TRANSCRIPT: Ep. 169 Matisse’s Selling Secret with Miriam Schulman


Miriam Schulman:

You’re listening to episode number 169 of the Inspiration Place podcast. Today, we’re talking all about Matisse’s selling secret. So for that, stay tuned.

Speaker 2:

It’s the Inspiration Place podcast, with artist Miriam Schulman. Welcome to the Inspiration Place podcast, an art world insider podcast for artists by an artist, where each week we go behind the scenes to uncover the perspiration and inspiration behind the art.

And now your host, Miriam Schulman.

Miriam Schulman:

Well, hey there. This is Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration. This is episode number 169, and I am so grateful that you’re here.

Today, we’re talking all about Matisse’s selling secret, but before I dive into today, I just wanted to say hi. It’s been a while since it’s been just you and me without anyone else on this podcast. So I’ve been doing lots of interviews. If you’ve been an avid listener to the show, you know I’m writing a book, and one of the ways that I made the time to write content for the book is to not write so much content for the podcast, and that’s why I’ve been having a lot of guests on the show. But they’ve been amazing guests. I hope you’ve enjoyed having them as much as I have. But it’s been a while since it’s been just you and me.

So I’m really excited for today. Today was inspired by a show that’s happening in Baltimore right now. It’s called A Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore. And if you are in the Maryland area, that show is going on. As of this recording, it is open and it is going to be up until January, 2022. I don’t think it’s in the cards for me to travel to Maryland during this time, but if you’re in the area, make sure you check it out. I have purchased the art catalog, because I’m a huge fan of both Matisse and the Cone sisters who we’re going to be mostly talking about today.

So today’s episode, I’m going to talk to you about why when people invest in art, they are investing in a better version of themselves. We’re going to talk a lot about that, and how Matisse understood that and used that not in a manipulative way, but in an authentic way to nurture his relationship with Etta Cone. And I will tell you who Etta Cone is. Don’t worry. I’m going to catch you up to all the things. This is so fascinating.

The next thing that we’re going to be emphasizing today is why in the world of selling you need to take the lead in that relationship. Art collectors aren’t going to be chasing you. And I’m not saying that you need to chase them, but you need to take the lead. And then finally, why it’s not enough to just be awesome, you actually have to actively nurture these relationships with collectors.

Okay, so let me dive into today’s content, because there’s so much juicy stuff I have to unpack. So first of all, I want to tell you about the Cone sisters. Who they are, why they’re so important to modern art. Claribel and Etta Cone, they’re two sisters, they were both born around civil war time, so they’re Victorian era woman. They never married. Etta outlived her sister by about 20 years, and that’s one of the reasons why her relationship with Matisse is the focus of the show. She did more of the collecting because she outlived her sister by 20 years.

So these Cone sisters, they were American art collectors. This is not just a casual art collector. So when Etta, the younger sister who died later, when she passed away, the two sisters bequeathed their entire collection to the Baltimore Museum of Art. It takes up an entire wing. There are 3000 objects in it. Now, as part of that, there are 700 artworks by Matisse. There’s also artworks by Picasso, but only about a hundred artworks by Picasso. So what I want to help you understand is why Matisse’s art outnumbers Picasso by seven to one, because Picasso was pretty awesome too. So why did Matisse become this collector’s favorite artist? That’s what I want to help you understand.

So let’s go back to who the Cone sisters are. Like I mentioned before, they’re from Baltimore. They were born around her of the century, and they became very, very wealthy. So their family owned a cotton gin and for World War I, their cotton mills provided… I don’t think it’s called a cotton gin. The cotton mills that made fabric. They provided the fabric for World War I’s military uniforms. And then they became the single largest supplier… Their cotton mills became the single largest supplier of denim to Levi Strauss. This is a lot of money, and they liked to collect art. And because they never married, neither sister married, and they were independently wealthy, and what they liked to do was collect art, and they were part of society. So first of all, what’s important for you to know is Gertrude Stein…

And I’m going to tell you who Gertrude Stein is. So forgive me, those of you who already know who Gertrude Stein is, but she was a very important figure in modern art. So she also was born around the turn of the century. She was just a few years younger than Etta Cone. She also lived about the same time. So Gertrude Stein is a very famous American novelist. She lived most of her life in Paris and she would organize salons where she would gather together intellectuals. So she championed Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, as well as Picasso and Matisse. They were all part of her circle, and she was a very influential figure because she introduced these artists to the Cone sisters.

