“My friend’s granddaughter paints pictures on the shoes…Oh, what do you call them? Anyhow, she paints pictures of little animals and whatnot. And I believe the other children pay her for it. ‘Sneakers.’ Isn’t that what they call them? Anyhow, that’s something I thought you could do.”
-Art School Confidential
People mean well. I know they do. But when someone asks what I do for a living, if you really think about it, there are some things that just shouldn’t be said. It would be insulting to any other profession, but for some reason it’s perfectly acceptable to say certain things to artists. Here is a compilation of statements that I have heard:
WHAT NOT TO SAY TO AN ARTIST
- “Did you make all these?”
- “How long did that take you?”
- “It costs $#@%*!!!! for that?”
- “You should charge more for your paintings.”
- “I can’t draw a stick figure.”
- “You’re an artist? Oh, how fun.”
- “So, do you have a real job?”
- “I could do that.”
- “You’ll paint that for free, right?”
- “Wow, you’re really good at painting portraits. Can you paint my dog?”
- “Have you ever considered painting Abstract? I know someone who wants Abstract work and they are willing to pay a lot. It would be like having a real job!”
- “I would love to sit around and make art all day, but I have to work.”
- “Since you’re not doing anything…could you do this for me?”
If you have ever said these things to an artist, please don’t take offense. I mean to bring attention to these comments in a lighthearted way. I’ve decided most people don’t know what to say in response to my profession and one of the above comments usually seems satisfactory.
The truth is, art is freaking hard. The hours are long with little pay. I study the figure’s minute details and nuances with either a three inch long razor sharp graphite point, filling in every pore of the paper’s surface, or a three haired paint brush until my eyeballs bleed and I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.
I apply to galleries, shows, and competitions and 99% of the time I’m rejected (notice I didn’t say my ‘work’ is rejected. It’s difficult not to take rejection personally).
Bill said he once had two doctors take one of his workshops. They were two of the most committed and hardworking students he has ever had. Why? Because they understood the definition of freaking hard work.
I love what I do. Or at least the thrill of the initial draft with the potential of greatness. Or the accomplishment of the end result. The in-between, day to day stuff is gristly and painful. Most days I feel like the depressed cliche who throws her painting in the trash bin with a lit match and runs for the nearest cliff edge. But I grit my teeth and soldier on.
So now I’m sure you’re wondering, “Well, what the heck should I say?” Artists are tender creatures. Compliments are always nice. If you honestly think the work is horrid, say something vague like, “It has a dreamy quality,” or, “I like the colors you used.” Ask questions about the artist’s education, influences, or process, questions that could be applied to any other profession.
And if you happen to forget What Not to Say to An Artist and excitedly tell me about your friend’s granddaughter’s wildly successful artistic venture painting shoes and recommend I do that as well…well. That’s okay too.