5 Things Visual Artists, Writers, and Performers HATE To Hear

Growing up as an artist who takes an interest in most aspects of “The Arts”, I’ve come to absolutely hate some of the questions and comments I hear from well-meaning observers. Most people are simply trying to make conversation with you and because they don’t quite “get” how someone can make something look so easy, they’re a little unsure about how to relate. It’s understandable, but after a while, it can get irritating to the artist to have to hear the same things over and over again – some of which, while not intended to be insulting, can be.

I decided to cover three styles of the arts, each with five common irritant comments that I found in my research and this is the result. If you have something not listed here, please leave a reply and let’s discuss it.

Bear in mind that most of my research revealed the descriptions below the items to be handled with no small amount of “snark” and sarcasm. I don’t want to do that as I believe that most of the comments listed are usually done out of either a lack of understanding or a reach for anything to help them relate. In my own experience, rarely has it occurred that someone said any of these things out of spite or rudeness.

 Visual Arts

  1. Could you do one for me for free? (You wouldn’t have to be as detailed)

Okay, so it doesn’t take much thought to understand why this question might be irritating. The assumption is that your work is less than worthy. In fact, this question assumes that your work is worth exactly zero. Money is as much an issue for an artist as it is for anyone else. In our minds, we’re asking if you would be willing to provide YOUR service for free. We might be willing to render something for you, but it will – and should – cost you. A more appropriate question, if you really are interested in commissioning a work – would be, “Do you take commissions?” At that point, the artist will feel more free to discuss the business end of an arrangement, rather than have to figure out a way to tactfully say, “I don’t work for free, buddy.”

  1. My son/daughter/cousin/fill in the blank …can do that.

This is usually meant to aid communication between the observer and the artist. People will typically feel insecure around an artist, so they’ll grab for the first thing they think will bridge the gap to relate. What they don’t realize is that the artist is probably more insecure than they are and the LAST thing they want to think is that you’re making a comparison. Better statement: “What advice could I give to my ____, who is a budding artist?” This starts the conversation with the narrative that the observer appreciates the skill and quality of the artist’s work enough to ask their advice as an expert in the field.

3.                  Can you draw me?

The answer is, “Probably, but I won’t. Not without a commission arrangement or years of learning to do portraiture. Just because I can paint your dog, doesn’t mean I’ve mastered the human face. I, personally, can do portraiture, but it’s the most time consuming and tedious of my skills, and therefore, the most costly. Artists don’t like to admit to not being able to do something, so if they are not already showing you that portraiture is in their wheel house, instead ask if portraiture is one of their services. It’s a more elegantly thought out way to ask the same question and by using “services”, it will likely be understood that you don’t expect a “free sketch”, but a serious commission of their talents.

  1. Can you teach ME to do that?

Innocent enough, but you’re telling the artist that you assume it was easy to learn. At least that will be my knee-jerk reaction. Quality art skills are learned over time and with a crazy amount practice. Add to that, you’re expecting that I’m a good, or even willing, teacher. Ask this instead. “I’ve always wanted to begin learning this skill. Where would you suggest I start?” You’re asking for their advice instead of asking them to buy in to what would be years of commitment to teach you what they know. If they offer classes, it’ll definitely be the very first thing they advise.

  1. You know what you should paint?

Never. And. I. Mean. NEVER. say this to an artist. It’s hard enough to come up with ideas and inspiration for things that we can call our own, so we can’t stand to hear this. Frankly, we’re thinking, “I know YOU should paint it if you’re passionate about it, but I have my to-do list already.” I have a hard time not being snarky about this one, myself, because I think it’s the most insensitive of this list of five. Basically, put yourself in my shoes. How would you feel if I, who knows nothing about your passion, went up to you and made suggestions as to how you should proceed? You’d want me to back off and go do my own thing.


  1. I can give you an idea for something to write.

This is the same type comment as number five in the artists category. I will want to tell you to go ahead and write whatever idea you’ve come up with, but leave me to my own. First, I don’t want to share the credit with you unless I’ve approached you to do some sort of collaboration, which is common and often rewarding, but if I haven’t asked, don’t suggest. If you want to collaborate, approach it that way and have a plan ready to explain as to how you will equally contribute.