Now, Gertrude Stein met them… So Gertrude and her brother, Leo, their parents passed away when Gertrude was 18 years old, and that’s when she came to Baltimore to live with her extended family. And that’s certainly when she first met the Cones. So Gertrude Stein and the Cones, all of them were Jewish and they traveled in the same circles in society in Baltimore. Then later, I learned that Gertrude Stein started medical school, Claribel Cone did go to medical school, believe it or not. Even though women didn’t have the right to vote, she had a medical degree and she studied at John Hopkins and she was a medical researcher. So she became better friends with Gertrude Stein through that. We also know through letters that there was apparently a love affair between Etta Cone and Gertrude Stein, and Gertrude dumped Etta for her later lover, Alice B. Toklas.

All right, so when the Cone sisters first traveled abroad to Paris, it was Gertrude Stein who introduced them to Picasso and Matisse. The Cone sisters having more money, they would actually purchase some of the art from Gertrude Stein, who needed the money. They would purchase some of it from her. When they made their second trip to Europe after the war… So remember I told you that their family’s cotton mills provided the fabric for the military uniforms, so they had a significant and fortune by then. So during their second trip to Paris, here’s what these women would do. They were really into art collecting. They were quite ostentatious about it, and they wanted to make sure society knew what they were up to.

When they would go to the opera, they would buy three seats. A seat for each of them and a third seat for their art purchases. So they would shop during the day, they would go to the opera night, and they would sit their packages in a seat. Now of course, imagine. Going to the opera probably relatively speaking costs the same then as it does now. Go to the philharmonic, that’s several hundred dollars for a ticket.

Certainly they could have used that money to pay somebody to bring the packages back to their hotel. Clearly they wanted these artworks to be seen. They wanted to establish in society that they were independent women with the means to collect, and this is what they were doing with their wealth.

When they made their second trip, they required an extra state room on the ship home just to house their purchases. So they had the state room, state room meaning, like on the Titanic, for themselves, and then a room just for the art. And then in their apartment, they opened a second apartment and they displayed their art from floor to ceiling. So those of you who hear from art collectors, oh, I don’t have… I have art all over my walls. That’s usually a good thing if an art collector is that enthusiastic that they’re willing to cover their walls. That is not a reason not to buy art. People can always make room to display a new treasure.

Now, artists dream, dream of having collectors like these taking an interest in their art. And as I said before, Etta outlived her sister by two 20 years. She continued to collect and add onto her collection. That is why the show at the Baltimore Museum focuses on the relationship between Matisse and Etta Cone.

So they had a 43 year friendship, and there is lots of historical research showing his frequent letters to her and how he nurtured his relationship to her and how he updated the heiress about his artist life with stories and pictures of his work in progress, and he understood her mindset. He understood that by collecting his avant-garde work, including nude figures, by the way. So art collecting for a woman in this time, very unusual, and it’s particularly unusual that she was collecting nude artwork and avant-garde artwork.

So collecting provided her with a sense of identity, a sense of purpose, and freedom from convention. And Matisse understood that it was his job as the artist to pursue her. Pursue the collector, not the other way around. He didn’t wait in his studio, waiting for these trips to Paris. He courted the sisters, he pursued them, he even created work specifically with Etta Cone in mind and would write to her about them.

So when you’re looking to build your own audience of collectors and patrons, there’s no better way to do that than with the art of the letter. Or in modern terms, the email. So if you want to build an audience of adoring fans, when you email people, it’s not just about marketing to them or selling to them. It’s about building that relationship. And emailing collectors is not bothering them, and it’s not bugging them. I don’t want you to take my word for it, I want you to hear from Patrick Guindon. Here’s what he had to say.

Patrick Guindon:

I’ve received responses from people saying, “I love that you’re showing up for us more.” And so I’m like, oh man, I thought I was bugging you. And I’m not bugging you, right? And that’s part of the mindset shift that’s come along with being in the incubator.

