“What do you do?”
For an artist, this is one of the most dreaded questions—because we know that when we say, “I’m an artist,” a well-intentioned yet awkward exchange will most likely ensue.
The life of an artist is often misunderstood. I’ve seen and experienced how attempts to connect with us can turn sour because of this lack of understanding. In my interactions with non-artists, I’ve found myself wishing more and more that someone would write a guide on how to properly connect with artists.
Then, in true artist fashion, I decided to just do it myself. So here are 10 tips for how to successfully connect with, interact with, and—most importantly—love an artist.
1. Don’t give us unsolicited advice.
Like Erykah Badu said, “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my sh*t.”
It can be difficult to separate the art we create from who we are, and your criticism of our art often feel like a criticism of our person. You may not be aware of how much time we already spend in self-critique, so learning to detach from the criticism of our creations is necessary to preserve our sanity.
Art life looks fun and easy, but the path of an artist is challenging and not at all clear-cut. We are building our lane from scratch, day by day. Contract negotiator, social media strategist, and booking agent are just some of the other roles we assume in order to manage the business of our creative side. We always appreciate help, but please, be cautious with your unsolicited feedback and criticisms. We’re doing the best we can.
2. Don’t ask us about our finances.
The general consensus is that making a living with art is not feasible, and we grapple with this concept of the “starving artist” constantly. It’s a daily accomplishment to ignore our glaring need for financial security while balancing our need for creative expression.
Some of us work side jobs, odd jobs, and full-time day jobs to ensure that we can eat while still producing and creating, because creativity is what makes our lives livable. Yes, we know it’s not the most stable way to exist. No, you’re not the first person to bring that to our attention. So please, unless you’re offering to be our patron, spare us that conversation and let us enjoy our overpriced grande soy latte in peace.
3. Stop saying our art is a “hobby.”
Too many people dismiss art as frivolous, which may be why arts funding in public education is often under attack. We may not be doctors or lawyers, but our contribution to society is valid and important. The clothes you wear on dates, the décor in your home, the music you play while driving to work, the movies and TV shows you binge watch on weekends, the poems you send your lover—you can thank artists for those.
We create those things that give color to your life. We remind you of the beauty of being human. Artists have created the soundtrack to many a revolution, and have been the spark that ignites the fire of global change. We don’t just mirror the world as it is now, but present to you the world as it could be.
We take our art seriously, and we think you should, too.
4. Know that our relationships affect our art.
Artists draw inspiration from everywhere. If we are close to you, there is a strong chance that you are informing our art in some way. This, in and of itself, is an act of love and appreciation. You are our muse, and our art is a living testament to our interactions.
If you want to be memorialized, love an artist. Our art will love you back.
5. Do not glamorize our self-destructive habits.
It is commonplace for artists to use personal pain in our art, but the cliché of the tortured artist is harmful. There is nothing artistic about struggling with crippling depression and anxiety—mental illnesses that can be horribly exacerbated by a life of constant rejection and uncertainty. We can be particularly susceptible to developing alcohol or drug addictions to cope with the pain of being human and the pain of being an artist. And notions such as “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” normalize our self-destructive behaviors.
We feel deeply, but when you glorify our pain and equate our suffering with our talent, it creates unhealthy attachments to experiences and behaviors that shouldn’t be continued. Support our art by supporting our personal health and healing.
6. Understand our scatterbrained nature.
Creative types can be completely scatterbrained. During a calm dinner, it may be hard for us to switch our brains off when a stroke of inspiration comes to us. We know, it’s not convenient. But we have ideas swirling around in our heads at all times, and it may take us quite some time to learn how to moderate these ideas while making space to stay present with our family and friends.
We can’t control when the next idea will hit us, but we are capable of loving and being present. Please be patient with us. We just may need extra help sorting through the cacophony of voices and over-stimulation that is our brain.
7. Know that “I don’t have time” is not an excuse.
Art doesn’t fit neatly into a 9-5 schedule. Our days and nights can be extremely unpredictable. Sometimes, we hardly work at all. Other times, we may make plans and cancel last minute because of a music gig, audition notice from an agent, or a quick turn-around commission piece. It’s not indicative of our appreciation for you, trust me. It’s just that sometimes art employment is feast or famine, and we often are only as good as our next gig.
Understand that when it’s “go” time, we may disappear for a bit. Celebrate our new project with us or text us an encouraging word. Stop by with our favorite food (because it’s likely that we may be burning the midnight oil and haven’t stopped to eat). I promise, when things let up, you’ll hear from us as if we never left.
8. Love us like people.
Some people have turned dating or befriending an artist into a fetish. It may be trendy to date, say, a musician or an actor, or have a BFF that is a muralist. But we’re just people, and we want to be loved for who we are. Regardless of how large our following or fan base is, or the number of accolades we receive or do not receive, please treat us the same.
Success in an artistic field often comes with a pedestal and the blinding light of celebrity. And the public exposure associated with that celebrity can leave us feeling vulnerable and constantly under scrutiny. We want to know that we have the freedom to be human and flawed.
9. Support us.
When you can, support us monetarily. We know that you may not always have the money to do so, but there are other ways to spread your love for us. Promoting us to your network goes a long way. Come to our gigs, watch our plays, come to our gallery openings, wear our products. Book us for your next birthday photo shoot. Read our latest writing. Write reviews for us. Recommend our work. Tag us, repost us, retweet us.
Your support and voice may be the difference between us eating and not eating, or us securing our next dream job.
10. Give us space to not be an artist.
Art fatigue is real. Sometimes, we are so completely done with art and all things art-related. When we reach that point, honor our feelings. This may be the hundredth time we’ve pledged to leave the art world behind, but let us have our moment. Respect our need to distance ourselves from the art world.
It’s such a gift when our loved ones allow us space and encourage us to remember self-care. Have compassion when we say that we don’t want to talk about art.
Just be there with us, in the moment.
Being an artist can be a blessing and a burden for us and those who love us. If you have patience and compassion, loving an artist can be a truly life-changing experience. Give your artist friends and family a hug. They need it.
If you’re currently loving an artist, thank you. And if you’re not, find an artist to love today.
Author: Candice D’Meza
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman