Forget sports and Western images—when it comes to artwork men’s tastes aren’t as macho as you might think

Men’s art-buying habits give publishers a surprise: forget sports and Western images—when it comes to artwork men’s tastes aren’t as macho as you might think

Debbie Hagan

Soaring eagles. Sailing ships. Swinging clubs. Casting lines. Such art images grace many Father’s Day greeting cards. But are they the images men really hang on their walls?

This question led Robert feeder and his colleagues at ArtSelect to track and analyze what men purchased. What they discovered, according to Reeder, is that men’s taste in art isn’t as masculine as you might think.

ArtSelect, an e-taller based in Fairfield, Iowa, sells 30,000 different print images with millions of mat and frame choices. The company has 500 affiliates and fulfills print and poster orders through Spiegel, Eddie Bauer, Target, Domestications and many other retailers.

Reeder, a product designer, said that his company began analyzing sales through male-oriented channels, such as “The Men’s Club,” and on its New York Public Library site, “The Library Art Shop.” As it turns out, men, in general, like black-and-white photographs (particularly Ansel Adams) and Impressionists (Claude Monet), Post-Impressionists (Vincent Van Gogh) and abstract artists (Wassily Kandinsky).

But the number-one selling image for men turned out to be a big surprise: “Solitude,” by David Lorenz Winston. It’s the antithesis of stereotypical “guy art.” It’s a lonely but peaceful snow scene with one bare tree and a winding country fence.

ArtSelect’s third most popular art choice is “Pont des Arts,” by photographer Michael Kenna. The image is a foggy, black and white scene with an iron bridge crossing the Seine in Paris. Both prints have striking similarities: they are cool, introspective, isolated scenes.

The Male Appeal

What does this say about the type of art men buy? Stephen Wirtz, who describes himself as an observer of people, has given this a lot of thought. He’s a photography dealer and owner of Stephen Wirtz Gallery in San Francisco.

“First of all, Michael Kenna is a phenomenon,” said Wirtz. “He’s the most purchased art photographer in the world, and I have the records that would justify that information.”

He continued, “Men are less social beings. Men often see themselves as loners. Kenna’s work is less about being social.”

In his gallery, Wirtz watched how the public reacted to two different Kenna photographs. One was of a tree in snow. The other was similar, but with birds.

“Which image did the men gravitate to?” Wirtz asked. Answer: the solitary tree.

“Which image did the women gravitate to?” he asked. Answer: the more social scene–the birds.

“You don’t have a phenomenon like Kenna unless there are multiple things going on,” said Wirtz. A lot of men, he thinks, regard themselves as photographers, so they look carefully at the technical aspect of Kenna’s work. “Kenna does these fabulous prints,” said Wirtz. “The men think about whether they can or cannot do this. They see a fellow professional and feel confident in that.”

None of this, of course, diminishes the beauty of the artist’s work or his artistic vision, Wirtz emphasized. Nor does it say that Kenna’s work isn’t popular among women. What it does say is that men relate to Kenna’s work on several personal levels.

Bright, Bold Statements

“The guys do gravitate to the brighter pieces–they’re flashier,” said Traci Lamb, an art consultant with Luis Sottil Gallery in Key West, Fla. Lamb’s statement seems to be supported by ArtSelect’s findings.

The company’s second most popular choice among men is “Farbstudie Quadrate, 1913,” by Wassily Kandinsky. It’s a bold, abstract patchwork of multicolored circles with a prominent overall red-orange tone.

At Sottil Gallery, men buy paintings and prints by artist Luis Sottil. They are bold, hot tropical images of zebras, lions, leopards, birds and fish. Another hot-selling artist is Michael Godard. “As far as subject matter goes, men like the ‘Vices,'” said Lamb, referring to Godard’s series of paintings and prints that poke fun at human indulgences and sins. In one image, Adam and Eve appear as pimento-stuffed olives, stepping up to a bar (under the Tree of Knowledge). The bartender is none other than a blue snake. The most popular image in this series, Lamb thinks, is “Shoot the Wad.” She calls it “man art.” In it are flaming dice, a wad of cash and a cool martini.

