is an artist also, answered the question with some telling observations. I've found this entire dialog to be enlightening and challenging.

Comment by Robert Wallis on December 12, 2012 at 1:12pm

The business professor hasn't responded yet, but I did pick up an excellent answer to this original question. I posted the scenario on another web site that I frequent, and the population on that one is quite diverse with peole from all walks of life. I was surprised by one answer, and it was enough for me to reconsider my original opinion on this. It was well thought out, organized clearly, and it was reasoned out with supportive arguments. The complete text is included below.


Robert, I am a retired CFO (after more then 25 years) ----not a huge company, but a NYSE listed company (yes, I was on the podium helping to ring the opening bell). "Sold" tags on pictures not sold----yes, I would call this a deceptive business practice----and one for precious litte gain. A "Not for Sale" tag would have the same impact-----and a "Not for Sale" designation can, at a later time become available for sale----particularly if a special customer asks or if the price is right. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer or potential customer. Would you feel deceived? Would you feel a bit "mad" over the deception. If your answer to this simple question is "yes"----then the practice should not be used! Another litmus test is this: Would you want your use of this practice to be on the "Front Page" of your local or regional (or national) newspaper? Business ethics are really Personal Ethics carried out in the business environment. And not liviing up to your own ethical standard is a slippery, slippery slope------once you start sliding down it is hard to stop the momentum. Do we each let ourselves down once in a while? Yes, of couse we do---but we give ourselves a bit of a talking to and----resolve to do better! And yes in both my professional and personal life----I can think of a number of "do overs" I would like to have been able to make. Perhaps naive----but this would be my simple thoughts on your question. It's not worth selling a piece of your soul to simply give an impression that your work is in demand.


Another response to the bogus sold tags equated it to a Going Out of Business furniture store that keeps doing that for 20 years. Others felt it was standard business practice and no biggie. I'm inclined now to see it as something that while legal, is something to stay away from and take a higher road.

OTOH, placing a few Sold Tags where something was sold, is certainly legit. No one says you have to restock the wall immediately ;-)

Comment by Robert Wallis on December 11, 2012 at 12:29am

I've dropped off a note about this thread to an Indiana university business professor who teaches business ethics. Once final exams and grades are done, they'll get back with me and I'll pass on what they say about this.

Comment by Winthrope Hiers on December 10, 2012 at 12:12pm
My first show ever was the Telfair Art Fair in Savannah several years ago. I was set up across from a seasoned award winning painter who was doing the last show of her career. She told me whenever I sold a hanging piece, don't fill in the spot. Put a "sold" sign there instead, just like realtors do when they sell a house. I followed her advice and nearly sold out of my framed photos. Likewise she nearly sold out of her very expensive framed, original paintings. I have followed this practice ever since and generally bring home few framed photos. After a sold sign or two, my customers want to get "theirs" before someone else buys it. Why not hang replacements? I do shows alone. I don't want the hassle of pulling a trailer or driving a big gas guzzling box truck. My pictures are 32x40 and I can fit 12 in my pickup with camper top along with my matted prints and display equipment. Unless I'm driving half way across the country to Cherry Creek (I wish), I don't believe the added cost and hassle to haul additional frames would be surpassed by profits. So the "sold" signs help stimulate interest in my remaining inventory so I have little to pack up. At Atalaya a few years ago I was set up in a room with a potter. Atalaya has a lot of excellent potters. After a few hours he sold a piece. I told him, don't rearrange your inventory, leave the spot open and I gave him a sold sign to put in the spot. Shortly, he made another sale, followed by another sold sign, followed by another sale, etc. Soon patrons were looking around the room saying, "Sold...sold...sold." After awhile word got around to the other side of the festival and even artists were coming over to see what all the interest was about. We both had a great show. A few months ago at the Greater Charlotte Fine Art Festival I was set up next to a painter. Sales were a bit slow at first. I suggested to him what I told the potter and it worked. He kept coming back to me for more sold signs and he was very pleased with the results. If you haven't tried it and you are limited to the amount of inventory you can haul, you should give the tactic a chance.
Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on December 9, 2012 at 4:00pm

Brian, I thought this was a good subject to discuss.  Of course, there will be people on both sides - for and against.  I think many people may not have ever thought much about this topic before.  There were many answers and it was good to see both view points.  Thanks for a good discussion.

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