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BW Businessworld

What Are The Most Popular Art Genres, Themes, Subjects, and Mediums?

Modern or semi-abstract landscapes seem to sell particularly well. With current trends in décor tilting towards the minimal and modern, it makes sense that tastes in art would follow suit.

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A very interesting survey was published recently. It covered a very important question: What are the best selling painting themes? The survey was addressed to collectors, gallerists and artists. If I were allowed one guess, I would surely have said ‘nudes’. But that is not the correct answer. Nudes actually clock in at a poor No. 10. As per the survey, the most sale-able themes are: 1.Traditional landscapes 2. Local views 3. Modern or semi-abstract landscapes 4. Abstracts 5.Dogs 6. Figure studies (excluding nudes) 7. Seascapes, harbours, and beach scenes 8. Wildlife 9. Impressionistic landscapes 10. Nudes.

Just a word of caution here. The survey findings above are global as they were conducted by Art Business Today. In India, gods and goddesses would surely rank pretty high on the preference rankings.

Landscape paintings are without doubt the most quintessential kind of art. After all, a landscape is universal: Everyone understands and appreciates a long view, a panoramic view, an expansive view … so it's an easy choice for any buyer to make without taxing one’s imagination too much in trying to understand a deeper meaning in the picture. Each of us loves to look at a beautiful vista, an enchanting scenery, and in that sense, buying a landscape is like buying a spectacular view and enjoying it perpetually as it adorns your walls. Not only that, but a landscape works in any type of house or setting. Whether it's a seascape, cityscape, or moonscape; glacial, jungle, or mountaintop; intimate, aerial, or panoramic, a landscape is a natural, appealing choice for most art buyers. Hence, its No. 1 position. 

Which types of landscapes sell best?

Usually artists tap into their local art scene simply by depicting the local scenery, landscapes and monuments. Local landmarks and scenes naturally appeal to buyers, for personal, historic, touristy and nostalgic reasons. Local views, edifices, events, or histories that are distinct and unique to a particular place sell well.

Seascapes, harbours, and beach scenes sell particularly well, probably because of their association with holidays, vacations, and relaxation. Those with beach homes usually prefer to decorate their walls with beachy art, and many tourists buy seascapes to remember their vacations.

Modern or semi-abstract landscapes seem to sell particularly well. With current trends in décor tilting towards the minimal and modern, it makes sense that tastes in art would follow suit. Impressionistic landscapes also seem to have a wide appeal, cutting across collector classes.

Abstracts especially find favour with those buying art to match with their home or workplace décor. This might explain, at least in part, why abstract paintings sell so well. When you put an abstract painting on a wall it might be “read” simply as a colour, texture, or shape … abstraction therefore appeals widely to those who want to create a unified “look” in their done-up space. Also, since abstraction usually has a non-representational or symbolic approach, the viewer is free to interpret and ascribe meaning, and this freedom further helps abstract paintings sell rather well.

Research feedback seems to indicate that buyers love paintings of dogs almost as much as they love their dogs. Smart artists often focus on a popular breed of dogs to tap into that canine's fan club. Remember the Hutch pug? I have multiple portraits of Jambo, our pug who is no more. Other pet lovers display such nostalgia and love too. A dog, therefore, is most often depicted in a domestic setting, looking directly at the viewer in an intimate and loving posture. Wildlife and other animals, on the other hand, are usually shown in larger, wilder and wider settings, from afar and in profile. So a painting of a dog most often evokes feelings of intimacy and friendship, while paintings of wildlife suggest untamed, undomesticated nature.

Now to figures and nudes. There is a frisson of connection when a viewer looks at a painting of another person. Portraits or studies, abstracts or impressionistic, humans will always enjoy looking at other humans. Although the trend is shifting towards clothed rather than unclothed figures, there is still (and probably always will be) a market for nudes. Nudes are supposed to be more artsy. More aesthetic. More enticing. And symbolic of a more evolved collector.

What about medium? Prints usually sell better than original works, because they are less expensive. Limited-edition prints are however the most popular. When the artist puts a limit on how many prints he or she will make (100, for example) and numbers each print (x/100, for example), this attracts buyers who want to feel like they're getting the best of both worlds: Something that is somewhat original but less expensive than an original, still “small-batch” and not entirely mass-produced.

Research notwithstanding, art is largely a matter of personal taste and aesthetics. We must also appreciate that beautification is the prime motive for buyers, not value appreciation. That is a motive really for serious art collectors only who are a teeny-weeny elite in any case.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Carol Goyal

Carol Goyal is a lawyer by training. She also has a Masters from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York.

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