Advice for Those Who Want to Help the Artists in Their Lives

A nice man named Curt recently wrote me a heartfelt email. He had a strong desire to help his introverted, talented son with his art career.

“I’m wondering if you would have advice for the non-artist helping the artist?” he asked.

I started by acknowledging Curt’s love for his son. “Your son is very lucky,” I said.

I added a few words of encouragement and, after much thinking, this is what I want to share with him and with all non-artists who want to help the artists in their lives.

©Krista Hasson, Contemplating. Oil on board, 6 x 6 inches. Used with permission.
©Krista Hasson, Contemplating. Oil on board, 6 x 6 inches. Used with permission.

Accept me.

Don't try to change me.

I may dye my hair pink or show up at your office function with paint under what remains of my fingernails. I’m okay being the nonconformist in the room as long as you’re on my team.

Understand the way I work.

I like to be alone.

I need to be alone. A lot.

Space is good for me, so when I say I need to be in the studio, please don't invite me to lunch or ask me to pick up the kid. I really need to be in the studio.

Respect my studio and work hours. Contrary to popular belief, I don't play in the studio every day. It’s often a tortuous struggle that involves coming up with fresh ideas and figuring out the best way to give those ideas visual form.

Understand my goals.

It's hard being an artist.

They don’t tell you about all of the non-art requirements until you are already waist deep in the biz. All I want to do is make art, but much more is required of me when I want to share that art with the rest of the world.

I have to figure out my state's complicated sales-tax system, find new venues, maintain collector records, send newsletters, be active on social media, and apply for opportunities. And that’s just for starters.

I'd like to see my work in a museum or to have gallery representation, but these are long-term goals. I'm going to have to pound the pavement for years before this happens, and there will be many rejections.

©Bonnie Coulter, Greenhorns. Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches. Used with permission.
©Bonnie Coulter, Greenhorns. Oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches. Used with permission.

Believe in me.

There will be days when I feel like living this artist’s life is impossible – that I have made terrible decisions. I might get down on myself. Please help me find the path.

Please tell me you continue to believe in me and in my art. I can’t hear that enough.

Help me.

I don't want to bother you. I mean … I really don't want to bother you.

I understand that my world isn't your world, so I will probably try to do everything myself.

Maybe you could recognize when I am exhausted from trying to be too self-sufficient. If you offer to help, I might not accept at first because, again, I don't want to bother you. But keep trying.

Remind me that it's okay to accept help. If you truly want to assist, you might have to be the one to step in and convince me that I’m not burdening you.

A few things you might be able to help me with:

  • Organize photos.
  • Proofread my newsletter and correspondence.
  • Update my website.
  • Research artist residencies and venues.
  • Add new names to my mailing list.
  • Update my inventory database.
  • Make goodies for my opening and pour wine for the guests.
  • Send invoices and receipts and help with bookkeeping.

I am sure you and I could come up with a list together that would work for both of us.

©Lea K. Tawd, Holding On. Mixed media on wood, 8 x 8 inches. Used with permission.
©Lea K. Tawd, Holding On. Mixed media on wood, 8 x 8 inches. Used with permission.

Support me.

Please show up at my openings and events. I may look confident, but I'm shaking inside. I don't love openings that put me in the spotlight. Every friendly face is a blessing.

You might also support me when I take uncomfortable steps.

For example, although I’m an introvert, I know I need to nurture the relationships in my life.

When you suggest an outing, I might go kicking and screaming, but it also might be very good for me to get out. I appreciate that you recognize this better than I do.

Love me.

You probably worry about my decision to live this artist’s life. That’s okay. I understand you’re concerned only because you love me.

Keep loving me. That’s all I can ask.

Your Turn

What advice do you have for the non-artist who wants to help you?

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75 thoughts on “Advice for Those Who Want to Help the Artists in Their Lives”

  1. Along the lines of respecting my studio hours: Respect that I am running a business. I am not unemployed. I am every employee at a company, from the CEO to the janitor. And yes, I do make money. 😉

    While I understand that you care and you’re just trying to help, mentioning that job opening you heard about may be counterproductive.

