10 ways to talk to an artist without being awkward

Presented here is a list of 5 do’s and 5 don’ts to consider while talking to an artist.

Starting with what NOT to do:

1. Do not ask how long it took an artist to make something.

This question usually comes up when a person wants to start a conversation with an artist but doesn’t really know what to say.  It comes across as rude and makes it seem like you’re trying to simply sum up the value of a work of art based on a crude time scale.  The amount of time spent on any single work of art can vary widely, even piece to piece in the same art form, and has very little or nothing to do with effort or quality.  Artists themselves often marvel at how long a simple idea can take to come together or how quickly a complex idea will come to completion.  It’s all very variable.

2. Do not ask if we work from home.

There are many implications here based on the culture we are currently living in and none of them are generally good.  Asking this question itself can imply that you don’t take the artist seriously or that you question their level of professionalism.  The reality, of course, is that where an artist creates their art has nothing to do with their commitment, success, professionalism, work ethic, or anything else.  It’s best to just leave this one alone.

 3. Do not ask if we have any extra works of art that we don’t want.

This is basically saying, “Hey, you know that art which took you 300 hours to complete, I kind of like it but don’t want to give you any money for it so can I have it for free?”  Walk into your local bank and ask if they have any extra money lying around that they don’t want and see how that goes.  Many artists do provide free art or prints in some form or another in one way or another.  If you like an artist but are financially challenged, sign up on their twitter feeds and blogs and look for contests or free giveaways.  Many artists even provide free things for simply signing up for their email listings.  If you’re working for a charitable organization ask if we’d be willing to do volunteer some work for you, I have, and most other artist will too.

4. Do not ask an artist to do what they do on the spot.

This is simply rude on a number of levels.  First of all it implies that what we do requires no set up time, contemplation, or consideration.  Secondly it implies that we are like trained monkeys at the beck and call of anyone wanting to be entertained.  Third, you are basically asking us to work for free.  Fourth, many professional artists work 80-100 hours a week, if we are not working we’re resting and even though we love what we do we need breaks.  If you want to see an artist work, tell them that you really like what they do and ask if you could visit where they create and watch the process.  Also, artists quite often will have youtube channels with video of their creative processes, sometimes even in real time.

5. Do not ask what we do for a living or if we have a day job.

Again, this is very rude and condescending.  Asking this question alone is like saying, “Wow, this stuff is garbage, there’s no way you could be making a living doing this.”  Unless this is actually what you’re saying you should probably just assume that every artist is a professional artist doing just fine making a living.  If you ARE trying to imply the above, maybe you should just keep your mouth shut.  No good will come of it.

Now let move on to the things that you should do

1. Do ask where you can see our work or more of our work.

This shows that you’re interested and like our artwork.  Most artists create art to be seen and enjoyed.  Artists will often have portfolio websites, blogs, twitter feeds, and maybe even some work on the tablet they’re carrying around with them.  Even if an artist doesn’t have more to show you at the time, they will take this as a complement, and will most likely have a way for you to get updated on any new work they do.

2. Do show genuine interest if you’re genuinely interested.

If you’re not a professional artist and don’t understand the lingo, concepts, etc, don’t worry, we don’t expect you to.  Don’t pretend to.  Ask genuine questions about what you like, and what you see, what moves you, and what stands out to you.  Avoid questions about mechanics like the size of the art, the time it took, or how much it cost to make.  Most artists love talking about their artwork with people that genuinely like it.

3. Do provide honest feedback if you’re asked for it by an artist.

Being an artist often comes with the requirement of having thick skin.  Many artists have developed this and will freely and openly ask for any critiques or feedback you might have, positive and negative.  Feel absolutely free to be completely honest in these situations.  Not everyone wants to hear your critiques though, so if you’re not asked, please be respectful.  It is part of the nature of the art business that every artist is bombarded by often negative criticisms whether they are requested or not.  You don’t need to add to the pile.

4. Do discuss what you’re passionate about and why.

For the majority of artists, their work is their passion and passion drives it.  This makes artists excited by the passions of other people as well.  Even if your passion has nothing to do with art at all it doesn’t matter.  In general, you will find that artists get excited by what excites you.

5. Do ask if you can purchase art that you like, even if it’s not listed for sale.

Unless someone is super, overly sensitive, I can’t imagine this ever coming off badly.  At the very least this shows that you really like the artists work and would like to have some of it.  This also tells the artist that you are serious and genuine about their work.  Most artists have one or two things in the works at all times so even if there isn’t something to purchase immediately there will be soon.  Also, depending on the medium, you may be able to purchase prints or copies of the art in question if the original is already sold.  When it comes to this, it never hurts to ask.

Michael Simpson