  1. Can you write me in as a character?

Nope. Characters are precious and created with love and devotion, not thrown into a story just because. You probably don’t fit into my story and even if you do, you’ll likely have a different name and set of personal details for the protection of you and the writer. By the way, if you know a writer really well, you may already be a character in one of their stories anyway. You just don’t know it.

  1. Can I get a free copy of your book?

This is the money issue again. If you’re willing to give honest, non-biased feedback, you may ask if you could be a beta-reader and help during the process. However, the writer may have strict rules concerning beta readers, such as “No family or friends”. Don’t take it personally. Most writers understand that these people will have a hard time being completely honest and what we’re looking for in a beta reader is honesty so that we can make our writing the best it can be. Ask instead to be included in a mailing list so that you can be notified when the book is officially for sale. This lets the author know that their work is valued and you understand the price that was paid to create it.

  1. Can you help me write my book?

Uggh. This gets all up under an author’s skin. We have to be disciplined enough to make time for writing our own material. We don’t have time to help others write too, unless we’re talking again about collaboration. At that point, it becomes not “Your Book”, but a collaborative work. When I hear this question, I immediately decide that you’re only asking because you’ve failed so far and now want me to drag you through it while you ride my coattails. Most writers don’t have time to baby sit. Ask if I’m interested in an equal collaboration. If I am, I’ll ask what you have in mind. If not, I’ll tell you right out.

  1. I found a typo.

This is usually an attempt to relate to the author and place you on common ground. They don’t feel that they’re quite as “good” as the writer because he or she finished something and they didn’t, so they point out errors. This is fine if the author has asked for your editing skills, but not fine if they simply asked you to read for content.

Performance Artists

  1. (Dancers) I took dance when I was a child.

Again, they just want to relate to you. You’ve just performed with a set of skills they wish they had and this is a way to cover the distance between you. It’s a poor way to do it, though. Whether it’s dancing or singing or acting, the performer has dedicated time and energy to learning learning that skill well enough to present it publicly. If you took dance as a child, but quit, it really does nothing to help you relate. It makes an awkward moment where the performer now has to figure out a tactful way to reply.

  1. (Actors) Do you still do your little skits?

Most theatrical performers take their craft seriously. We do “productions”, not “skits”. It seems petty, but the way you evaluate our performance is of the utmost importance. If an artist paints a canvas and gets it wrong, sometimes they can go back and work on it more to fix the problem. A performance is made and done. There’s one shot to get it right. They may be able to work on it for the following performance during a show’s run, but each individual performance is a stand-alone piece of art for the performer. The amount of work that goes into a production is so vast that anything other than the most respectful of ideals about it is like a dagger to the heart. If you can’t think of it as any more than a skit, please refrain from mentioning it at all. The word “production” will work every time because it conveys the work that goes into entertaining an audience.

  1. Have you done any real acting, like movies or Broadway?

There are a limited amount of roles in movies and professional theatre. To assume that the only way to be considered a “real” actor is if you are one of the privileged few to land those roles is in error. The amount of talent available in any given area of the world might blow your mind. Acting, like any art, is a process of non-stop learning and improvement. A “real” actor is anyone who has the guts to stand under the lights and deliver a performance to an audience because they love being there and crave the forward motion of learning the craft.

  1. You need to slow down. Theatre is going to kill you.

That’s your opinion. It’s best to live your own life, instead of telling others how to live theirs, even if your intentions are good. I’m happiest and the least stressed when I’m performing onstage and that includes the entire process of rehearsing until all hours of the night and having to memorize lines, blocking, and choreography. People tend to advise based on their own beliefs and feelings. What’s good for you may not be good for me.

