Don’t Say It! – 10 Things NOT to Say to Artists

Insulting Artists
Insulted Jewish Boy Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy

Artists are a sensitive bunch. Recently, the following list of “10 Things NOT to Say to An Artist or Crafter” has been circulating on the Internet. These comments may be considered insensitive or crass to those of us in the art field. If a potential buyer were to say some of these things to you, you might have a less-than-polite reply. Take a gander:

Art Insults
Courtesy California Arts Council

It’s an interesting list. Does anything in particular strike you? I’m sure you’ve heard at least some of these comments before, but did you take full advantage of the opportunities when you heard them?

“Opportunities?” you say. Absolutely! I saw the same list – and shared it on Social Media – several days ago. But, a friend and fellow artist, Col Mitchell, recently wrote a blog post that gave the ANSWERS to such comments – brilliant, isn’t she? Actually, the clever responses were the “brain children” of JM Amprinoz of Small Web Strategies. See his clever responses here.

I realize that many people are curious and not sure how to approach the artist. It’s true, we have a reputation for being a mysterious, strange bunch of people – and we’re all so different from one another. What are they supposed to say? I’m just happy they reach out and say SOMETHING! It gives us the opportunity to educate, teach some appreciation for our craft, give resources to find and learn more about art or direct people where they can find art education for themselves or their children. Do we, in our insecurity and doubt, scold them?

So, what are your thoughts about some of these comments? When I hear them, I usually attribute the comments to ignorance or lack of tact. I don’t think people intentionally hurl insults to complete strangers, not unless they’re weed farmers. (click to Tweet)   I welcome comments and stories about your experiences, responses and outcomes. Let’s all learn to field these questions in a positive way that builds thoughtful bridges with the public and promotes the art world with respectful curiosity.




Michelle Andres is a writer, artist and coach who nudges, nay, shoves, her clients in the direction of their dreams, helping them to overcome non-productive behaviours and enjoy more success in their lives.

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43 Replies to “Don’t Say It! – 10 Things NOT to Say to Artists”

    1. Thanks, Col. I appreciate your sharing – which made me think. I’m sure if we all considered the questions origins, rather than reacting, we might not be so insulted.

  1. It’s not just strangers, it can be family. My daughter was home one Christmas and wanted to make some easy peasy floral paintings for her new apartment. She insisted she could do it herself (how hard could it be?) so I set her up with some canvas and paint and walked away. Within an hour she was begging for my help. I whipped out the paintings pretty quickly (easy peasy, remember) and she was blown away that I made it look so easy.

    Experience. Education. More experience. When people tell me they’ll go home and make it themselves I just smile and wish them well.

    1. I love that story, Susan!!! It feels so good to get the respect of our children – yet again and again! I was flabbergasted a month ago when my son took me aside and proclaimed how proud he was of me! It made me want to cry, but I had to “Mom up!”

  2. Oh have I endured questions like these! And I’ve fallen prey to the weed seeds! And I have not handled them in a positive way…not that I have been rude to my customers…instead I internalize them and wonder why I create? But your link to Col Mitchell made me laugh at my past encounters and now I will be fully prepared for a few exhibits I am doing this Fall! Thanks again for your insight! It is SO helpful to me1


  3. One of my favourites: ” How long does it take for you to fire off one of those puppies? ” to which I sarcastically reply ” about 54 years “. ( insert your own age here ). At least I get a chuckle out of it!

  4. The one I hate:
    “You’re getting there”
    aarrrgh! Where is “there?” Is the speaker “there?” No! Never.

    And then there are the complaints about the price. Like I should pay for the supplies and provide the labor/experience/time/creativity for free.

    1. Yes, Trish, there certainly are nicer ways of telling an artist you like their current body of work. Such comments indicate a certain lack of understanding. Complaining about the price also demonstrates a lack of understanding – though it could be misconstrued as a lack of appreciation. Sometimes, I think, it’s nice to simply say, “Well, maybe this isn’t the right work for you.” I occasionally get it with my writing, too. Mostly, I don’t think they ever read the piece and just want to comment. Stick to your guns and you’ll get the respect and prices you deserve….and the collectors you want.