Miriam Schulman:

Whether you’re selling online or in person, the words you use are one way to help your collectors see how your art gets them to that better version of themselves. Many artists tell me that they don’t want to use flowery words, or they’re not sure how to use flowery words, but there’s no flowery words required.

Also, you don’t want to go the other extreme because you dislike writing or you feel your art will sell yourself, just slap a price in your art and call it a day. You do need to talk about your art. Don’t let that scare you. It’s what Matisse did. He just wrote letters to Etta, to a friend. So pretend you’re writing a friend and be vulnerable and authentic.

I want you to hear what Patrick had to say about that.

Patrick Guindon:

The more raw and vulnerable and deeper that I mine into what I’m sharing, the more universal it seems to be. The more people respond, the more people hit reply, and it’s blowing my mind because I didn’t realize it before, I was kind of going surface.

I’m finding that when I pick something that I care very deeply and passionately about, that’s what people respond to, and it’s been life changing. That sounds a little cliche, but it really has because it’s not only allowed me to connect with clients and to grow, like my social media is growing a lot lately. And I think it’s because I’m showing up, I’m showing up regularly, and part of that showing up on social media isn’t to show up on social media, it’s to keep finding my voice and to keep going and to keep finding what it is that is resonating with people, and that I can dig into in my emails and unpack into art and create new things. So it’s all kind cyclical and builds off of each other.

Miriam Schulman:

And it didn’t just work for Patrick. I also want you to hear from Natalie, who is learning to step into her authenticity when sending emails.

Natalie Forrester:

I was spending far too much time on Instagram. I thought that the world revolved around Instagram. I was brand new to it. Anyway, I grew my email list from 40 to 210 within six weeks. I’m getting compliments right, left and center. From the way I write my emails, people are like, “Natalie, I love your emails. I read them in your voice with my coffee.” And it’s just beautiful, and it’s so nice to hear that people know that I’m being authentic.

Miriam told us to be people, to be authentic, that people want to know about us. What’s mundane to us isn’t necessarily mundane to anybody else, and they’re interested in our lives because we’re artists and we’re against the flow and we’re a bit odd.

Miriam Schulman:

I want to review about the reasons why people buy art, because I think there’s a lot of misconceptions, especially if you listen to other podcasts or other gurus who talk about how to sell things. There’s only two reasons why people really buy anything, it’s because it solves a problem or it gives pleasure. Unfortunately, too many marketers, people who teach marketing, talk about the pain. Here’s the thing: aspirin cures a headache whereas chocolate or wine gives pleasure. And when you’re selling art, whether it’s music, whether it’s poetry, movies, whatever it is, the consumption of arts brings pleasure. Marketers are not going to talk about the problem it solves.

Now when I say pleasure, that doesn’t mean that the subject matter has to be rainbows and daisies. Of course people take pleasure in things that are dark, horror films, dark humor, goth art, emo music. So it’s not about everything has to be happy and pretty and lovely, but it is about the pleasure that they get.

You don’t want to focus on the problem. I know that even some marketing experts… And I found this so frustrating when I paid business coaches lots of money to help me, and they would say, “Oh, the problem is filling the wall.” I was like, no, no. Anything can fill a wall. A mirror can fill a wall. So that’s not really going to help you sell more art. If you think about like, well, why would somebody watch a movie? No marketer in their right mind would say, “Watch the new Harry Potter movie. It alleviates boredom” See what I mean? It’s really ridiculous. Boredom is the problem, but people aren’t going to be motivated to fix the problem of boredom.

Same with wall art. Yeah, sure, it fills the wall, but that’s not what’s going to motivate them to buy it. Which is why some artists will hear, when they’re selling in person, people say, “Oh, my walls are filled.” Well, that’s not the problem if your walls are filled, that just means you like to collect art. Because the problem is… They don’t need to fix a problem of filling their walls. They’re going to buy art because they love it. Because they like it. Because it makes them feel. It makes them feel a certain way.

So if you’re focused on only how your product solves the problem, like fills your wall, or if you maybe make hand knit sweaters or gloves, and you say, “It keeps your hands warm,” it’s not going to help you sell more of it. Flowers, cookies, art. They’re sold by talking about how much pleasure they’ll receive. Like Oreos, nobody’s saying, “Solves the problem of giving you more calories.” No, it’s how good it tastes. So you need to focus on the feelings that the art gives people.

