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What Not to Say to Artists

Updated on October 24, 2015
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.


14 Things You Shouldn't Say to Artists.

I can't tell you how many well-meaning people have said these things to me. One day I was reading an article about things you should never say to authors of childrens books. It so mirrored the things people have said to me as an artist that I had to poop. This reflective list of dos and donts things to say to artists may sound familiar to you because all creatives have similar bears to cross (and crosses to bear). This is by no means a complete list either. I can think of so many things unthinking people say; however, this is a short list.

Still Life

Dean Dallin painting a still life.
Dean Dallin painting a still life. | Source

1. I wish I had time to paint.

No one has TIME to paint unless the MAKE the time. It's the same with writers and poets, artists and musicians. It's a career choice and a priority thing. Lets face it. You make time for the things that are a priority in your life. I get up early and go to bed late. I purposefully squeeze in time for my painting or I would have no time for it at all. If it is important to you, make it a priority. Whatever it takes, keep painting.


Artist's Workshop

Dennis Lewis conducting a workshop.
Dennis Lewis conducting a workshop. | Source

2. 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 everyday. A hobby would be something done when I find the time.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

— Thomas Edison

Plein aire

Lupe Reyes painting plein aire.
Lupe Reyes painting plein aire. | Source

3. 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.

Merrily McCarthy drawing
Merrily McCarthy drawing

4. Do you know any famous artists?

Well, I know a lot of artists. Some are highly skilled and proficient in their craft. The problem here is that most of us don’t become famous until we are dead. So, no. I don’t know any famous artists. Yet.

Pastel on grey paper

Portrait of Kevin McGill
Portrait of Kevin McGill | Source

5. 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 like me.

Pastel portrait of my husband, Kevin, on grey paper. - Photos taken by Kevin McGill, watching me over my shoulder.

Start with a gesture.
Start with a gesture.
Then start adding light and shadows.
Then start adding light and shadows.
Create depth with deep sanguine colors.
Create depth with deep sanguine colors.
Detail the features.
Detail the features.
Finished portrait.
Finished portrait.

Oil Painting

Ron Jarvi painting
Ron Jarvi painting | Source

6. Remember me when you are rich and famous.

So this artist calls the gallery where his paintings are featured. “How are my paintings doing,” he asks the gallery owner. The owner says, “Well, I’ve got good news and bad news.”

“Give me the good news,” the artist says.

“Okay, yesterday,” he begins, “a man came into the gallery and asked if your paintings were the kind that get more valuable when you die, and I assured him that they were. So he bought all 12 of your paintings right then and there.”

“That’s wonderful news. What could the bad news be?”

“Well, you see, the man was your doctor.”

First of all, I don’t paint because I want to be rich and famous someday. I do it because it is so a part of me that not to paint would be like not breathing. Second, like I said before, I probably won’t be rich and famous till I’m dead. Sad but true.

Studio painting

Rudy Murrietta painting.
Rudy Murrietta painting. | Source

7. 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? 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.


Oil painting

Salad Time
Salad Time | Source

8. You will starve to death as an artist. Art never sells.

This is a hard one to overcome because there is a grain of truth to it. Art rarely sells, not never. However there are many different directions an artist can take and keep on painting. Fine art (paintings for the wall) is only one form of art for the artist. We also do advertising, graphics, calligraphy, creative photography, backdrop design for theaters and movies, fashion design, costume design, logo design, web site design, greeting card design, poster design, animation, comic book art, graphic novels, book illustration, children's book illustration, editorial illustration, cartooning, caricature, etc. The list goes on and on. These directions for the artist help pay the bills while they wait to sell fine art. Photo of my oil painting called Salad Time. It won a 3rd place ribbon in a recent art show and then sold.

My watercolor class

Lupe and Carleen painting in the park.
Lupe and Carleen painting in the park. | Source

9. 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 of the ground that it doesn’t fit my emotional needs. Daily.

Torn and cut paper collage

Collage of my daughter, Kim.
Collage of my daughter, Kim. | Source

10. I wish I could paint like you.

Not really. Like all the masters taught, you study their technique but don’t paint like them. That makes you little more than a forger (they send you to jail for that, you know). No, you want to improve your technique and then paint like yourself. Develop your own style and voice. Each of us has a unique fingerprint, signature, and style. That is what you want to develop.

People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.

— Zig Ziglar

Oil painting

Oil painting of lemons and silver service.
Oil painting of lemons and silver service. | Source

11. Which is your favorite painting?

To even ask that is to say you know nothing about art or artists. I actually had a young person ask me that and I gave him the answer I give most people. Each painting has a piece of me in it. I sweat over it, love it with each brush stroke and sometimes cry over it. We sometimes even shed blood over them. I understand that Thomas Kincaid varnished a drop of blood into each painting so that it contained his DNA. If Van Gogh had known about DNA, I figure he would have done the same. The point is I put time and effort into each one. They are like my children. How could you ask a person, "Which is your favorite child?" Well, all of them. You love them all. Each one cost you something a little different sometimes but you love them all. This is why artists should never put prices on their own work. How do you put a price on and sell one of your children? To this day I think of the pieces I sold and hope they are happy and loved in their new home.


