what not to say to an artist

IMG_2075my imagining of hawkeye, commission

“You’re so lucky you can draw.”

I’ve been drawing like mad lately, and one of the frequent responses I get (from the most well-intentioned of people) is, “Wow, you draw so well…you’re so lucky!” At that point, the compliment goes from – well, complimentary to irritating. It isn’t the person irritating me, it’s the phrasing. Because let me tell you something – there is no luck involved. I was born with the desire to draw, but I didn’t come out of the womb as an art prodigy. I can draw well now because I’ve logged in thousands and thousands of hours hunched over paper with crayons, pens, and pencils in my hand. I’ve scribbled on napkins, white boards, my arm. My hands have been covered in ink and lead and graphite. I’ve thrown away more drawings than I’ve kept. I’ve continued to draw even when I feel all my skill has been sucked out of me.

I don’t put much stock in talent. Loads of people have it. The thing is, if you don’t improve in your talent, it’s worth diddly squat. So please, for the love of all that is good and green in this world, don’t tell an artist they’re lucky they can draw. You might get attacked with a permanent marker.

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20 thoughts on “what not to say to an artist

  1. Good point there. Another thing people tend to say when reacting to art of any kind (writing included), is “How do you do that?” Um. I just do. A lot. It’s this little thing called practice. ;)

    (Or sometimes they say they wish they could do that, and then I feel awkward trying to come up with a response. What are you supposed to say??)

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    1. Once someone asked me if I had drawn the picture I was CURRENTLY DRAWING, so I took the Tumblr idea and just said, “This? I don’t know where this came from!” I think I really nonplussed them. I felt slightly bad about it later, but not too bad. XD

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      1. You’d think it’d be obvious, right? XD

        I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on those people. I find myself reacting similarly when it comes to skills I admire but don’t possess. Music, for one. Maybe we all need to remember what’s really behind skill, and compliment accordingly. :)

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  2. but seriously. I’ve watched your art improve to absolutely beautiful in the years I’ve known you…and I can only imagine what I’d think as a {n eventual} doctor if somebody said “Oh, you’re so lucky you can diagnose that!” XD
    yes, you and I both have a head start on life in that we’re in a place where we can spend our time like we do and have family that supports us in that…(that part, I suppose, could be considered “lucky”?)
    but given that, you could have done a lot of other things that, looking at your art, I’m presuming you didn’t. :)
    the fact remains that I’m jealous of your artistic ability and will continue drooling over your pictures, but it’s always with the knowledge that I’ve developed a different skill set. XD

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  3. Yes, I do think this applies to every artist. Talent absolutely plays a part, but hard work is what really makes art shine. So keep up your hard work- the results are beautiful! :)

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  4. THANK YOU! *cough*Iknowpeoplewhoneedtoreadthispost*cough*
    Another thing that people always say that eventually gets annoying is “You’re so good at drawing! You should work for Disney or Pixar!” Like I can just decide “I’m going to go work for Pixar now. See ya!” Uh, that’s not how it works. It takes YEARS of struggle and hard work to get into a studio that well-known. And I appreciate the compliment, but it often only makes me feel worse that I’m not there yet. :-/

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  5. I recently got into drawing after a period of no activity at all, but personally I find the worst thing you could ask or do to an artist is ask or guess what they are drawing when they have finished the majority of it and are just adding finishing touches and cleaning it up. I know I probably shouldn’t take it the wrong way, but I feel it almost implies that what I’ve drawn is not very good and cannot be interpreted correctly even when it seems obvious to me.

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