“Oh. You’re An Artist.”

Last week one of my students came to me frustrated because she doesn’t know how to answer the question- “What do you do for a living?”

It seems so innocent on the surface, doesn’t it?

But a lot of artists tense up when they hear it.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m an artist.”

Queue the awkward silence.

You know what I mean, right? During that pause that lasts forever, you’re trying to figure out if they’re really interested. And if they are, how much you should tell them? Are you setting yourself up for an interesting conversation or a defense of the arts?

Our imagination fills that gap with worst-case scenarios:

  • They’re going to ask how much money I make.
  • Or if I make ANY money.
  • They’ll ask if I show in galleries. I don’t yet and that makes me self-conscious.
  • They’ll think I’m a flake.
  • They’ll think I can’t take care of myself.
  • They’ll tell me about their aunt’s sister-in-law’s cousin’s son who’s still living in his parent’s basement… working on a bunch of art that no one has seen.
  • They’ll talk about Bob Ross.
  • They’ll ask if I can draw Mickey Mouse.
  • They’ll say nothing, mumble something unintelligible and head for the nearest exit.

It’s not that you’re making those scenarios up.

I pulled every single one of those examples from my vast library of things people say when I tell them I’m an artist.

Most common is the incredulous- “And you ACTUALLY make a LIVING at that?!”.

Ugh. They happen.


Which is why this question from my student is so relevant:
“How do I answer that in a way that shows them I’m a serious artist, without coming off as defensive, arrogant, or like I’m suddenly going to whip out my portfolio and beg them to buy something?”

It’s a great question.

Tomorrow I’ll give you my take, but first I want to hear from you:

How do you answer that?

Let’s all compare notes! Leave your answers in the comments below.

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  • I say, “ I am an artist, an oil painter. If you are interested in seeing my work I can give you a business card with my website on it.”

  • I find myself asking ‘what is the definition of an artist?’ I don’t feel like I fit the definition in my head so when I am asked what I do I stutter and always have difficulty coming up with something. I manage to leave people puzzled, but at least they don’t ask anymore questions ? I have to say though, that listening to your podcasts helps realize I am not alone and is very helpful and motivating.

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