My watercolor of a geisha.
My watercolor of a geisha. | Source

12. When will you retire?

Really? Retire from art? Never! This isn't like a regular job where you earn a pension and retire to Florida. Art is not something you can't retire from. I figure I will be painting till they pull the brush from my cold dead fingers. Then I retire.

The Starving Artist: Nothing scarier!


Classical Art Coloring Books

"American Gothic", Grant Wood
"American Gothic", Grant Wood | Source

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

I have to thank my friend, reasonablerobinson, in the comments section for this reminder. 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. Like I said, we artists aren't doing it for the fame or money, but for the sheer love of painting.

Children's Book Illustrations

Queen Esther
Queen Esther | Source

14. "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 say, "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.


Have you any hot-point trigger questions that set you off? - Tell me I'm not alone.... please!

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    • profile image


      14 months ago

      Actually, I do draw manga, but I draw still lifes as well. I’m not as good as you, but it still burns me when people comment, “Hey. I don’t like your style. Can you change it?” You can’t just CHANGE your style. You develop your style yourself, using techniques that others and maybe even just you use.

      I also hate it when people tell me, “Why don’t your digitally add colors?” Granted, my drawings might look better if I add digital color to my manga or animal drawings, but my occasional still life?! Heck, no!

      I love art. I think it’s not just a hobby, it’s a passion. People call it a hobby, and some may consider it that, but I consider it almost like a job, but one I throughly enjoy.

      Thanks for the Hub!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      3 years ago from Fresno CA

      Reynold Jay,

      Ah, yes. The old "you don't get rich till you die" story. My father kept harping on that one as the reason I should NOT make art a career choice. But I love it so much and I am drawn to it even when I have a mundane job so why fight it? So I'll never be rich or famous. However along the way, I have had a lot of fun doing what I love most. Isn't that what life is all about anyway? Thanks so much for commenting.



    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      3 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      I figured I had better read this in that I deal with artists all day long! In that I have an art degree does make me understand it more than others might. Good news is that I have never said any of these things and I am laughing out loud at all the things you mention. I suspect you and I are very similar in our thoughts and experiences. Both of us are creative and there is nothing could ever hold us back from expression in one form or another.

      I did like your doctor and rich and famous story! #6!!!!!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      4 years ago from Fresno CA

      Say Yes to Life, that's a great come back! I should include some of those! Great idea. Thanks.



    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Thanks for this information. Can you include snappy comebacks when people make these comments?

      This reminds me of something I read once:

      Isaac Stern was once confronted by a middle age lady after a concert. She gushed "Oh, I'd give my life to play like you!"

      "Lady", said Stern acidly, "That I did!"

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      4 years ago from Fresno CA

      Thank you everyone for your great comments.

    • Lauren Graham profile image

      Lauren Graham 

      4 years ago from Crazy-- it's a state of mind

      haven't i heard most of these at least three times? people don't seem to understand that art is a lifestyle. its the first thing you think about in the morning and you go to sleep thinking about it at night (if you go to sleep at night, that is). if it's your passion, you'll make time for it. if it's not, you won't find time for it.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Having worked in industry for 17 years and now academic at a Uni' I get 'those who can do those who can't teach' and best of all 'so what use is a social science degree?' - to which I typically reply 'helps someone avoid asking dumb questions like that?'

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 years ago from Fresno CA

      @AnnaMKB: Great insights. You're right, I have heard those comments too. Maybe I'll add those to the list. Thanks for liking my lens.

    • AnnaMKB profile image


      5 years ago

      One my daughter gets:When approaching her table, seeing her paintings, business cards, equipment, signs, sketchbook, etc, turn to her and ask."Are you the artist?"Uh...Or, "why green? I would like it much better in (insert colour here)."One I get (I do unique crochet wearables): "Oh, I could do that!" Not a question, but... wth?

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 years ago from Fresno CA

      @Ibidii: So true. Me too. I hate it when someone tells me to make changes or implies that a painting isn't done. It's like bologna: good wherever the artist cuts it off.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 years ago from Fresno CA

      @Ibidii: Thank you so much.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 years ago from Fresno CA

      @mistyriver: Thank you. I can totally see the similarity in our fields. Thanks for visiting my lens.

    • mistyriver profile image


      5 years ago

      I enjoy photography and have had people tell me "Can you take pictures for me, you have such a nice camera." They don't understand that's it's not all about the camera, the photography has a lot to do with the finished result as well! I really enjoyed your lens!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Awesome lens and awesome art work Denise!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I dislike "Oh, that's nice, but you should do this or that blah blah blah..." Yikes, that burns me!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 years ago from Fresno CA

      @favored: I'm not sure they are ALL trigger points, but people are funny in that they don't think about how an artist works. I'm so happy you like my work, my children. Haha. Blessings to you.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      5 years ago from USA

      Oh my I think I've probably asked you some of these :) Never thought about #7 or #11 as trigger points, but if I were you I may feel the same way. We admirers can be rude can't we? However, I can relate to things like this in my field. Like it or not Denise, I do love your work and adore your spunk. :)

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      5 years ago from Fresno CA

      @Freck209: For me it was 42 cents (that's how long ago it was) of therapy. I had no idea that rejecting their rejections would get me so much attention. Ha. Thanks for visiting.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      You are just so funny, Denise, not to mention incredibly talented in all artistic endeavors. I LOVE the rejection of the rejection letters. Classic!


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