    1. Once my own mother asked, “If you had all the money you needed (like a lotto win), would you still want to paint. :

      Boy if I had know then, what I know now. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way. I have always felt that I needed one life to study and learn and anther life to be an artist. : (

  2. Such a great question from the father and I love your answer. Yes! That support will make a huge difference.

    The road of an artist is not a clear one. I think many of us go it alone and it’s very, very challenging.

    I so appreciate your words.

  3. What a thoughtful post! I will be sharing this to all the non-artists in my life!

    Here’s one:

    Don’t dismiss me with comments like “Well, she’s an artist you know…” or “All artists are a bit crazy…” We may not think like you do, but that does not make us less than–and very interesting to be around!

  4. I’m a lucky one. My husband is more understanding of my needs than I am. He’s the one who entered me in my first show and every one that has followed. He installs my work, designed the lighting, carries the heavy bronzes et al, keeps my website updated, posts events–the only thing he doesn’t do is create my work ???? He’s my biggest fan, my greatest critic, my biggest source of encouragement. I couldn’t ask for more

    1. You’re a lucky woman Karen, as am I. Mine helps with everything but going to the shows. It’s a personal issue that I understand completely. He even helps titles my work when I can’t. Thank you for sharing.

    2. This made me cry too. I have vision in my art but my spouse asks me how long I want to do this. I have other very suppportive people that really make a difference. It’s still incredibly difficult to achieve your art goals without the encouragement of your spouse.

  5. Wow, thank you~ this actually helps me clarify my own thinking too~ about asking for my alone time- my family does recognize this and helps so much. The truth is sometimes not easy to see when it is in front of you! Or even, inside of you~

    1. Susan, from a distance I know you are an artist in every facet of your life. Don’t stop sharing when you feel it. It is all our joy!

  6. Dear Alyson, this is so PERFECT and not just for Dads… it’s perfect for kids of artists, significant others, siblings, friends…. it’s just perfect. I’m sharing it to my page!

    Elizabeth St. Hilaire

  7. Thanks Alyson. It not only is good to print this out or send off to loved ones via social media, but is good for us, the Artists who do struggle with some things, to know what goes on in OUR heads is recognized and talked about. !!

  8. This is fabulous Alyson and I will definitely be sharing. Thank you so much for writing this. It is so spot on accurate. I would just add that this applies to all artists at any age… We all need the same things. As an artist who is finally now able to create full time, it is no easy feat, especially at the ripe young age of 63. All of those tasks you mention take so much time. I have never minded working hard – I’ve done it all my life. But it would be amazing to have some help in some areas. I do use Artwork Archive and I super love it. I also have the most amazing husband who supports every.single.effort that I make and totally respects my time in the studio. I also agree with Rebecca Skelton about the discounts as well as those who are trying to make a deal. My heart and soul goes into my work and therefore so does my value. Don’t devalue ME by inferring that my prices are too high and trying to haggle.

    1. Susi: As I said to Rebecca and Gaye above, discounts are for buyers. I wouldn’t mention them in advice to your helpers/supporters.

      Give that hubby a big hug from me.

  9. It brought tears to my eyes to feel so understood. Thank you for putting into words what floats and swirls and sometimes screams in my head. That article deserves a MUCH wider audience.

  10. Yes! Wonderful article! I’d add “I appreciate your critique of my work, but understand that I won’t always agree with your ideas.”

    And, Alyson, you should have bought those sunglasses!

  11. thanks Very much; all that is said is true and here is one I re-read often from poet Rainer Maria Rilke (czech 1875-1926): “Letters to a Young poet” with one letter of interest as it rings true to visual artists and crafts-people as well. The 1st and 2nd lines are:
    Your work needs to be independent of others work.
    You must not compare yourself to others.
    the whole writing is great.

  12. Gosh, this has me thinking of the million sweet ways my family and friends have supported me. They’re too specific for this article, but so important to me. Thank you, Alyson! Gratitude is powerful!

  13. Thank you!!! My husband is supportive, but he can sometimes come in and sit and talk just when I’m in right-brain mode and am finding words annoying to listen to and difficult to formulate. Nice to get the affirmation that needing to be alone a lot is okay.

