The Non-Artist’s Guide to Speaking to Artists: 10 Things NOT to Say

Dear non-artist partners, friends, parents, siblings, neighbors, collectors and gallerists, 

Have you ever said something to an artist and got a glaring look, silent treatment, roll of the eye, tears, a canvas thrown at the wall, or criticism back about something you’re endeavoring to do? Did you wonder what happened? 

I can tell you what happened. I’d like to help you with this handy list of what NOT to say, ask or do to the artists in your life. 

An original oil painting of a still life titled Lily Peace by Kelli Folsom featuring blue and white asian ginger jar white lilies

We know you don’t understand and do mean well, but I hope this list of what not to say to artists will at least spare you from drama and trauma. (This is all in good fun by the way) 

  1. Long pause. I like it. What is this right here?   Uh oh. Here comes drama trauma. Always say you love it and if you don’t know what something is just don’t ask. 
  2. Wow, that looks really good, looks just like a photograph! Please avoid this soul-crushing comment. You think it’s good, but it’s not. That’s all you need to know. 
  3. Oh, I love your paintings they remind me of _________ (fill in the blank with whatever crummy artist you know of…ahem Thomas Kincaid).  It literally doesn’t matter who you say here unless that is the artist that we worship at the daily altar of. This one is just too risky and should be avoided.
  4. I really love that frame. Where did you get it? Complimenting the frame and not the art is insulting. You prioritized the frame and not the art. Think it. Don’t say it. 
  5. I’ve noticed you haven’t been painting very much lately. Ouch! Let me get my box of shame to crawl into. As a rule, never comment on how much or how little we are creating.
  6. Hey, my Mom, Grandma, Aunt, Uncle Bob, and his parakeet used to paint. Just ask the artist about their art. Be inquisitive. Chances are they don’t want to hear about your relative’s painting. 
  7. You know what you should paint or have you ever thought of painting this? This is possibly the worst offender. You’re so disinterested in what the artist creates you’re recommending what you’d like them to create. Yes, they’ve thought about it and the decision was already made.
  8. How long did that take you?  Why is that important? It doesn’t matter. This isn’t about time, it’s about art. This again just shows that you’re not that interested in the actual art.
  9. So is this like…. your job (with an inflection of disbelief and confused look)? Oh boy. An artist doesn’t know how to respond to that. They don’t know if your surprised, insulted, in disbelief because our art is so bad. Just avoid this one.
  10. How’d you do that? If you’re getting a blank stare it’s because we’re trying to assess whether or not you’re really interested in the two-hour discussion that’s about to take place or if you just want to hear, “I dip a hairy stick into some paint and then move it around until it looks like something.” Neither response is very satisfying to either party so just avoid this question too. 

I’d hate to leave you with this list of what not to say (even though it’s all in good fun) without giving you some idea of what to say to the artist in your life.

Here’s what’s useful: 

Tell us what makes you connect to the painting and why. 

Show genuine interest in the artwork and the artist. Ask questions about the actual artwork. What interested us in painting it? What is our favorite part of the painting? 

Compliment the painting. 

Affirm the artist for their efforts. 

If asked for an opinion give it with the precursor that you aren’t an artist or an expert. 

If you don’t have something nice to say….you know the rest.

A photo of an original oil painting on panel of a still life painting of white and pink roses in a vase.
The Fullness of Beauty, 12 x 12, oil on panel
A photo of an original oil painting on panel of a floral still life painting of purple irises in a confit jar and grapes.
Awaiting The Irises Dance, 18″ x 14″, oil on panel

Love in Light, Kelli

One thought on “The Non-Artist’s Guide to Speaking to Artists: 10 Things NOT to Say

  1. I enjoyed this commentary because I have experienced pretty much All of these questions/comments. I’m too timid…and want to get back in to painting and need basic questions answered…kindly.
    I would really like an easel like the one you were using in the oeta clip about Chasing Light.

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