Deep Thought Thursday: When you’re not taken seriously

I hear from all kinds of artists who are distraught because they aren't taken seriously. Their art career is considered "fun" or just a hobby by friends and family.

What do you do when this happens?

How can you keep it from occurring in the first place and get people to take you seriously?

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25 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: When you’re not taken seriously”

  1. The best advice I read, and I’m fairly certain it was in The Artist’s Way many moons ago, was that you must present yourself as a professional. Have strict work time (“office hours”), always talk about your work positively and professionally, and cut out people who are not supportive (if not completely then simply don’t discuss your work with them). If I remember correctly a lot of this was to do with things like family interrupting work time and such thinking you weren’t doing something important.

  2. First of all, we are artists for ourselves, not for other people (I hope). Many people, including myself, have a hard time not ‘getting the okay’ from friends and family. When I first started my degree, my dad would email me asking what I was going to do after my degree…teaching? maybe copyright law? massage therapy? After a few of these conversations, I finally told him “Dad, I need you to support me in my decisions. I’m not going to spend X amount of money on a degree and not use it!”…he finally laid off a bit. I know he meant well, and that he was just reminding me that my options were open. My advice? Just keep on keepin’ on. Do what you do, do what you love. I totally agree with the first comment…present yourself professionally, don’t waste your energy on people who don’t understand, talk about your work positively, and engage with people that have similar interests or understand and support you.

  3. I think that first and foremost, you need to take YOURSELF seriously if you want your peers to take you seriously. Treat your art as a job and approach everything you do as a professional, and people will eventually see that it isn’t just a hobby. And when that doesn’t work, ignore them! I have a few friends who have questioned my decision to leave engineering and paint. They ask me all the time whether I’m “challenged enough” being a painter, which shows me that they look down on what I’m doing. While these people are still friends, they’re not a part of my closest circle of friends anymore. Why surround yourself with people who aren’t supportive? Ironically, my ex-coworkers from my highly technical engineering job are some of my biggest cheerleaders. You can never tell who’s going to get it and who isn’t!

  4. I think it comes down entirely to the fact that how you truly see yourself is how others will see you. If you see yourself as a dedicated professional, and act as such, others will eventually come to perceive you the same way. Any hesitancy in your confidence about who you are as an artist or your dedication to your art will only undermine your desire for validity and allow others to doubt your commitment. It is difficult at first with family and friends who already have a mental image of who you are. But how you act and present yourself and your art, if done professionally and with confidence, will get them to see you for what you are. I have gone through this exact issue, but I never left any doubt that this was a life commitment for me. Again, the key is to act and think like an artist, not like someone trying to become an artist. There is a significant difference.

  5. I remind myself that it’s really only important that *I* take my career seriously, but equally important that I don’t take *myself* too seriously, if you see the difference. I must protect and defend my art time, but I must also laugh at myself from time to time. To that end, I have two favorite quotes, that I’m always willing to share with friends and family. One is my version of a quote on Democracy as a form of government: “Art is the worst career there is, except for all the others.” And my second favorite is by Jim Krause: “Other careers [stink] too, but at least you get to use crayons.” I changed that one word 😉

  6. Overheard at the art fair, two patrons walking down the row: “How do they find the time to do these lovely things?” “Oh, it’s simple. They don’t have jobs!” Every niche in life is unique, and non-initiates will always misunderstand you. If I didn’t do art, I’d do some other career that people “diss”.

  7. I used to feel this way – unhappy cause noone took me seriously. Putting in effort to impress others was a waste of my time. Now I don’t care what other people think – it’s a much happier place to be. I’m having more fun now that I don’t feel a need to be “serious” about my work. I prefer being joyous about it.

  8. Since I left broadcasting, at the age of 56, to become a full-time photographic artist, I’ve encountered an odd phenomenon: At a show, seated within several thousand dollars of display gear, I explain I’m a working artist, that I sell my work, that I’m self-employed; the other person says, “Oh, you’re retired! How fun!” E-r-r-r-k! All I can tell ya is that I had a LOT more free time as a radio newsguy, but I didn’t as often get to shiver in the early morning mountains, with my camera, waiting for the sun.