  14. Thank you so much for this well thought-out and well-expressed list of thoughts on the subject of lending support. I will add myself to the list of the lucky artists who have supportive spouses; my husband believed in me long before I started to believe in myself. Thanks again for this wonderful article.

  15. Such a great post. Thanks for your thoughtful ideas on the topic – spot on!

    When I’m frustrated with a painting not going the way I expected, my partner will say things like – “just keep painting – you’ll fix it – you’ll figure it out”. He NEVER judges me except to say positive, affirming things like “this looks like your new masterpiece”. He ALWAYS says he likes my current work, and always takes the time to look at what I’m doing. He was the one who said, watching me draw a raven once upon a time, “You should be doing that EVERY day!” His enthusiasm started me on my path of passion. He never complains about my artist’s mess and will cook for me anytime I’m in the flow and don’t want to stop – without being asked. He laughs and hugs me when my face is splotted with paint. He’s an artist too, and helps me set up and sell our work together. I can’t imagine my artist’s life without him. I wouldn’t be an artist today if it wasn’t for Kevin.

  16. I love this post and will definitely be sharing! I guess my parents and others thought I had a nice hobby-penchant for drawing and I grew up sensing that being an artist was not a good choice. I was past middle age when I got my first art gift card and my mother asked “Oh, are you still doing that art thing?” Support is very important for an artist; I did my best for my daughter (an aspiring thespian and writer). My husband – a retired high school teacher turned writer – sometimes doesn’t come to my openings but he and my son support my efforts.
    Maybe the best part of this post for me was the ways in which the non-artist can help the artist; when my husband or my son asks “How can I help?”, I often shrug and can’t think of anything because I’m trying to do it all myself.

  17. So good to read. Thank you Alyson. I will be sharing. So much of this resonates for me, except I am an extrovert. Years ago I used to perform on stage, got nervous before shows, but loved performing. Before an opening I am way more nervous than i ever was performing. As i described it to one person its like being out there naked for everyone to comment upon. My paintings have a part of my soul in each one. I gave up teaching to go back and study art again, and the hardeset part for me is the comments from external family members mentioning ‘ any jobs or work out there for you?’
    Thanks again i read your blogs religously, but, this is the first time i have commented.

  18. These are such important thoughts and I was totally taken off-guard while reading them. I actually can’t remember when I last had tears in my eyes but these words have left me with tears…I must have needed to read them.
    Thank you Alyson!

  19. What a wonderful post, Alyson. It would be great if more non-artist family and friends were even willing to be supportive. I wonder if having a list of how they can be supportive is one of those things that might help them be more supportive. I wonder how many friends and family members believe they are being supportive when, in fact, they are not.

    This post could initiate a real change.

  20. Thanks so much for sharing this, Alyson. I think it was very much needed for many of us, and I agree that it deserves a wider audience; if there’s no objection I’d like to put a link to it on my social media.

    I am lucky that most of the people in my life are pretty supportive of my career in art (now about to hit the quarter-century mark). With one close relative I have a more complicated situation: This person paid for me to get the science degree that I thought I wanted, and has generally been supportive since I totally changed gears a few years after graduation and became a professional artist, even to the point of giving significant financial help, since my business skills fall far short of my art skills (still working on the conundrum of how to beef up one’s business skills to the point of being able to pay for help/education with those business skills to the compensation level such help deserves!).

    The problem is that this relative has never lost hope that I might one day actually go back to *using* the education this person paid for me to get, so I often get suggestions during slow periods about supplementing my inadequate income by tutoring in scientific subjects, getting a part-time job in a scientific field, and so on. No, no, no! Even if I can’t spend all my professional time making art, I at least want to spend it on activities related to the business of making a living from the art!

    Reverting to my pre-art career field feels like a huge step backwards, even if it would bring in money to prop up my art business during slow times. Suggesting otherwise feels like a negation of all that I have put into building my art career over the last 24 years, and is kind of a slap in the face, although I know it’s not intended that way. What I need here is a way to improve my ability to make money from my art (which leads to more making of the art), without a necessity to spend money I don’t have. (I believe in paying for advice and education when you need it, but debt gives me nightmares, so if the money isn’t there to pay for it, you’re up a creek.)