But Lamb added that it’s important to think beyond wall art when selling to men. She said a lot of men go for sculpture.

Bronze Sculpture

At Sottil Gallery, men like bronzes, particularly by Nano Lopez and Tim “Frogman” Cotterill. “Frogman” earned his name from the colorful bronze frogs he creates. They are highly realistic and capture the “frogs, snails and puppy dog tails” image one associates with boys (and men).

On the other hand, Lopez, a Columbian artist creates stylized bronze animals, which include a camel, bobcat, ostrich, horse and ox. This is his most popular series, according to David Fox, owner of Fox International ha Portland, Ore., which sells bronze sculptures by Lopez and time other bronze sculptors.

“Men like this new style. You don’t have to explain it,” said Fox. About bronze as a medium, he said, “By definition, it tends to be more masculine. It has substance, size and durability. The process hasn’t changed in over 2,000 years.”

Another artist that men like, according to Fox, is C. Russell Darmour. He sculpts lanky musicians playing their instruments. In this series, men’s favorites are the bronzes “J.T. Sax,” a saxophone player, and “Johnny Rocker,” an electric guitar player.

Fox believes there’s a strong contingent of men who like Western and wildlife images by artists such as Lorenzo Ghiglieri, who creates rugged scenes with wildlife fighting and lions roaring.

Traditional “Guy Art”

There’s no getting around it. Some guys just won’t break with tradition, observes Amy Wessan, vice president of sales and design at Bruce McGaw Graphics in West Nyack, N.Y..

“It’s eagles, wolves and tigers,” said Wessan about what she considers male best-sellers. These images, she said, hit a variety of male markets, including hunters, hikers, outdoorsmen, fishermen, wildlife lovers and sports enthusiasts.

Ranking right behind wildlife are sports-related images. McGaw has introduced a line of Disney images that are very popular with men. “It’s Mickey playing golf, Mackey skiing, Mickey swinging a bat,” said Wessan. “They look like vintage drawings–not kidsy, but very adult. They look great hanging in a row in someone’s office.”

Another image that sells well with men is “Keep Your Eye on the Ball,” by Lisa Danielle. It’s a colorful poster showing a basketball, soccer ball, football, baseball, tennis ball and golf ball lined up on a shelf. “Anything that has a trophyesque feeling is definitely a guy piece,” said Wessan.

Avoiding Stereotypes

Many dealers say that it’s dangerous to stereotype customers–particularly men. You never know what they will buy. Certainly, Dale Tremblay Begley, artist and director of East Colony Fine Art, in Manchester, N.H., finds this true.

From her observation, men like landscapes, particularly those by Randy Knowles. “He’s a landscape architect–very Methodical,” said Begley, who adds that his work is restrained in terms of emotion. “He tends to use a lot of nice darks, earth tones, deep, intense colors, but not vibrant. No reds or purples. No feminine colors.”

What surprises her is the number of then who buy her work, which she classifies as “feminine.” “It’s not necessarily the semi-nudes that they go for either,” she said. Rather, several men have purchased “Audrey’s Garden I.” It’s a giclee print of a four-year-old girl, in a wispy dress, in a rose garden. “It’s a surprise,” she said.

She was further surprised when two motorcycle riders, dressed in black leather, entered the gallery. Begley didn’t pay much attention to them at first because they didn’t strike her as art buyers. For a while, they talked amongst themselves. Then they told her that they wanted to buy a painting.

She couldn’t believe the one that they pointed to. It featured two yellow puppies peering beneath a quilt-topped bed and was titled “Time Out.”

“It’s so soft and cuddly–not something that you would think would appeal to guys dressed in black leather,” she said. “But you can’t tell by looking at a person.”

Art dealers everywhere echo this sentiment. They say that men’s taste in art doesn’t necessarily fall in step with the expected Ernest Hemingway machismo. “It’s hard to stereotype,” said Lamb, at Sottil Gallery. “Whenever you do that, you tend to make a big mistake.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group