Have you ever had a hard time finding art? Welcome to the club! Finding art today is confusing, noisy, impersonal, sometimes daunting, and feels a smidge exclusive. But we all need art in our homes, and the majority of us already own art.
Unfortunately, the art discovery process for consumers is bad. To make matters worse, the resources available normalize how clunky it all is.
When you start to hunt around online for help, you might see articles like ‘tips for emerging art collectors’, ‘ultimate guide to starting an art collection’, ‘seven tips for starting your own art collection’, ‘how to start collecting art on a budget’ and so on. There is so much to read and learn about, but nothing is actually helps.
How to Buy a Work of Art, by the NY Times is maybe the most unhelpful. The article compiles quotes from collectors, gallery owners, art dealers, artists, and advisors. Besides the UX (which works exceptionally well), most of the article doesn’t make any sense.
There are literally six steps in this process, one of which is to join the “waiting list” once you want a piece of art.
Some direct quotes from the industry experts:
These quotes imply how cold, transactional, elitist, and sometimes abusive art discovery can be today. We’re going to spend some time breaking down this problem, then proposing a solution we’re working on that is designed help us all find art.
There are a few barriers to entry that keep us feeling like this thing – “Art” – is way too complex for us to even get started:
“To succeed in art or to understand art, I feel like I have to be a master.” — Ben
In museums, we’re often flooded with hyper-intellectual text that goes right over our heads. We assume we need an art history degree to connect with art.
In reality, 99% of artists make art that speaks about our human experience. It’s inherently quite simple. It’s only complex after going through the pipeline of intermediaries who structure it through the lens of being an asset.
Can you imagine any other consumer-driven market operating like the art market? If you want to buy a car, you don’t need to be part of a car club. If you want to buy a house, you don’t need to study architecture or interior design. If you want to eat a 20-course Thomas Keller meal, you don’t need to know how to cook the food to enjoy it. We don’t need to be masters to own, celebrate, or appreciate art. It’s designed to be universal.
“I feel like I have to dress in designer clothes to be taken seriously at an art gallery.” — Katie
We assume art is only for the rich because the press hones in on multi-million dollar sales, but only .01% of artists are operating in that $1M+ price point. The majority of artists have accessibly priced work (over 50% of NFT sales are less than $200) and create multiple editions, such as prints, which can comfortably fit into a budget.
I recently read Nathalie Peña’s article, “Why is Picking Out Art So Hard?”, where she writes about her experience moving into a new apartment. She not only struggles to find art that speaks to who she is, but describes the experience of not knowing how much to spend:
“There’s no safe space for me to explore creativity today” — Sam
Where to even start? When we were youngins, we were taught that “it's not practical to be creative” (i.e. let your sister be the creative one, and you become the banker). As a result, we’ve become fearful to even dip a toe into the creative waters.
When we do – where do we dip? Ello? Dribble? Cruising OpenSea? Or IRL in a cold fancy gallery? No place exists that welcomes newbies to guide us on our journey.
Unless we’re down to educate ourselves at an art institution, show up to a physical gallery in couture, and get ready to have a staredown with a gallerist at a “welcome” desk), the system isn’t working for us.
The combined perceptive barriers around mastery, inaccessibility, and “non-practicality” of creativity have fostered a mix of intimidation, shame, and compensatory behaviors around art purchasing, which is fueled further by the social dynamics / public perception of the “art world”.
We’ve spoken to 1,000+ people about the problem, and people do care about finding a solution! The white walls problem is real, people need art so their spaces don’t feel barren. Interestingly though, after all our research, we found that the “Job to be done” isn’t necessarily just on filling the walls. The majority of people desire creative self-discovery and representation through art (further read: “Know Your Customers’ Jobs To Be Done”).
Why does it matter?
We found that creativity is exceptionally universal. It is a powerful force, that fosters our unique identity and expression while also enabling us to build richer connections with others. While we want to consume, celebrate, and connect with art, it’s nearly impossible for us to feel confident as creative consumers. We need a safe space to explore our art worlds and creative voices to get started, with confidence-building tools along the way (i.e. price advising, taste-making tooling, and access to the worlds of artists).
A few months back, we uploaded a form to “find art” on our website (we called it a madlib 😊). Over the first three months, we collected over 60 responses.
Based on the user research we conducted a while back, we knew we had to take 10 steps back to meet consumers where they were and meet them eye-to-eye at the beginning of their journey. Then we built a system to help them find art. Here’s how it worked:
Everything was free, without any commitment to complete the process once it started to make space for exploration. Some early adopters bravely ventured forward, and they found art they love.
These are a few of their stories.
Diana was referred to us when she was interested in collecting art to decorate her new apartment in New York City. Her goal was to find bold, feminine pieces to liven up her space.
Diana was looking for coffee table books, a gallery wall, a piece for the bedroom, and a piece over the dresser. She wanted all the pieces to represent her feminine, bold, and vibrant personality.
She purchased over ten original artworks from artists worldwide and took the time to virtually meet with each of them to learn more about their stories.
Learning about creators’ stories was a crucial aspect of the curation process for Diana.
We tend to think about art as an asset or a product, namely because it’s presented as such on online marketplaces, but learning the artist's story can drastically impact our appreciation of the artwork itself.
This rang true for Diana, who was struck by the backstories of Lydia and a few of the other artists she purchased artwork from in the process. In fact, millennial/genZ collectors seek a connection and emotional experience with the art they purchase, with 95% citing “emotional benefits (passion for art)” as a motivating factor for buying.
At the end of the curation process, we launched the Diana Collection so she could share her new collections with her friends and they could achieve the same look and feel in their spaces. The Diana Collection showcased her inner world and personality – which is never easy to put into words but can be expressed through the visual language of art.
Lauren was another newbie collector who joined the curation service. She was motivated to collect art after she & her partner moved into their first apartment together.
We started the curation process by better understanding her tastes, space, and price point. Lauren’s sun-filled living room with large windows. Her midcentury-esque furniture was modern, sleek, and minimal. To complete her space with one empty wall remaining, she wanted an artwork that was bright, pop, mixed media, perhaps minimalist, perhaps photography, perhaps modern—and undoubtedly a unique piece that could start conversations. She commissioned a piece from an artist and ended up with something that is entirely unique. At the end of our process, her previously-empty wall now looks like this:
Diana and Lauren sought art after a big life event – moving into a new apartment. 27.1 million Americans move every year. As the behavioral scientist Richard Shotton expresses, life-changing events change customer purchasing habits. A life-changing event was the initial motivation for the newbie art collectors, but they needed this tool **to feel comfortable getting started. We observed a similar pattern with many other newbie collectors who joined the curation service.
For Ben, the initial motivation was a little different. He was on the lookout for a gift for one of his best friends’ milestone birthdays. He wanted it to be special and personalized, so he commissioned a work of art, which was symbolic of their friendship. Based on his preferences and comfortable price range, we coached him through a 1-1 curation session to identify his needs and connected him with artists around the world. He ended up commissioning a sculpture from a Lisbon-based artist, Francisco Trepa. The piece captured emotional value, memories, and the history of a friendship for his best friend.
Next up, we’re translating this entire experience into a product feature, so you can work 1-1 with a curator to start your search, co-create moodboards and collections, and directly connect with artists you discover on the app.
If you’re feeling how Lauren once felt, we welcome you to join our community. At Cohart, we believe everyone already is an art collector, but they might confidently call themselves one after using the platform. Whether you’re a lurker or you’re ready to collect, you can join our ⭐️ beta ⭐️ take a look around and provide feedback. We’re here to help!