Of all the many articles composed entirely of lists published online on a daily basis (Thank buzzfeed for that one.), “Things Never To Say To A _________” seem to be the most popular. As a society, we are becoming more conscious of the power of words and how they influence our perceptions of others we share this world with, and though hypersensitivity and searching for reasons to be offended can be some of the natural fallout from this kind of shift, I think all and all it is a good thing. Individuals no longer feel the need to stay silent about things that bother them to avoid a possible awkward confrontation. It’s like hey, I deserve respect just like anyone else in this world, and it’s actually ok to ask for it! Plus, raising awareness via the airing of grievances normally shoved deep inside just begging to be unleashed is fun, deny it all you want. Artists or anyone in a creative field tend to hear the same sorts of grating comments over and over again in their day to day life, and it can get mildly irritating at best, at worst totally defeating. I am a person who honestly believes most people are not jerks, and at least in my experience these comments are normally not ill-intended, but offered up as a lighthearted joke, or meant well and even supposed to be complimentary. Whether trying to compliment or get a laugh, these common comments really have opposite effect on the creative person in question who has spent a lifetime developing their specific skill. Hey, nobody’s perfect, but knowledge is power, right?
G.I. Joe, what a guy.
1. Let’s just umbrella this one: Basically any comment that questions one’s intelligence. “Cool! I wish I could go into art, then I wouldn’t have to go to college!” “Wait, but you’re smart, why did you go into art/interior design (or insert other creative field here, I’m simply speaking from my own personal experience.)?” Or my personal favorite, “Oh, that would be a great field for me, I hardly passed high school.” This should be common sense, but for those for whom it isn’t, it is seriously rude to address anyone, be it an artist or individual of any other vocation, with any variation of these comments. Some of my favorite artists are self taught, and some didn’t finish high school. Everyone learns differently but despite that fact, education and skill assessments are mainly based on rote memorization so some are destined to struggle. Income is also a factor: college is freaking expensive. There is absolutely no shame in not attending college if it doesn’t work for you. The issue has nothing to do with the level of education and everything to do with implying certain fields are easy or “blowoff work”. Most if not all creative people, through obtaining a degree or alternate means, had to work their butt off to get where they are regardless. Don’t assume. Also, comments like this are kind of a slap in the face to someone who did spend four years and insane amounts of money getting a degree. Not necessarily freelance but most other graphic design and illustration jobs require a degree, and in many states one must have a bachelor’s to officially call themselves a licensed interior designer (versus a decorator or something else).
2. Starving artist jokes. If a person really is starving, then it’s probably not something to laugh in their face about anyway, huh? Have some compassion and buy them a sandwich. If this is not the case then… what are you even talking about? The joke kind of loses its punchline. I (and many others sharing the field) am not some delusional crazypants hanging on to a pipe dream of stardom and fame. That’s why I teach, and also went to school for interior design so I could still use my creativity but open up the field a bit. Options, baby. Also, realize that working a creative job besides “world renowned painter” or “international rock sensation” is not giving up or settling. It’s not a failure. I love what I do and I honestly would get bored if all I did was work in my studio creating fine art pieces all day, every day.
3. “So you just get to play around with paint all day? What a fun job!” Yikes. This is the adult equivalent of acquaintances in college thinking I had coloring for homework. The reality, “Yay! Because I’m an interior design major art minor, all my classes get to be 3 hours each session instead of 1, and I get to stay up till the wee hours of the morning finishing studio projects no matter how well I budget my time, because workload expectations are completely insane compared to other disciplines!” Certain semesters, I pretty much never went out. This is one of those comments that I’m sure the person meant well, like “You have an awesome job!”, but after running around like a chicken with my head cut off all day keeping track of different jobs at multiple locations, diffusing student difficulties or outbursts, spending most of my spare time at home prepping for free (I’m not complaining, I love my students, I love my job, and I feel in some small way I am making world better place, but still.) in between finishing up commissions and keeping up my multiple online venues in which I hope the time I put in will actually pay off eventually, equating my job to “playtime” is the last thing I want to hear. “It’s cool you get to do what you love” is probably close to what you meant, and a much better way to communicate the sentiment.
4. “Can you do Project A/B/C for me? I’m not going to pay you but it will be great exposure!” when in reality the only exposure you will be getting is the precedent that “Hey everyone, this guy will work for free.” I’m not saying be a Scrooge, but there is a difference between helping out a friend/family member, doing volunteer or charity work, or supporting a small business or non-profit whose cause you want to help get off the ground and who really can’t afford to pay, versus someone who can pay but is just being lazy and wants something for nothing. David Thorne also has some hilarious insight on this subject via a colorful email exchange.
(Excuse the language, but I think we can all appreciate the sentiment)
5. “You’re so lucky you’re good at art.” Luck hasn’t got a thing to do with it. We are willing to acknowledge the part hard work plays towards proficiency in other fields, but with creative areas we act like the art fairy sprinkled rainbow pixie dust on certain people’s heads and now they are good at everything. Hours of study, practice, observation, classes learning from those more experienced (even in summer!); a lifetime of all of these things has gotten artists (and musicians, actors, etc.) to the level they are. As a kid, I wasn’t involved in after school clubs and activities and didn’t do much with friends. I came home and drew till bedtime; every day. It sucks to feel like your hard work goes unnoticed, and when others always use the words “luck” and “talent” as an explanation for why you’ve become successful, it negates all the sacrifices and sweat and tears and failures that went into the process to get where you are. This view is definitely a cultural thing. Here in the states, if we are bad at something, our response tends to be, “Well, I’m just not a _______ person I guess” and we move on to the next thing. In other parts of the world, especially in Asian countries, if you do poorly at something, your response is to work harder to improve; “I must not have practiced enough”. You can’t expect to be good at painting if you’ve never picked up a brush before. Why are you surprised when your work doesn’t turn out looking like a Van Gogh? You haven’t put the time in yet. This “you have it or you don’t” mentality with the arts is a psychological brick wall I run into time and time again in teaching, especially with students starting as adults. This attitude may seem harmless, but at best it’s simply not constructive, and at worst it’s self-sabotaging.
6. “So then do you do a lot of drugs?”