Now the feelings could also be about how collecting art makes the person feel. So that is what Matisse understood. I’m going to dive a little bit, but I don’t want to go too deep into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but we’re going to go through it anyway. The first part of that need… And you think about it as a pyramid where the base of the pyramid is where most people do their needs, they have to satisfy the needs for something physiological. So in other words, we buy toilet paper because it fills a need. That’s a bottom level feeder, but that’s not very sexy. When you’re an artist, you want to make sure that you are focusing on the top of the pyramid. So going from bottom to top, there’s physiological, safety, love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. It was that self-actualization that motivated Etta Cone to continue to collect Matisse throughout her life, and that’s what Matisse understood.

Now, it’s not that he was manipulating her. I’m not telling you to manipulate your customers. Your customers want to invest in your art. What you need to do is give them the right reasons for doing it. The reasons that matter to them.

Now, some of these other Maslow’s needs do play into effect, and I do use some of them. So for example, when a person’s basic physiological needs are met, we’re going to assume that, they next crave safety and security. Now, of course your art isn’t going to make somebody feel safe. However, when you do write your marketing copy, it is important to talk about how they’re protected by perhaps a money back guarantee, or the art will be safely shipped, because these are triggers, these are positive psychological triggers which will put your customer at ease, especially when they’re shopping online, and that’s why you’ll often see commercials use the words safe and effective, or protected by a money back guarantee. So these words, they help trigger that.

So next we’ll talk about love and belonging. These are going to matter much more in the art buying relationship. The need for interpersonal relationships motivates buying behavior. That’s why when collecting a non-essential item, such as art or one of a kind handcrafted goods, people will be most drawn to collect from friends because of that strong personal connection. And that’s why I treat everyone who comes into an art buying situation, strangers I meet in an art festival, I treat them as I would somebody coming into my home. I treat them as a friend, I each introduce myself. They’re going to buy the art if they love it, but also if they love the person who made it, because the art represents their connection with the artist. I’ve personally invested more in hand felted scarves than I could possibly wear simply because my friend Janet Sikirica makes them. They’re totally gorgeous. We’ll make sure we link to Janet’s website in the show notes. They’re gorgeous, I love the way they look, but really it’s the relationship that’s served as a catalyst for this sale.

Likewise, my friends collect art from me for the same reason, and people who maybe don’t start off as friends who I know who collect my art, they become my friends because of that relationship. This is why nurturing your prospects as you would a friend is so critical.

Now, buyers also are motivated to buy from somebody who isn’t their real life friend, but they feel like they know them because of their celebrity or, I’m going to call it their micro-celebrity. So as artists, we don’t have to become a household name like Picasso or Matisse, but a micro-celebrity. And just know, when the Cone sisters started collecting Matisse, he wasn’t as famous as he is now. He wasn’t really known then. So their collecting helped make him famous, supported him.

You want to become a micro-celebrity to your fan. Now you can do that in many ways, we’ve talked about some of the ways on this podcast. One way is getting press, getting local press. That is what Elizabeth Mordensky did to get her art noticed. Writing emails is a huge part to nurture that relationship, and putting out consistent content is essential for also building this relationship. So fans of this podcast, you guys feel like you know me, right? Because you listen to me, I’m with you when you’re walking your dog or driving to work or going to the gym. So hearing my voice is a great way for you to get to know me, but podcasts are not the only way, or even the best way, to create a relationship with art buyers, or for a creative service. Now, my podcast allows me to connect and preach my philosophies and connect with other artists who feel aligned with my values, but you can also call in your dreamboat customers and collectors through a blog, through micro-blogging on social media, through a YouTube channel.

And of course, like I said, no matter how you put out content, you want to nurture those relationships with your followers through weekly emails, sharing your stories, sharing pictures of your work in progress. If you’re not a visual artist, I know that there are a lot of people now who listen to the podcast who are authors, just pictures of you at work, or what’s inspiring you, can add that visual element to your regular updates.

