10 Things To Absolutely Never Say To Artists

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Tim Mossholder / Unsplash

It’s exciting when you’re friends with artists, especially with social media. They’re inspiring, they’re clever, and best of all, they teach you about all the things you were getting wrong about the art world. They’re super kind and generous and want to help other people shine. They’re also annoying and opinionated (blame it on tax season) and they have a lot of feelings when someone abuses their trust.

My point is, you don’t want to get on an artist’s bad side. Here are a few ways you can avoid doing that (unsurprisingly, most things have to do with money):

1. Will you make this for me for free?

It’s one thing if someone offers you a painting as a gift, or does your blog photography as a favor. That doesn’t mean we will always do that and it’s certainly NOT what you should be leading with if you’ve never worked with this person before.

2. How much does this cost? / Is this a fair price?

If someone is doing art in any professional capacity, they’ve got their prices listed on their website or in their shops. If you want something custom-made, or you’re asking for a reprint of something, there’s usually a section on commissions that you can look at. Point is, don’t ask information that is readily available online, it’s irritating at best and you’re signaling that you are not serious.

3. What discounts do you offer?

Some artists offer discounts on services (either because the platform they use has them, or because they want to say thanks to returning customers). Most do not, and leading to that question is presuming a relationship that you don’t already have. Also worth noting – online scammers often try to haggle on the price of a piece, and they don’t even pay that if the artist agrees. It’s one thing if haggling is part of someone’s culture, but in the online marketplace, it’s regarded as suspicious. So tread very carefully – if the artist is someone you have a relationship with, they will be happy to accommodate you.

4. Why don’t you create something more like (insert current artist darling)?

If you ask me about custom work, I will give you a price list and my delivery schedule. But if you’re just asking me why I’m not more like (ICAD) the answer is most likely: This is not my style.

Asking an artist why they don’t act like someone else is like asking an apple why it doesn’t taste like an orange. It makes one wonder what you have against apples.

5. Have you tried this totally different medium? I hear it’s really popular right now.

Because I can’t afford to? Because it’s not my jam? Look, I’m all about trying new things, but sometimes you just don’t have the time and inclination and money to take up a wholly different medium. Plus, doing what’s popular won’t necessarily improve your chances of finding work. It might make your portfolio seem incohesive, your style lost in everything that is trendy.

6. I found this awesome gallery that you will like and sent them a link to your work! Hope you don’t mind.

Unless you are a known art curator or agent, yes, I actually do mind. First of all, lots of scams operate online – some of which are extremely convincing – and now I’m dealing with a flood of phishing emails and phony inquiries about my work. Second, even if it’s a legit gallery, it’s unprofessional for someone to make an approach on behalf of someone else. Most gallery owners have very little time as it is. Taking on new talent is virtually impossible, especially when their first impression of someone is ‘that artist who can’t make the initial approach themselves’.

7. So what is your real job?

Do I honestly need to explain this one?

8. My 10-year-old niece/goddaughter/second cousin twice removed can do the same for free.

Great. Get her to make you that, frame it up on your wall, and brag to everybody how much you love your new art. Your niece/goddaughter/second cousin twice removed will be delighted that someone recognizes her talent. Don’t use her as an excuse to get working artists to bring down their prices, or to shame them for trying to do an honest trade. Even a child will call BS on that.

9. Can you teach me and all of my mates to do what you’re doing?

This is a tricky one because some artists are teachers, and some do volunteer their services. In some forms of martial arts, for example, the instructors are volunteers, and all the money goes toward room hire and insurance. Also, artists do love to mentor other artists – it’s because we have mentored ourselves and we want to give the gift, too.

But oftentimes, people try to take advantage. And that’s not great at all. Ask your artist friend if they’d ever considered mentoring someone to start with, then talk about what they might be open to. Don’t expect them to have the time, and certainly don’t ask for other people. If they want to do this work, they will say so. Don’t put them on the spot.

10. I’ve read this article that says art is a very precarious field to work in, have you seen it? / I’ve just read this article that artists make a fortune, how close are you to that?

Please, don’t try to teach us about our own industry. Chances are, we read the same articles and we know what they are – click-bait and exaggerations. It’s easy enough to take cliches or outliers and making it a big deal, less so to work in the field and understand how much it resembles any other industry.

We know it. When you talk to us like we don’t, we can’t help wondering why you might want to do that. TC mark

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