What Not to Say to an Artist

The work of an artist is hard work. Whether we create for representation, shows, commissions, teaching, etc., it’s work! Often, we’re recognized for it with lots of positivity for which we are grateful. It is our mission to please the viewer after all. And we work very hard to do just that.

But, we have all heard artists referred to as “starving” or often thought of as not having a “real job”. And there are many unsolicited comments that occasionally come flying our way, am I right? And all too often, they are remarks that truly are unnecessary and sometimes even rude. It’s tough enough out there with all the competition among artists.

Sometimes, people (albeit maybe well-meaning) say things to artists that are…well, annoying. We artists could do without the following list of things people feel compelled (for whatever reason) to say that do nothing for the artist but leave them feeling unappreciated for their efforts. So what not to say to an artist? Here goes:

Things People Say

1. “Do You Know An Artist, So-and-So?”

This tops the list of one of the most insulting things people can say. People will actually say to your face (has happened to me on many occasions), “Have you seen the work of So-and-So? His/her work is just amazing!”

Maybe it’s well-meaning, that they are showing they appreciate the hard work of artists, but it just comes off as “Have you seen the work of So-and-So? His/her work is just amazing! Yours – not so much.”

If they’re standing in front of the artist who is about to instruct a class or in their booth at a show and want to say something, they could take the time to say something nice to the artist who has taken the time to prepare and teach the class or worked to the bone preparing all the pieces for a show, preparing for all the logistics of the show itself and time spent actually at the show.

Even if they don’t care for the artwork of that artist, one of the worst things they can do is talk about how much they admire the work of another artist.

If they do like the artist’s work just as much as the other artist, then a better thing they could say is “Wow, your work rivals that of So-and-So!”

2. “I Love the Frame!”

Another annoying thing people say is “Oh! I love the frame!” Yes, the frame may be beautiful and was perfectly chosen to

accent the artwork (we artists often agonize over this), but it’s not the frame that’s the focal point! It leaves the artist feeling like the frame is the important part, the art secondary and/orif it weren’t for the frame, their work would go unnoticed.

Framing is very important, I will grant that. It is often a very difficult decision which mat and/or frame to choose. You want something that ties into the picture but doesn’t detract from the art. And often times, that’s a very fine line.

A better thing to say if they like the frame is “This piece is terrific! And the frame wonderfully accents it too.”

3. “You Should…”

Here’s one…that unless it’s from a family member or a top guru in the art world, it’s irritating. “You should join (fill in the blank)…” or “You should go on so-and-so’s site and…” or “You could…”

All well-meaning (really trying to give the benefit of the doubt here), but this implies the artist (who is in business for themselves) isn’t doing everything they could to promote their work.

And, it only makes the person look arrogant that they presume they know what you should be doing!

If this is from a person the artist just met or a total stranger, this is just rude and inconsiderate. The stranger has not one clue what the artist does or isn’t doing and shouldn’t presume they know something the artist doesn’t. In fact, they should not presume to know anything about the artist’s business.

OK, maybe the artist isn’t doing everything he/she could be doing, but unsolicited advice like this is unappreciated and annoying.

4. “This Piece Would Look Great If You Added….”

How bout this one: “This piece would look great with (fill in the blank) in the picture.” So, it’s not great without that?? If the artist wanted (blank) in the piece, they would have put it in there!

Many of my pieces are scenes without people in them. I love the beauty of nature itself and serene scenes.

I’m not anti-social, but sometimes I really enjoy making nature the focal point and would choose not to add people that would detract from that.

But, it’s perfectly OK if a person prefers scenes with people in them. Then they wouldn’t necessarily like my work. That’s fine! Then they could just say, “I like to see people in pictures”. Duly noted. Maybe I’ll put people in next time, if that’s the statement I want to make.

5. “You Would Make More Money If You…”

This kind of is like the “you should” comment, but again…it is irritating to hear about the latest craze in art. And because it’s all the rage, I therefore should be doing it.

Again, without knowledge of how the artist runs their business or how they are doing financially with his/her art business, it’s bothersome and offensive; like what I am currently doing isn’t good enough.

Maybe their idea is good, or maybe it’s great…for some people. But to just suggest it blindly just shows a non-understanding of the that particular artist’s business model. And if their idea just goes against the grain for that artist or doesn’t fit their business model, it puts the artist on the defensive of having to justify that what they are doing is just fine (thank you very much).

Here is a link to a video made a fellow artist, Ellen Brenneman, who discusses other things people say or ask artists that are distasteful and insensitive. Click here to check out the video.

Artists Can and DO Take Criticism

It’s true, we artists need a very tough skin. And believe me, mine is tough as leather! But that doesn’t mean it can’t get scratched or torn.

Sometimes, critiques are appreciated if given from one of authority and/or asked for. There is always room for improvement. And coming from one who has more experience is well-taken if it’s constructive.

Even comments from strangers may give us pause to think about it. Maybe it can be used in some way to improve. Maybe it’ll sneak subliminally into the next piece. Who knows?

And maybe just like negative reviews of a product may make a manufacturer improve that product, a negative comment, however annoying, may still be considered.

But it’s much better if the comment is non-personalized. Again, the comment mentioned above, “I prefer to see people in pictures,” is something the artist won’t take personally but may ponder next time putting a person or two in their piece. See what I mean?

We artists can and do take criticism, but people should remember the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And I would add, especially if the person doesn’t know anything about art. They could say a constructive comment like the “people in pictures” comment or say nothing.

What to Say to an Artist – “I like your work.”

Not that we artists need to hear this 24/7 – we don’t – but everyone enjoys validation, even artists. A simple “I like your work” will suffice and is always appreciated.

Also, saying something positive, even one thing that stands out in an artist’s work (not the framing lol) is interesting and helpful for us to hear. We do like to hear what we’re doing well, too!

Adding to the List

What sort of things do you hear as an artist that either helps you or irks you? Would love to hear your addition to what not to say to an artist. Be sure to leave it in the comment section.

Here is additional reading you may find helpful:  Click here for How to Sell My Art – A Beginner’s Guide

Thanks for reading.

Have an artful day!



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