Being in the art business for almost 5 years now it has given me a good instinct about what sells and what doesn’t. Basically, what sells are artworks that are:
1. Easily comprehended visually with a single look that doesn’t take more than 0.3 seconds. This usually means: a main element right in the center of the artwork.
2. Depiction of something super-easy to understand that the viewer identifies with: e.g. eating, sleeping, taking a bath, driving, playing with a cat, being next to flowers.
3. The next step is to make these mundane, everyday depictions surreal: e.g. sleeping on top of Saturn, driving on a road to a nebula, sitting under giant flowers. Basically, take people’s bored existence and make it more interesting. In this case, the art functions as a get-away drug.
4. The most successful kind of art today, and the simplest of all, is substitution. For example, instead of the ear piece on old style landline phones, you replace it with a banana. Or, instead of bombs, you get the airplane to drop candy. The human brain immediately lights up in such substitutions because it takes less than a second for the individual to “get it”, and so it rewards itself the same way it gets rewarded when playing Tetris. Again, art functions here as a drug, not as an intellectual discourse.
Example of things people absolutely love:
Examples of more serious art that people don’t bother to look at because they’re either too visually complex, or their brain hurts too much to think about what it’s depicted:
(this one has a full blown explanation too)
Overall, I’m a successful artist, I can’t complain about that. But it bothers me that I’m selling easily digestible crap, instead of more interesting, often abstract art (called “dada” in collage circles). Only 1% of what I sell overall is serious art (and yes, I have created a number of these, it’s just that people don’t prefer them). I want to be remembered having created something worthwhile, not (essentially) memes that provide the odd smile for half a second to most people, before they move on to the next item on their Instagram feed.
I wouldn’t mind the easier artworks if there was some kind of balance between the two types among consumers. But when people prefer the easy ones 99 times out of 100, there’s a problem. And the problem is not just with me, because the same thing happens with pretty much all serious artworks from other artists (e.g. dada collages). This is why the majority of them can’t make a good buck out of their work to sustain them financially. It’s because their artworks aren’t “pop” enough. Sad, but true.