  5. I have internalized them like Deborah Parks. It really hurts. I am now going straight to the answers and see if it can help me. I also have friends that are taking their art to galleries to sell and I’m thinking about taking mine to the farmers market or a church arts and craft show to sell. I guess you have to start somewhere. It does hurt though.

    1. Jennifer, by all means share your work! It’s a process, like everything. It helps that you have the you have the “replies” at your disposal and you’ve learned, through these shared conversations, that when people are insensitive, it isn’t as much about your work as it is about their manners.

  6. I don’t find the comments insulting. I know the general (somewhat uneducated and unexposed to the arts at a young age) public shop at Walmart and Target for art anyway and can’t afford my stuff. Lol

  7. Thanks Michelle,
    I am a full time artist and use to work in a gallery, and had to have a chuckle, those 10, I would hear almost every day, and more! at first I would be hurt, offended, then think of a smart rebuttal, then I just held it in let go and laughed and kept on painting or selling, I enjoy what I do and make a living doing it, They have their reasons I guess, but a lot is just plain old envy? The difference I feel, for someone saying they could do it or their child could is that the artist actually “did it” whereas they “did not” Thanks for the morning smiles this gave me Michelle and commentators. 🙂

  8. I too believe these remarks are caused by a bit of envy. I often show my works at Art Walks and such and sometimes in the local park. My favourite comments are, of course positive ones, often from young girls who see my work and wish to do similar things with their lives. I empower them by telling them they can. Then no amount of ignorance on the part of older people who don’t do art can ruffle me.

    1. Claudia, congratulations on your strong resolve. Although people may make comments about our art, as I was reading your response, I was reminded about my previous work in corporate. There, people would actually argue with ideas for management and organizational changes. They would approach it with so much vigor and behave like the stakes were so high they could change the world! I’m happy to be changing the world one little piece of art at a time. For me, it’s a softer and more fitting approach. Thanks, for chiming in! 🙂

  9. I used to have a great espouse to #6 back in the days when I owned a small retail shop.

    I had a break down off exactly what went into prices, cost of merchandise, ALL the monthly bills -rent, utilities, insurance, payroll, taxes, LLC registration fee. The works. Then I had a second number which was the share of those costs that had to be earned each business day.

    I would get a lot of people who asked for #4. I would tell them that I do not donate merchandise but would be happy to give them a gift certificate. If they questioned that at all I told them that they could count on the fingers of one foot the number of gift certificates that ever came back to me for redemption from “great exposure” at their event. So for the price of a sheet of pear and some ink I could look like a good guy, and helpful to their cause.

    I did once donate a small painting to a local cause I actually wanted to support on the promise of them promoting me. On their website they listed the names of every single person who had anything to do with putting the event together, including the names of all the quilters who made the special quilt they had on display, except for one category which was listed as “all the artisan and crafters who so generously donated to our silent auction”. That was it. Not one of us was named. That organization is now permanently off my list of causes to support.

    1. Dave, I’ve thought a lot about donating art and what outcomes could result, both for the organization I donate to, and me. When I first started making art, it was a great chance to get some exposure and it was a good experience. I suppose for new artists, it’s good way to get involved and gain some experience, too.

      Now, it seems everyone has a request, so I’ve set a limit for charities I’ll donate to in a year (only 2) and if I’m approached by someone I tell them I have a donation “budget” which has already been met for the year – if it has. I’m happy to donate other art related things. For instance…Next month I’m working with a studio group and we’re having a prize drawing. I’m offering museum tickets. I’m also happy to offer a gift certificate at a framing shop or a deep discount on a class I teach.

      I read, sometime back, how this constant donating devalues our work and devalues artists as a group. I wish I could find the article to share with you. It was very thought provoking. I’m still happy to participate, I just don’t donate original artwork very often. I tend to lean toward art education art related donations.