  1. Any nit-picky critique. (I heard you miss a note), (I heard you drop your accent for a second), or (Don’t think I didn’t notice that … name-the-flaw)

The likelihood that an actor or director didn’t catch it is extremely low. We’ve rehearsed the material so many times that we hear it in our sleep. We appreciate that you’re paying attention, but a comment like this is telling us you want to bring us down. As much as you might think so, there’s nothing helpful about it. Believe me, we will have noticed it too and will probably obsess over it endlessly. It’s no use pouring salt into the wound.

There are tons more of these and I’m interested in hearing yours. Reply in the comments and we’ll brood over them together. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. There are buttons at the top of the post.


Harnessing The Power Of Discipline


I didn’t want to write this blog post or record the accompanying podcast episode. It’s been a tough week – several tough weeks, in fact – and as I age, I find it harder to push through and make things happen as planned. Being a creative type person, I tend to plan big and see things on a grand scale that often ends up with a much humbler reality and it becomes a stretch to reach the finish line.

I’ve learned something about myself, though. I’ve figured out that if I put some thought into it and make reasonable plans, I can usually finish strong. I also find that I feel so much better overall when I utilize a powerful resource, even when I don’t want to.

That resource is discipline.

For years I talked the good talk and started what seems like thousands of projects, all with the best of intentions and the grandest of visions. Most of them were even doable, but I was easily distracted by something new and suddenly, I found excuses not to put in the effort that would see any of those projects completed.

Until very recently, I blamed it all on a lack of focus and while there is a bit of truth to that, I can’t lump it all into that category. The more I think about it, I realize that a lack of discipline has been my main problem. I get bored once the rubber meets the road. What I mean by that is the issue of being excited at first when the page is blank or the canvas is all white. I can’t wait to type that first paragraph or make that first mark. The reality is, however, that quality work takes time and patience, which is only achieved with a devout attitude of discipline.

Good writing requires editing and rewriting. Visual art is greatest when the artist pains over a piece until they feel its completion in their soul. Even great abstract art has a flow and a message – not just paint thrown onto a surface randomly.

I would wager that if any artist who has a problem finishing things would think it over and be honest with themselves, they would see lack of discipline as the root of their issue.

I have started novel after novel and could usually get to about forty or fifty pages before I was looking at something new. It wasn’t that I didn’t care for the story. It’s just that there was always another story that needed to be written and getting started is more fun and exciting than slogging through the middle. I have so many unfinished drawings and paintings that have sat in my studio and one that even adorns the wall. It’s been there for years and everyone says it’s done, except for me. I refuse to sign it because there are a few small touches I feel need to be made before I call it finished and my hesitance to complete it has nothing to do with inspiration. I just keep seeing other projects out of the corner of my eye that would be fun to start.

As an author, I seem to have solved the discipline problem. I’ve managed to complete two stage plays and a novel by being strictly disciplined and I’m starting to turn that corner with my visual art as well.

Here’s what I’ve come to know:

If you don’t get a handle on it and become disciplined in your artistic endeavors, you may die having never completed anything.

Ask yourself if that’s what you really want. I understand that being an artist is synonymous with being loose and carefree. You may not like the idea at all of being rigidly disciplined. That’s okay if it makes you happy. But I still urge you to ask yourself that question and be honest with your answer.

I know I don’t want there to be nothing to show for my efforts when I’m gone except for a bunch of unfinished stories and half painted canvases.

Isn’t the idea as an artist to leave the world a better place because of the art that you contributed? Don’t we want the world to inherit something from us that it can learn from or at least enjoy?

Discipline is the key. I’ve come to believe that wholeheartedly. By being disciplined, I can leave my own stamp on the world and while future takers in of my work may not be all that impressed, they’ll never be able to say I didn’t finish the race.

How do you become disciplined?

It’s simple. Tackle one thing at a time until completion. New ideas will come at you, hopefully, from every direction, but you have to store them somewhere. Write them down and give them an order of priority. Whatever you do, don’t stop the thing you’re creating at the moment until it’s done. A new idea may even come along that you would have prioritized over your current project, but it came later. If it’s that great, it can be the next thing, but stay on task. Stay disciplined. Give your work all of you and make it the best it can be to the very end.

When you don’t feel great, but you need to create, don’t make excuses. Create.