  9. Michael Lynn Adams

    I agree with the majority. Taking your career seriously is the single most important thing, and conducting yourself as a professional comes with it. Not only you, but the Art Profession in general will benefit. I think when people say “they don’t have jobs” they are really saying “they don’t have TRADITIONAL jobs.” Now, THAT is something to be celebrate. I have been a professional designer/artist for several decades and I truly enjoy that people are mystified at what I do. It looks to them like magic, or playtime and certainly not a job. That isn’t far from the truth. In actuality it is not a job…it is a vocation or calling, even a passion, but not a job.

  10. This is a great subject & people’s comments have been really good on this one! I have never worked so hard at any job as I have on my artwork AND ITS PROMOTION! And I’ve never been happier. When I hear other people complaining about their jobs, their bosses & their co-workers, I just smile to myself. Yes, I love being in the studio. Connecting with people at shows is wonderful,too. Not too long ago, I had my own retail business (a bookstore) and also did my artwork. What a relief it was to give up the store! I still have my studio downtown & sometimes someone asks me–when are you open? I am happy to answer–during Open Studios or by appointment.

  11. the collectors who buy my work take me very seriously…because it is their hard earned money they are trading for a work of art…even if they don’t spend a lot on a painting, the act of paying increases their intensity of focus…these are the people that matter…until someone has owned one of your pieces, how can they really judge ? & those who haven’t spent a dime , well, it’s like getting a restaurant review from someone who hasn’t eaten in the restaurant…who cares ?

  12. Sari: good anaolagy w/ the restaurant reviewer! I don’t specifically come across the “job vs. hobby” question from people. What gets my goat (and is kind of related) are those who believe that an artist just wakes up one day, rolls out of bed, scratches their head, then creates a masterpiece. Many believe that the creations just come pouring out and don’t understand there’s learning curve. (Course, maybe depends upon the type of work you create.)

  13. cyndi – LOVE the quotes. 🙂 And Michael is spot on: we don’t have traditional jobs. This produces the polarized responses. Those who can understand that can respect it and admire it. Those who somehow think that’s not ‘real’. Like any untraditional approach it means we have to be a little more confident, maybe share a little more about ourselves and educate (this can also become your artist statement, blog content, and conversation at events!). Having come from a high-stress corporate design job I can definitely concur that it would be easier to go back to that if I wanted free time, more hobbies, and a lot less fulfillment. Perhaps think of it this way: we’re a similar situations to a lot of moms who want to go back to work, people who switch careers of any kind, mature university students, and any kind of alternative route to life.

  14. What wonderful questions, I recently have been telling people I know that I’m self-employed and I have to do all the things a regular employer would do but for myself. And most the time I only discuss things with like minded people, I find it drains me to explain to others. And then their not really interested and I feel like I am wasting my time. Not to sound insensetive about it but my time is worth more to me being productive in a positive way then trying to explain to some one I’m not a hobbiest. Or I get wow! you sure are busy and I responsed back “it is my job, so yes I am very busy and really loving it.

  15. I had a recent situation where a family member was staying with us said, “Do you really make any money at this?” as she saw me get up and start working immediately and not stopping until bedtime or to eat something on the go. I promptly said my husband lost his job 9 months ago, how do you think we are living! She really came around and started asking how she could help during her stay. Sometimes I think when you get the feeling someone is not taking you serious you have to just tell them. Family and non artist friends are the worst!

  16. I think that one thing we are all forgetting is that history has ingrained this way of thinking about the artist life! Struggling artist, paitings by dead artists are the only ones that make big money etc. are commonly held beliefs. So I think we should give the people who think this way some slack. They’ve grown up being taught this. However, I truly believe that this is going to change in the 21st century. Unlike in the past we are all now in control of our careers, not at the mercy of others. I also think that anyone who does take these kind of comments personally also has a problem coming to terms with their way of thinking about being an artist. Maybe subconsciously you beleive it too? I always find that if something upsets you, you should stop and deeply think why it affects you that way. You might find you surprise yourself with the real reason!