      1. I wish I had thought of that idea about the gift certificate Dave. A few years ago, I offered to donate an artwork to a group of friends who were raising funds to go to the famine-stricken area of Africa to build houses. They auctioned the painting and got €1,100 for it. We were all very pleased with this. A year later I was asked to donate for another charity in the same neighbourhood. I gave another painting ; same size and detail. But this time they only got €400. Since then I donated another painting and it only fetched €200. Well they had this painting to raise funds and so they had to sell it even if it only fetched a tener; It was money towards their charity. But you can see how it degraded or devalued my art. So gift certificates in future from me. Thanks Dave.
        And I notice there are a lot more than 10 things one should never say to us sensitive bunch. Cheers.

  10. I work full time as a professional artist, (45 years) providing for galleries, museums etc. Once a brother-in -law said “It must be fun to have a job where you don’t have to work.” I compared my hours of work to his, as a professional truckdriver, and my hours doubled his! He apologized.

    1. The validation must have been exhilarating, Martin!!! AND, I don’t know about you, but I have much more fun being an artist than I think I would have being a truck driver. Different strokes for different folks! 🙂

    1. I think so, too, Elizabeth! I did include them in the link above – it says “here.” Col Mitchell started the conversation on her blog and one of her readers provided responses to each comment on the list of 10. I also have a reader, in a group, who has offered to do the same. Many of the comments above, on this blog, are witty, educational and very professional. It’s fun to share the “answers!”

  11. I love this! I have a similar list I cut out of a magazine sometime ago. It was titled “Things NOT to say at an art gallery”. It was somewhat different but some the same. If I can find it soon I’ll share it with you because some of them were quite humorous. The only thing I take exception to is not donating to a cause. Maybe it’s because I worked at a non profit for 24 years so I’ve been on that side of it as well. But, even if I hadn’t it’s just in my nature to help. I know you can’t donate to everyone but at least choosing a favorite cause or 2 each year would probably be feasible for most . At the non profit I found that often the people who could most afford it didn’t donate at all or very little and those with much less donated more and consistently. Speaking for myself it’s crucial to support a cause important to me and it always seems to boost my creativity too. Ok, off my soapbox 🙂

    1. Shauna, we may differ on our philosophies about donations. I left a very detailed response above to Dave. I’m happy to donate, but limit the art donations and, instead, donate art related items. I guess, from the time stamp, you may have already read that. Seems we are in different time zones. 🙂 I’d love to know what NOT to say at a gallery. It might keep me out of trouble!

  12. More to add : your work looks just like … Can you change the color of the clothes so it goes with my couch. Can you help my friend a wonderful artist get into the show your in. I would buy a drawing but I have so many already . These are some that have been told to me

    1. I know, James! They’re endless! All the more reason for us to learn to speak to viewers and collectors and be understanding. These comments are not necessarily intended to hurt, they’re the best way that person has of engaging us. There are a lot of industries I don’t understand the nuances of – so I have to forgive and educate. We can compile the funniest lists, though! Thanks for chiming in!

    2. One more comes to mind James. Recently my sister called to our house and came out to see what artwork I was doing. Well I was working on a sculpture, so she says “oh but I thought it was ART you were doing” !!!!!!!!!!!
      Wonder do you know whar that meant

  13. I too frequently get asked “how long did it take you to do that” and of course I never add up the amount of time I spend working on a particular sculpture or painting. But you could easily see that they were trying to establish an hourly rate in the price. And of course it takes every past day of an artists life, including today. (All the anger, heartbreak, mistakes, failings, as well as the success and achievements, and of course the blood, sweat and tears) to get me where I will be tomorrow, and of course I know I will never get “there” I don’t want to, because if there is such a place as “there” well where am I going then.
    But the most insulting that was ever said to me, was a good many years ago, I met an old classmate and he said ti me ” Hello Pat. what are you going with yourself? Are you still at that oul art craic?” Well, I never will forget the ignorance of that.
    Good comments from all. And good luck to all. Its good to know that I’m not on my own.