I said at the beginning of this post that I didn’t feel like writing this. I almost put it off for another day. I told myself to push through and do it anyway and now that I’m writing, I feel inspired and my fingers are speeding across the keyboard. I’m also excited to bullet point this and record the podcast episode as well.

We’re artists. We were made to create, but so often we sabotage ourselves by giving in to procrastination or tired bones. And while it’s true that we need to have rest and should definitely recharge and give our bodies what it needs, we also tend to use stuff like that as an excuse.

I’m going to urge you one more time to ask yourself that all-important question, the answer to which may change your life as an artist and help you finally see that goal of finishing what you start.

Are you going to become disciplined or are you going to continue flitting from one thing to the next with nothing to show for it?

The world is waiting to see what it will inherit from you.

I’d love to find out what you think about discipline and hear your stories. Comment below or email me at feedback@michaelblackston.com

Michael Blackston is the owner and founder of Blackston Arts Etching, Art By Blackston, and My Everything Arts.

How To Nail An Audition

Links to things mentioned in the podcast:

Throat Coat from Traditional Medicimals

I’ve been performing onstage since I was five years old. Now granted, it’s never been professional and my first solo at that tender age was no more than a cute little song, Dead Eye Dick to be precise, that I performed while straddling a a stick horse and pretending to squirt the audience with a water gun. But they loved me. And that was the match that lit the embers of my love for the performing arts.

I went from there to performing in a couple of small things with a local children’s troupe, then traveling a state over to be “kid in the background” for several stage productions like, Oliver, The Music Man, and Annie Get Your Gun.

It was there that I got my first real experience in the audition process and since that time, I’ve acquired quite a long list of appearances in auditions.

By now, I’ve delivered what seems like a million lines and songs onstage in front of an audience. And while I rarely get what you’d call nervous before a performance, I do still get that twinge of butterflies just before curtain that I attribute more to the excitement of getting to be onstage in a few moments.

However, there is still one part of the process of live theatre that tears up my nerves, leaving me with that jelly-legged feeling and that’s the audition. Continue reading How To Nail An Audition

How To Take A Compliment – MEA 003

Are you one of those people that feels awkward and doesn’t really know the right way to respond when given a compliment? It may seem like a silly question, but the truth is that taking a compliment the right way is a stumbling block for a lot of artists.

I liken it to the way you can sometimes feel when attending a funeral and it’s time to go say something the family of the deceased. You know there is a correct thing to say and so many things you should NEVER say, but the trouble is, sometimes those things get blurry and we can wind up with a foot firmly positioned in our mouth region.

You don’t want to come across as if you disagree with the person giving you some love, but neither do you want to seem arrogant. It’s a predicament for some, so what do you do? Continue reading How To Take A Compliment – MEA 003

Facing Your Artistic Fears Like A Boss – MEA 002

I had fears about starting this podcast that caused me to delay.

  • Fear of sounding foolish.
  • Fear that I’ll put a lot of work into it and no one will listen.
  • Fear that it won’t see growth.

After all, I’m not a traditionally published author, I’ve won no awards for visual art, and I have no degree from any artistic institution. So who am I to host a podcast or write a blog that offers advice about all – or any – aspect of the arts?

My fears are driven by insecurity and insecurity plays a part in so many fears artists have.

Fear is probably THE major contributor to work NOT being produced or finished and I want to tackle that to see if we can uncover some possible solutions to the problem. Continue reading Facing Your Artistic Fears Like A Boss – MEA 002

How To Find That Elusive Inspiration – MEA 001

There are lots of reasons someone might “lose their mojo”.

  • You’re bored with doing the same old thing every time you sit down to create.
  • You hit a bump in the road when it comes to your skill and it feels like you’ll never get it, so the block comes from frustration.
  • The world around you could be too loud
  • Your head is full of so many things you want to create that you can’t sit still and focus on anything without flitting from one thing to another.

There’s good news and bad news.

  • Bad news first – the solution might not happen overnight
  • Good news – If you persist, you can come out of it

Continue reading How To Find That Elusive Inspiration – MEA 001