Reader question: How to tackle questions about your art from friends and family

I always get these kind of questions from friends and family: “What do you want to do art for if you aren’t an artist?” and the ubiquitous trio, “What good is that? How can you make money with that? Can you sell it?”. What should I tell them?

I hear you. If you are the black sheep of the family or others don’t enjoy making things like you do this might come up – especially in the holiday period if you lug a sketchbook with you to outdoor gatherings, or are busy taking up-close photos of Christmas lunch.  Well. I don’t know your friends and family so I cat be sure what will work to help them understand you better, but here are some answers I just made up – I hope they help!

“Some people knit or sew or birdwatch, I draw”

“Art is like having a hot bath – relaxes me and washes away the day.”

“Humans have been making art for thousands of years – long before there were galleries and agents. I’m continuing that tradition.”

“Who says I’m not an artist?”

“Art helps me feel good about life, and process my feelings and make sense of what happens in the world.”

“Would you ask why would you want to bake a cake if you’re not a full time pastry chef?”

“I think making art is part of staying healthy. It’s like the gym for my hands and brain. I’m just stretching my creativity muscles and staying fit on the inside.”

“Aw you know.. art makes me feel good, and doesn’t hurt anyone. There are plenty worse ways to spend my time.”

“You know how some people sing in the shower because it makes them feel good? That’s like me playing with clay – it just feels good, even if no one else sees it or I’m a bit off tune”

“I’m teaching myself some great new skills with acrylic right now – I love learning”

“Making art saves me money – I decorate my home AND entertain myself for the cost of just crayons.”

“I could make money from it by selling it or teaching it but right now I’m happy working in job at the (blah blah) and doing this just for love.”

” I prefer to make things as a hobby rather than just buy things. I think it’s better for the environment if I do less shopping and spend my time honing my skills instead.”

“I could sell it but I choose not to right now, I’m focusing on doing it for the joy of it.”

“How can you put a price on happiness? Some people would pay top dollar to have the kind of fun I have when I’m making art.”

“I love making things with my hands, it feels good. That’s good enough reason for me.”

Some of these answers are a bit cheeky, a bit provocative even, but I want to give you permission to gently question the questioners too if you have that kind of relationship.

You might even want to try having the conversation in your imagination through journaling. To do this, first write out the kind of comments you’re scared of hearing, then write out all the responses that you can think of, from angry, to cheeky, to witty, to reasonable, to heartfelt. Maybe even let your non dominant hand do the writing back and as you write feel the feelings that come up. Be angry, let tears flow. Keep writing until the emotions feel like they have passed through. Then go make yourself a cup of herbal tea or go for a walk and let the feeling of standing your ground and knowing your truth sink in.

You could also just try making a long mega list for yourself in your journal: ‘I love making art because’ or ‘I’m allowed to do what I love because…’.

The more open hearted joyful answers might be easier to give when you remember the pleasure that making brings you.

I also find that when we doubt ourselves it feels much harder to be questioned by others. When we feel sure in ourselves that what we do is ‘worthwhile’ / ‘allowed’ answering questions like this becomes much less threatening. So maybe practice saying and believing some of these answers yourself, as well as sharing them with others.

How do you answer this question? Share your ideas!

6 thoughts on “Reader question: How to tackle questions about your art from friends and family

  1. I am a writer because I write creatively. Even before I had five short stories and poems published, I answered that I am a writer. I am also a musician since I play an acoustic guitar. I may not do it professionally, but I play an instrument, therefore I am a musician. I refuse to get defensive with people. Most people will back away when they realize they cannot bully you.

    • Thanks Renee, that is a really important point. What is an ‘artist’ – someone who makes art! I love that you hold those words and own them, assertively, without defensiveness. Beautiful.

  2. Thanks, Jade, these are wonderful!
    My favorite, “it helps me feel good…and make sense…”

    I also believe as we artists, artisans and crafters know, the majority of those people who have to ask these questions are using some other kind of chemical or physical substance to “feel good” about the world. I’m sure you have plenty of stories of that people try BEFORE they FINALLY come to you for art therapy! Some of us found art — like the “foundart” even — before we had to resort to other ineffective therapies.

    For me artwork is also a focus and prayer — plen air drawing is especially this kind of observant prayer, as is needlework.

    • Nona – so true. We all want to feel good, and when we decouple ‘art’ from an activity that is about getting others approval/income/recognition and instead allow it to be ‘just’ a tool for our wellbeing, it almost makes the questions irrelevant. ‘Why do you do it?’ becomes ‘because I like it!’. And as you say it’s a way to feel good that has very minimal side effects, unlike some other choices.
      I love what you say about it being a focus and a prayer for you also.

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