    1. Yes, Pat, the insulting comment did show a bit of ignorance. You did best to let that one go. As far as the “how long?” question – it seems to me you said it beautifully here, in your comment. Also, sometimes we work on multiple pieces simultaneously, so it can be really hard to say. I understand the curiosity of the question. I also understand sometimes it’s just a calculation to determine if it’s “worth” it. Maybe you should ask them the piece makes them feel. Feelings are priceless. 🙂

  14. This is a great list Michelle, but you missed one that I’ve heard a lot, here it goes: “this is going to be worth a lot.. ONE DAY ”

    I hear that all the time, or whenever I give my art as a gift, then I wonder inside myself… “ONE DAY?.. Isn’t that (my gift) already worth it?”; maybe it’s just that my insecurities cover with negativity people’s comments.

    Not sure if this has happened to someone else, but in my case is pretty common.

    1. Drea, I haven’t heard that one before. It seems people are seeing a lot of value in your art. If they buy it, they’re validating the value (at least they pay the current price). If you’re giving a gift, for me, the comment indicates they see value in your work. Do you think I’m misunderstanding your comment? I don’t think I’d think of it as a negative comment, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding.

      1. Hi Michelle,

        No you’re not misunderstanding, at all (I try to take them positively every time I hear this).

        The thing is when you hear the words “one day”, for me it’s like it diminishes the value of the actual gift in the present, like if it will be valuable one day ONLY if you get to be famous or something.

        Perhaps you haven’t heard that one before because I’m from Ecuador, so is a common thing to say here, all my friends (who work on artistic fields), have heard it from time to time.

        Thank you for the inspiring words, they are very much appreciated! 🙂

  15. I love this, it’s just tickles my funny bone. I had a potter friend. When someone asked him how long it took him to throw a pot, he answered, “Ten minutes plus twenty years.”
    I had a relative once say to me, “I’d like to know what it’s like not to work.” Grr. I turned to this person simultaneously with my mother and together we said “I work/she works!” Artists work hard. We work long hours no one ever knows about, and we think about our art all the time. Blessings to us all!

  16. FYI I make commercial art originals that are reproduced in China.


    1. You can but most of those products are toxic. If you don’t mind that in your home, go for it. You can seek out my commercial artwork at most box stores.
    2.Well that’s just ignorant. I went to college because I love this. I see no need to insult whatever your profession is.(best to say nothing and through a spry smile at them. They will approach and ask “what’s so funny” you if they’re IQ is above 80)
    3.Awesome, you should encourage her to express herself.
    4.I can donate a small piece if I like your cause. (You should market yourself with some business cards etc. on the work.)
    5.I have been practicing daily for over 20 years just like any other expert.
    6.I will gladly break down material cost and my hourly wage which is according to my experience.
    7.Great, I’d love to see the finished product. Here’s my card, send me a pic when you’re done.
    8. Possibly. which ones?
    9.Not my style but thanks for the suggestions.
    10.I don’t appreciate that comment and I would like you to leave the gallery. (Nobody needs that. Gimme a break)

  17. I recently had a friend put that list up on her facebook stating she hates these statements. I did a tattoo for her soon after that – for free, a gift – and she proceeded with number 5, then number 7, then bought a tattoo kit, and in the next few days she was tattooing herself, a few days later, others. I am feeling really hurt about this, since I’m struggling financially and this is one of my few sources of incomes, and she has taken potential clients. Am I wrong to feel this way? I just feel ploughed over.

  18. i don’t sell my art . i am neither a trained artist …i just learnt over the years observing things and ppl…and all! i like to Draw anime style main style of drawings…
    i have come across ppl who’s passion isnt on drawing or painting call other ppl’s work , “not worth” “scribbling”, even worse which i dont like to mention..
    its okay to critic to a level , but saying Awful stuffs like that is totally not cool. i mean they cant even draw to our level, how the heck do they have the right to call our work … err…awfull stuffs

    1. Right, Mya? Some of the comments are just rude. I’m sure most people who make them don’t intend to be rude and responding appropriately is really an art. I love the suggestions and stories readers have shared here. ~ Michelle

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