Basically, people who struggle about what to put on the email, just think of it as what you were putting on Instagram, put into your email, but remember when you’re in the email, you’re talking to one person. So don’t say, hey guys, or don’t talk like you’re talking to the masses. You’re talking to one person inside the email, and they need to experience that as if talking directly to them.

Okay, going back to Maslow’s needs. So we talked about physiological needs, safety needs, love. Next is belonging, and belonging is really on the same plane as love, but I like to distinguish it because feelings of belonging might be motivated by the kinds of purchases that their friends make.

So in college, it was perfectly acceptable to tape a Monet poster on your dorm room wall, and that was also kind of showing people that you understood impressionist art. In some economic circles, acute mass produced canvas print bought from HomeGoods will be fine, but if you live in an elite circle of society, that’s frowned upon. Nothing but original art is going to do to hang up on your walls. It’s really tacky if you have an expensive home and you have a framed poster in your living room. So if you want to feel like you belong to that certain class of people, you’re going to copy what your friends or what other people in your neighborhood are doing.

Now, in some circles of society, having one’s portrait done is a sign of belonging to that upper crust and can indicate the sitter’s position in society. So that is part of the esteem of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I mean, certainly when the Cone sisters purchased that extra seat in the opera, they were demonstrating to society what they were up to. Like I said before, they could have paid a courier to discreetly send their packages back to the hotel, but they really wanted people to know what they were up to, and they wanted to invite that gossip that certainly followed them by doing that. If you think that is crass, just know that this is exactly what people are doing right now on Instagram with their outfits of the day and their shopping sprees. They’re displaying publicly what they’re doing and what they’re buying. So really what the Cone sisters were doing by purchasing a seat on the opera, not much different to what people posting their outfit of the days on Instagram or anything else, showing pictures of their apartment, all those things that people do. Publicly displaying their shopping is something we still do today.

All right, so let me bring it back to you, what you should consider. So when you post pictures of your art shown in a beautiful home, which you can do digitally, you can simulate it. That’s going to encourage that the person who perhaps is visualizing how their art can be in their home. If they’re motivated by entertaining, that would call out that collector. Next we’re talking about esteem, so closely related to humans need for belonging is esteem. Self-esteem or esteem in… Like social status related esteem, so luxury cars, watches, jewelry, fashionable clothes, lifestyle products, furniture, they all feel that social status related esteem that people are seeking.

Now, certainly we’ve talked a lot on this podcast how luxury buyers are suspicious when the price is too low, and that doesn’t fill their desire to be able to purchase something that’s expensive. They actually want to purchase something expensive. So a better reason to ask for high prices is that paying that higher price tag satisfies the buyers need to be able to have it. It lets them know they’re the type of person who can afford that luxury, and that means something to them.

So here’s an example. I talked a lot in this podcast about Rolex watches and how people don’t want a cheap Rolex watch because it’s very suspicious to them. But I also wanted to share with you that one of my friends had told me, “Oh Miriam, if you want a Rolex, I know about this used jewelry store where you can get a Rolex.” And I went there… First of all, let me tell you, the Rolex’s in the used jewelry store were just as expensive, if not more expensive, than buying a new one, because I think the jewelry store owner knows that people don’t want cheap Rolex’s. And I think they justified it by saying, well, these are vintage. So just so you know, there were no Rolex bargains at this place.

But when my friend first was telling me about this, I was actually a little disappointed when I thought you could get a cheap Rolex. I was like, no, no, no, no. You don’t understand, that kind of defeats the whole purpose. I want to be the type of person who can afford that. Now, by the way, as of this recording, I still have not invested in a Rolex. I have been thinking about it. Maybe when I get my second book advance, that will happen. We’ll see. But part of the thrill for me of the idea of getting a Rolex is being able to pay full price for it. The idea of it appeals to me.

So let’s talk about designer clothing. Designer clothing sells better because of the high prices, not despite of them. Fashion buyers, and by extension buyers of luxury, they want things with a higher price tag because of the exclusivity. They know it means not everyone can afford it. So just think about that next time you’re pricing your art that your art buyers, they want to aspire to purchasing a higher priced art.

