17 Things You Should Never Say to an Artist

People say the most unbelievably insulting things to artists.

More than likely these people are just saying whatever comes into their heads and don’t mean to be offensive, but they still are!

Get off on the right foot when talking to an artist by never saying the things listed below.


A storm of abstract colors with purple, red and green being prominent

Purple, red, green, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30 cm, by M.K. Hajdin

1. What’s that supposed to be?

Abstract artists hear this all the time.   Abstract paintings are not supposed to be anything but arrangements of colors and shapes on a canvas.  People who don’t have a lot of knowledge about art often get lost without a visual reference to something they can recognize, and out pop unintentionally rude questions like this.  It’s insulting, because it implies that the artist has tried to create a representational painting and has failed at it.
Instead, try saying, “What inspired these colors and shapes?”  Or talk about how the colors make you feel.

2. That looks just like a photograph!

Realistic and hyper-realistic artists hear this all the time.   It’s insulting, because it implies that there is no element of the artist’s self-expression in it.
Instead, try saying, “That’s incredibly detailed” or “That took a lot of skill.”  Because it does.

3. How long did it take you to paint that?

All of the artist’s career plus how many hours spent applying paint to substrate.
Many artists hate this question, because it implies that art doesn’t take any real skill unless thousands of hours are spent on it.  Only the Old Masters had that kind of time, and that’s because they hired assistants.

An abstract painting with green, pink, black, yellow and red.
Green, Pink, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 cm, by M.K. Hajdin

4. What does this painting mean?  What are you trying to say?

A painting is not complete until the viewer reacts to it.  It is the viewer that decides what a painting means, if anything.   If you need a clue, try reading the artist statement.
The artist has done their job; now it’s time for you, the viewer, to do yours.   If you decide it means nothing to you, that’s fine.

5. Wow, it costs THAT much?  No one will ever buy that for that price!

People who say this often aren’t familiar with what art really costs.   Art costs money, often a lot of money.
If it’s beyond your budget, you can say so without disparaging the piece.  Say “That’s beyond my budget.”  Simple.

6. How much money do you make?  Can you actually make a living doing this?

It is rude to ask anybody else how much money they make, or imply that they can’t make a living, so why do you think it’s okay to ask an artist this?

7. Can you design a tattoo for me / make a painting of my dog?

Look at the artist’s body of work.  Do you see any tattoos or pet portraits?  Then the answer is no.    It’s like asking an artist to come over and paint the outside of your house.  (Unless you’re talking about a mural to a mural artist, don’t.)

Abstract painting with a dynamic red background and a light purple swish.

Red, Purple 2 by M,K. Hajdin

8. Can you design my wedding invitations?  I can’t pay you, but I’ll get you in for free.

Fine art and designing wedding invitations are two seperate skills, both of which deserve to be compensated.  Don’t insult an artist by asking them to work for free.

9. Will you do the artwork/design for my event?  I can’t pay you, but it’ll be great exposure, get your name out there.

Artists die of exposure.”     You go your job every day and expect to get paid, don’t you?  You don’t give away your labor for free, so don’t ask an artist to do it.  Making a living as an artist is hard enough as it is.

10. Will you paint something really cool for me? I’ll give you twenty bucks.

This kind of question is asked by people who have no idea what kind of money a skilled artist is worth.   If you want an artist to paint something “really cool”, it will depend on whether that artist accepts commissions and it is sure to cost you more than $20.  Don’t insult an artist with low-ball offers.

 11. But what is your real job? / What else do you do?

This implies that art is not a real job and the artist is just goofing around in his or her spare time.

12. You’re lucky – you don’t have to work.

Making art is work,  just like any other job.  We may be doing what we love, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work.   A businessperson who loves running a business never gets accused of not working.  I often struggle with paintings.  And I work longer at my job than most people who work 9 to 5.

13. I could do that. / My kid could do that. / I could do that with a Photoshop filter.

But you didn’t.  So don’t say it. It implies that being an artist takes no skill.  If you really think being an artist takes no skill, go ahead and try to do it in Photoshop.
N.B.  Using Photoshop is a skill.

Instead, if you don’t like it, try saying, “That’s not really my thing,” or  “That doesn’t grab me,”  or “I’m not feeling it.”  It gets your point across without being rude.

Purple with yellow ochre in an abstract design

Purple, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 cm, by M.K. Hajdin

14. Keep trying, you’ll get it eventually.

I’ve already got it, thanks.
You’re not being encouraging, you’re implying that an artist is a beginner.

15. Hey, you are pretty good! My 6 year old loves to draw – can you teach her?

Unless you know that the artist is also a teacher who works with kids, don’t ask this.   And if the artist IS a teacher who works with kids, don’t expect him or her to teach your child for free.  Teaching is a skill that deserves compensation.

16. Can you make me a painting exactly like this one?

It’s unethical to ask an artist to copy another artist’s work.

17. Will you sell me a painting outside of your gallery?  You should give me a big discount, because I’m cutting out the middleman.

Some art buyers try to undercut galleries by going directly to the artist’s studio and expecting a big discount.   Don’t.  Ethical artists won’t agree to undercut their gallery.  It ruins the relationship with the gallery and can negatively impact an artist’s career.   Making a few extra bucks is not worth that.


Want to know more about how to talk to artists?  Click here.

Artists, have I forgotten anything?  Let me know in the comments below!






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2 thoughts on “17 Things You Should Never Say to an Artist

  1. Pingback: 6 ways to talk to an artist about their work | M.K. Hajdin

  2. Pingback: What Not To Say To An Artist | There Are So Many Things Wrong With This

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