    I’ve told this rather long-winded story not to generate sympathy for myself, but to give my own take on the principle of helpfulness which has been mentioned by others in this discussion: Take my art career seriously, treating it as a long-term thing rather than a flash in the pan, and avoid suggesting that it might be time to stop pretending it’s a career and get on with my “real” career. Treat my art career as seriously as though I were a doctor, or an accountant, or an engineer–would you consider suggesting (overtly or by implication) that it might be time for me to stop piddling around being a human-rights lawyer and get on with some “proper” work? Probably not. (I’m sure someone can condense this principle in a pithy way much more effectively than I seem to be able to!)

    I’d also like to give a shout-out to Krista Hasson for her fabulous oil painting featured within the article! (That painting really spoke to me.)

    Thanks again, Alyson, for posting this thoughtful advice. I want everyone I know to read it!

  21. Oh my goodness, so exquisitely beautiful. And from such a profound place of KNOWING. Thank you for articulating so much of what swirls around our inner artist souls and is often challenging to share. WHEW! I am thinking of printing and framing your post! Thank you:) And happy creatively juicy weekend, all! Liz

  22. Advice for the non-artists in my life!
    1. Please stop asking me to donate my artwork in exchange for publicity. If you’re my friend and I believe in you, I’ll usually be glad to support you with my art, but my motivation won’t be publicity. My motivation will be my strong friendship with you.
    2. Value my work. My artwork is worth more than the time and supplies it took to make it. Make the effort to read about my educational and professional background. Compare my work with my peers. Familiarize yourself with other artists of similar caliber and style.
    3. The best thing you can do to help me is to brag about me, my professionalism, my quality of work, and why you love the pieces you bought from me. Word of mouth is the best form of marketing for me. Tell about where I will be working next, whether it’s an art show, conference, or a live event. And please introduce people to me!

  23. The blog is really beautiful.Through my art,I always strive to exhibit my emotions…I want people to Respect me, To Support me and Understand me.People must appreciate the idea behind some other’s artwork , no matter how illogical it seems to be.

  24. I am introverted, I am a creative soul that needs to create. My husband was also extremely supportive. When he passed away in 2014 it was hard for me to move forward. Not having that support now is a big missing hole and I’ve found that sometimes all you have is yourself. I try to see myself like he saw me, not always easy. But I still keep going and creating. It is harder without that support, but among other things I’m quite hard headed

  25. I hope Curt’s son is aware how rare this is, and appreciates his father’s effort.

    What you wrote is beautiful, and I would add…

    Please, do not offer unsolicited advice on what kind of art I should be creating, or what other revenue streams I should pursue. If you’d like to own something of mine on a certain product, by all means let me know, and I’ll find a way to make it for you. But I’m not interested in hypothetical “I bet people would love it” claims when it’s not your money on the line.

    Don’t comment as if the art I do reflects poorly on you. Yes, I do edgy stuff that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Yes, the general public likely considers me a weirdo. But guilt tripping me won’t make me stop creating this kind of art — it will only let me know that you’re not my cheerleader, and I will never tell you what’s going on with my art ever again.

  26. My hubby of 47 years plus is a CPA. So he is a “bottom line” guy. He wants me to sell things I’m not happy with or to make multiples of things that he thinks are nice. But I won’t sell items that are beneath my standards nor will I go into “mass production”. I’m not here to make money. If I make money that’s a plus and to be sought, but I do what I do because of an internal drive to create. I have many interests and I know they drive him crazy, but if I could ask him to support the idea that I have high standards and will not compromise for a few dollars. I’d rather give away an item and have the recipient know its full value than to discount it and have them think that I think so little of my work. Anyway, CPA’s and artists often have different goals. I need support for the idea that what I create has value and if it doesn’t meet my standards I’ll destroy it or keep it to reuse the parts; but I won’t go cheap to sell it.

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