  17. I was thinking about this last night, and I’ve never realized this before, but surprisingly, I think that having a blog has been the most positive thing I could have done to help my friends and family take my art seriously! Honestly, I used to get a bit frustrated because my friends, while supportive, didn’t have a clue about the art world. I don’t blame them – like most people, they didn’t realize that it’s possible to make a living being an artist, or that it’s hard work and that running a successful art business takes just as much know-how and effort as running any other business. I blog pretty candidly about my goals and my frustrations and challenges, and having my friends discover my blog last year (I never told them about it because I thought they’d think it was boring because it’s about art) was such a blessing. All of the sudden they knew was I was doing, and what I was working toward, and what I struggled with! Overnight, they gained an understanding about what I do, and it’s made a huge difference in how they view what I do! So, yet another reason why having a blog is a good thing for an artist =)

  18. I saw this printed on a T shirt at the art supply store: A bad day in the studio is better than a great day in the office. I think that is a good response when someone starts to question why you are an artist.

  19. I still am at the point where I hold a part-time traditional job and over the years I’ve had trouble finding fulfillment from this part of my life. My mother always told me that I needed to look for a career, not just a job. I told her that my career is my art and I don’t want to invest all the time it takes to start a career in another field just to leave once my art career takes off. She gets little fulfillment from her own job, at least in the way she talks about it to us. Lately though she seems to take me a little more seriously. Maybe it’s the new studio and the new work I’ve been putting out. Maybe it’s my blog. Maybe it’s the fact that I have some gallery representation and have been in some exhibitions lately. But it’s still hard to convince family that an art career is still important enough to come before family sometimes.

  20. Excellent comments. Since I quit a “regular” job a year ago I found myself in the same position. It was important to let people know that I have a home studio, not a spare bedroom. I don’t paint when inspiration strikes, I work at it every day. Take yourself seriously, but remember how lucky we are to have to go to work standing under a blue sky while painting a beautiful landscape!

  21. The comment that gets my goat the most is when someone is in my art booth or finds out I’m an artist and they respond with “Oh..that must be so relaxing.” Hm..being an artist is many things but I haven’t been able to relax since I hung my proverbial shingle on my studio door. I’ve gone around and around in my head about why someone would think this I have come to the conclusion that people like this are envious that I’m actually doing the work I love. We all know we work as hard if not harder in order to survive in this field but those who haven’t made the leap of faith to pursue their dreams will always feel compelled to bring us down a notch or two. When I get comments like those I just smile or laugh and say, “Relaxing? I don’t know about that..but there is nothing else I’d rather be doing!”

  22. It is refreshing to hear that we have all had similar experiences! I have probably heard all of these things. People seem to think that my life is non-stop excitement and that working on art is “relaxing.” Actually, it is really, really hard. They imagine that we are all full of inspiration all the time. My life still has “normal” elements. I live in a regular house that I have to clean. I make dinner every night. I have to go to the dentist, etc. I’ve been asked what my “real job” is. “Oh, it’s real!” I tell them.

  23. I must admit it: I have had some trouble about what I do with several people in my life. Since I am mostly finished with my web art gallery, it has really valudated of who I really am. And, also I feel authentic, for once in my life. The next part is obviously to transmit these thoughts and feelings into communication with others. It is soon.

  24. I disagree with most of the comments here. I think most artists take themselves way too seriously and forget that we got into this because it WAS fun! I don’t mean we shouldn’t be professional or present ourselves as doing our job but I think it’s good to look inside and see how we judge the jobs of others, too. Every day we see people doing jobs that we may have judgemental thoughts about, like that being a doctor is more importand than cleaning out septic systems of washing cafeteria floors or that the principal is more important than the secretary, etc. The truth is it takes all of us to make the world go round. Whenever people make comments about how lucky I am to have such a fun job and that it must be nice to make money with my hobby I just smile and agree. Yes, I am lucky. My fun hobby pays all my household expenses and helped put two kids through college but why bother to say that? Am I going to try and say, hey I worked for years to learn these skills? It won’t matter…it doesn’t change anything. There are those who will appreciate the efforts of an artist and those who will never get it. I am grateful for the first and forgive the latter….

  25. I have never had this problem. NEVER. I think it might be because I told people I was an artist even when I was a tiny child. I realized I wanted to be an artist around age 4. Consequently, it has been a deep part of my self perception and identity for my entire life. If there have been people in my past who didn’t take me seriously, I never noticed. I guess I wasn’t paying attention because I was too busy being an artist. LOL 🙂

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Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

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