A few weeks ago, I found this pretty informative and amusing article about common artist misconceptions. It got me to thinking about other stereotypes that I’ve encountered in the art world. A lot of them are total myths but there are some out there that are pretty true and have occupied a nagging space in the back of my mind, so I thought I’d finally get them out there in the open:
1. You’re not a real artist if you have a day job.
I’ve touched on this subject a few times but let’s be clear: it’s not easy making a living off of art alone. It’s not impossible but more often than not, you have to have something else going on to put food on the table and pay for rent (especially if you live in New York), a mortgage, etc. Furthermore, you don’t even have to have a crappy day job you hate just so you can do your art; some people just like to create art to add another dimension to their life or to express themselves. It’s even arguable that people who do have day jobs have it easier because they aren’t under so much pressure to produce art so that they can support themselves and can experiment and create more freely. Different strokes for different folks.
2. You’re not a real artist unless you dress like a hipster and have a massive attitude problem.
Now, I realize hipster-bashing is practically a sport these days but I do find it interesting that people who fall into that category do have certain group traits that are noticeable and at times, seem pretty irritating. I’ve noticed, at least here in NYC, that these folks seem to go to great lengths to dress in ways that they perceive as unique because they think it looks funky, or it came from the same flea market that all the artsy types shop at, or it’s vintage or something. But what kills me about this is that in their quest to look unique, THEY ALL END UP LOOKING THE SAME. Don’t believe me? Go hang out in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and you’ll see what I mean.
Add to that “look”, you’ll also have the whole attitude problem that ranges from the dismissive to “I’m really deep because of the way I dress and my zip code”. I’ll end this point with an amusing little personal story. A few months ago I went to investigate an art space for a possible solo show out in Long Island City. I went over there straight after work and was decked out in my little office gear. As I sat there waiting for the gallery director, a small group of 20-something hipster looking people walked in to set up their installation. They gave me the once over, where at least one of them looked at me like I was Satan’s shepherd, and then walked off. Later on, when they realized that I was also an artist, they tried to warm their chilly reception with some fake smiles. Too late! Y’all get an F.
3. Artists are flaky/never show up on time for anything/ureliable
Being a Type B+ kind of person, this is a stereotype that I would like to see die but quite frequently come across it a lot. It’s not to say that all artists are hippies who plan their activities around the alignment of the planets, but I have seen quite a few that are just a little too laid-back and passive and let opportunities pass them by, thereby irritating others by not meeting deadlines or appointments not showing up when they’re supposed to, and generally being oblivious to common courtesy and practical skills. Some of that may be tied to personality but I also think that a lot of art education programs drop the ball on that. As a result, they come out of school clueless or they’re trapped in this whole “I’m an artist. I just want to create” mess. I’ve encountered this issue when I’ve proofread proposals, helped plan group exhibitions, art charity events or helped artists go over their contracts. I have nothing against being a free spirit but if you’re really serious about taking it to the next level, you have to step up your game and get some practical skills in your arsenal.
4. Artists don’t read the fine print in their contracts
Please, for the love of Sweet Minty Jesus, read the fine print.
5. Galleries are perfectly entitled to take huge commissions because they validate you as an artist and are doing you a favor.
The great thing about the art world is that there are a lot of artists out there. The bad thing about the art world is that there are a lot of artists out there. Because there’s such a surplus, galleries can afford to be selective and demanding when it comes to what they’re willing to do for artists and how much of a commission that they’ll take from sales.Since so many artists are dying to get noticed, they often put up with it. They don’t have to; there are a variety of alternatives, which also include putting your foot down and negotiating for a better deal. Don’t let fear of pissing a gallery director off keep you from standing up for yourself. You’ll be happier for doing so. (This is also why it’s not such a bad idea to have a day job. See point #1)
I’m sure that over time this list will grow and I repeat, this doesn’t apply to ALL artists, galleries or hipsters. Nevertheless, I still might have to dodge some angry comments and hate mail but I had to get this off my chest.
I feel so much better for doing so.