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Things You Shouldn’t Say To Artists

Updated on July 19, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Hand painting a freeway billboard.
Hand painting a freeway billboard. | Source

Insulting To Artists

How many times have well-meaning people said thoughtless things to you like these? I know I hear them all the time. Hardly a month goes by that someone doesn’t blunder in and compare my work with a famous artist or style that they think would sell better for me. Or someone says something that really stings without meaning to send out those barbs. Artists, writers, musicians and all creatives have to face the fact that people just don’t understand us or our motives in what we do. Creatives are compelled by something deeper than a desire to make money, something stronger than survival. We are hard to define and harder to understand. To help, I have a list of seven things people say that they should rethink in the future.

My digital photo composite of the Invisible Man
My digital photo composite of the Invisible Man | Source

1. Art is a nice hobby.

Maybe, for some. But I got enough of that from my dad and my first husband and my kids. For me it is no hobby; it is a burning passion that demands my time and attention. Without that determination to do this, it would be little more than a nice hobby. I am an artist. I choose to do my art every day. A hobby would be something done when I find the time. Perhaps a better statement would be, “You have a lovely style or a fun career.” Now that I can agree with.

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.

— Pablo Picasso
The wonderful adventure of opening a book
The wonderful adventure of opening a book | Source

2. Maybe one day, I'll pick up a paintbrush and learn to paint masterpieces.

This statement doesn't make me mad. It makes me sad.

That is the saddest thing I have ever heard. So many people I have met think that they can cram a lifetime of experience into their retirement years. I suppose a few have done it, but precious few. It isn't something you just pick up. Each painting builds your experience and skill for the next one. Like playing a musical instrument, it takes time and practice, dedication as well as talent. A better statement would be, “Perhaps one day, I’ll pick up a paintbrush and dabble in art.” If you wait till after you retire, that’s all it will be. Dabbling.

Do you relate to any of these questions/statements?

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You might not make it to the top, but if you are doing what you love, there is much more happiness there than being rich or famous.

— Tony Hawk
The thrill of painting
The thrill of painting | Source

3. You should paint more like this or that artist.

No. I am not going to try to dilute my own style because it isn't popular yet or it doesn't fit into someone else's box. I have my own spark of divine inspiration and that is what I must follow. You shouldn't tell a writer how to write or an artist how to paint. I don't care if Manga is more popular than what I draw. Someday they will tell the manga artists to draw more like me. I can hardy wait for the day when people say, “I’m so proud to know such a popular artist like you.”

Doing what you love is the cornerstone of having abundance in your life.

— Wayne Dyer

4. Have you ever thought of selling your work? Ever thought of putting your work in a gallery?

Really? Why do people ask that? Do I look like the dumbest cabbage head that fell of the truck? That isn't a helpful question to ask. Of course, I have thought of selling my work. It isn’t as easy as that. Art has to fit into a certain niche for people, and when the economy is down, art is sadly the first thing that people decided to do without. Also, galleries want to be doing the asking, not the other way around. Most artists (including myself) enter competitions and art shows in hopes that a gallery owner will see their work and pick them up as a client. How about saying, “Which galleries do you have your work?” Or how about, “Where can I buy your art?"

My friend Maxine painting in the open air.
My friend Maxine painting in the open air. | Source

5. You’ll get used to the rejection letters/gallery rejections.

Actually, no. Rejection stings whether you have been working your craft for one year or 40 years. You learn to work through it and go on because as an artist, you won’t give up. The most hurtful rejection I ever received basically said, “give up art, you are no good.” I understand Walt Disney received one like that too, but he didn’t let that stop him, and I won’t let it stop me either.

I’ve received enough rejection letters to paper my whole house. I save them in order to laugh at them some day. I’ve managed to work through the sting of them by sending a rejection letter back to the publishers who sent them, rejecting their rejection. Many publishers have found it so funny that they call me and publish my work because I have a sense of humor. Humor is a great way to work through hurtful issues. I still reject rejections on the grounds that it doesn’t fit my emotional needs. Daily. I should be a comfort to people to know how many famous artists and popular writers received rejection letters, sometimes dozens of them before finally getting published.

My Skillshare Class

6. Those who can, DO. Those who can't, TEACH.

How many of us have heard this one? Everyone, I bet. The problem here is most artists can do, and teach! And still, we suffer from the starving part of the scenario. Also, there are very famous artists throughout history who could did, and taught. Grant Wood is a good example. Many people remember him for his famous Regionalist painting of a farmer and wife called "American Gothic." Grant Wood made a living by painting anything and everything people would pay him to paint, including storefront signs and posters. His fame lasted only a few years, he was granted an honorary degree, taught and still died in relative obscurity. Yet his paintings live on. He isn't the only one either. Artists like Da Vinci, Giotto, Raphael, and many more, had apprentices or students they taught their style and craft to. As I said, we artists aren't doing it for fame or money, but for the sheer love of painting.

Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.

— Martha Graham
Oil painting of Silver and Lemons
Oil painting of Silver and Lemons | Source

7. "Oh, I could do that!”

Really? Let's see ya try! I used to create crafts and things to take periodically to Art Fairs and Craft Shows. I spent weeks preparing, spent lots more money than I would like to admit, got up before the crack of dawn to drive to some far away Craft Show site, pulled so many muscles setting up tables and awnings, just to hear some unfeeling amateur says, "Oh, I could do that" or even, "My daughter could paint that." Perhaps so but I don't see you here with all the rest of us doing it. It was a lot of hard work and hours away from my precious babies to make only a pittance for my labors. Even today at Art Shows I can hear the whispers, "I could do that," from people who have never shown a painting in a show. What I have to tell myself is they are probably thinking, "I wish I had done that," and go on. Lots of people think they could paint like Van Gogh but there is only one Van Gogh. Perhaps this is really the truest form of complement. They want to paint LIKE me but there is only one ME.

Tulip Wrap; watercolor on wrinkled paper
Tulip Wrap; watercolor on wrinkled paper | Source

Final Thoughts

I hope you got something out of my list. If you have more to add to the list, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. I love hearing people’s thoughts and advice as well.


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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      14 months ago from Fresno CA


      Don't feel bad, I think I've said it too to crafting artists. We all seem to blunder into the absurd when we are awed by talent and don't know what to say. Thanks for commenting.



    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      14 months ago from Fresno CA


      You are so right. I think the average person simply sees the arts as something that "comes naturally" or a talent that no work had to go into. Like some people have it and some people don't. I think some people have the passion and dedication to develop that gifting and others don't. What they never see is the years of work and sweat that was poured into the passion before it became something people took notice of. Thanks for commenting.



    • profile image

      Rachel Alba 

      14 months ago

      Hi Denise, I guess we all say things sometimes without even thinking. I think I might have said the #4 statement about selling your art. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these statements; now I know what not to say.

      Blessings to you.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      14 months ago

      I read your article with interest Denise and I feel that any form of art is a difficult path to follow. My niece is a musician and started off busking before forming a group. It's only now several years later that she is starting to reap the rewards of all her hard work. I don't think people have any idea of the passion, commitment and sheer hard work is involved because if they did they would not make those comments.


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