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What Not to Say to Artists

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.


7 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 children's 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 don'ts 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.

1. I wish I had time to paint.

Me too! 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. Let's 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.

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

— Thomas Edison

Merrily McCarthy drawing

Merrily McCarthy drawing

2. Do you know any famous artists?

Well, I know a lot of artists. Some are highly skilled and proficient in their craft. I've met some that are quite renowned but that doesn't mean you have ever heard of them. 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.

Oil Painting

Ron Jarvi painting

Ron Jarvi painting

3. 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 gets 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, as 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.

4. 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.

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5. 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.

Torn and Cut Paper Collage

Collage of my daughter, Kim.

Collage of my daughter, Kim.

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.

6. 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.

7. 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


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

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 29, 2021:


Yes! It isn't a hobby, it's my life. If it's a job, I can only say: I GET to do this all day long... and they pay me! What could be better than that?

By the way, don't change your style for anyone. Your style is your voice. Your voice is like a fingerprint: unique to you and no one else in the world has one just like it. Keep it.

Thanks for commenting.



FellowArtist! on April 02, 2018:

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!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 26, 2015:

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 from Saginaw, Michigan on October 19, 2015:

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!!!!!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 24, 2015:

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



Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on February 11, 2015:

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!"

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on January 10, 2015:

Thank you everyone for your great comments.

Lauren Graham from Crazy-- it's a state of mind on November 10, 2014:

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.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on June 09, 2014:

@reasonablerobby: Ha! That's a good one! Thanks for visiting.

reasonablerobby on June 09, 2014:

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?'

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 26, 2014:

@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 on May 26, 2014:

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?

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 17, 2014:

@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.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 17, 2014:

@Ibidii: Thank you so much.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 17, 2014:

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

mistyriver on May 17, 2014:

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!

Ibidii on May 17, 2014:

Awesome lens and awesome art work Denise!

Ibidii on May 17, 2014:

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

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 17, 2014:

@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.

Fay Favored from USA on May 17, 2014:

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. :)

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 14, 2014:

@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.

Freck209 on May 14, 2014:

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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