So now we’re moving to self-actualization. Self-actualization is the desire for people to accomplish everything one can, become the most you can be. Now, this works really well when you’re talking about selling art classes, you want to speak to a person’s personal growth and their self-fulfillment. You talk about them… So for example, when I’m promoting my portrait class, I talk about, oh, have you always wanted to do this? Can you imagine the look on your family’s faces when they see the portraits you created? And this category also applies to product based businesses. The creative makers who sell art like jewelry or clothing or decorative art that decorates the home, all these things helps individuals see themselves as living their best life.

And more subtle triggers may also include how all the person views their character, not just adoring their physical appearance or their environment. So for example, we already talked about Etta Cone, that her collecting Matisse, collecting avant garde said something about her as a person. It was a way that she could assert her individuality as an independent woman who was living in the early 20th century.

I’ll give you example of when I’ve used this. So once I had a woman who was admiring an original painting of a pig. She wanted it because her niece is obsessed with pigs, and it was $400, which was appropriately priced for an original painting, but it was probably more than she thought she was going to spend for just a Christmas gift for her niece. I could see her psychology at work, and I said, “Oh, you want to be the type of aunt who gives original art, is that right?” And it was not about manipulating her, just so you understand.

She wanted to be that kind of person, and that is why she ultimately invested $400 in that artwork for her nephew. Her nephew didn’t get an original artwork by the way. The nephew got a print. The point was she wanted to be the kind of person who does that kind of thing. That was true for her. What people really want to buy is a better version of themselves, and they want a better version of their life.

So I want to bring this back to you. I want you to make it a habit to invite anyone who compliments your art to join your email list so you can nurture that relationship. I’ve said that on the podcast before, I’ll say it again, don’t mix selling with invitation and sharing though. Yes, you will sell to them eventually, but when you first invite them to join the list, that is not about, would you like to buy my artwork right now? Would you like to join my email list and buy my artwork? Just invite them to join your list. Give them a reason. Letting them know that you’ll invite them to your next show, that’s as good of a reason as any, but you could have another reason. Could be that they get a free something, something.

All right? You want to collect all the information that you possibly can. If you’re in person, get their email, get their physical mailing address. You can send them actual invitations, physical invitations to a show. Get as much information as you can. Also focus more on these one on one connections, not so much on building massive followings. Look at Matisse. He didn’t need a massive following. He sold 700 artworks to one person. Well, to the sisters, and then it was mostly to the younger sister who lived longer. Don’t worry if you only have a few high end collectors, just make sure you nurture those relationships.

Now, there are so many ways to find your prospects. We’ve talked about this on the podcast before. I share more ways inside my artist incubator coaching program. If you want to learn more about my artist incubator coaching program, you can go Can find out either about the self-study track or the mastermind. Self-study track opens up periodically. The mastermind track is by application only, so you do have to apply to see if you qualify. For the mastermind, I only artists who have a track record of selling and already have a website. The self-study track is for artists of all levels, and I do have artists from beginners all the way to artists who are selling on a regular basis. When you heard earlier from Patrick and Natalie, they are both in the self-study track.

Here’s what else I want you to know. Sure, you can use social media to find collectors, and I want you to use email as your main tool for staying in touch. Don’t rely on Instagram as a substitute for that connection. You can hone your voice on Instagram, but make sure that you are putting that content into your emails. Not everybody sees Instagram posts. Only 1% of your followers see that.

In our over connected noisy world, just know people are seeking personal connections now more than ever, and our collectors are craving. They’re craving the connection with your art, they want to hear your stories, they want your humanity. Don’t worry about being in all places at all times, and certainly it’s not bothering people, and it’s definitely not bugging people. Get to know your collectors. Let them get to know you through these personal touches.

All right, my friend, we’ve included a lot of things we talked about. You’ll find the show notes at I also included links to Natalie and Patrick’s Instagram. If you enjoyed what they had to say and it inspired you, make sure you reach out to them. Send them a DM, tell them you heard them on the Inspiration Place podcast. And I would love to hear from you as well. DM me. I’m @schulmanart at Instagram. I would love to hear from you as well.

Okay my friend, thanks so much for being with me here today. I’ll see you the same time, same place, next week. Stay inspired.

Speaker 2:

Thank you for listening to the Inspiration Place podcast. Connect with us on Facebook at, on Instagram @schulmanart, and of course on

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