Kent Sanders | Unlock Your Creative Potential

Unlock Your Creative Potential

15 Questions That Make Artists Want to Pull Their Hair Out

Artists as a group are a pretty accommodating bunch. We take great joy in making things that are useful or delightful to others. Yet despite our best efforts, we are sometimes misunderstood. People ask questions that can range from the bizarre and laughable to the downright cynical.

Photo Credit: Cubmundo via Compfight

Photo Credit: Cubmundo via Compfight

I recently asked this question on Facebook: If you are an artist or do creative work, what are some questions, assumptions, or attitudes from others about your art that drive you crazy?

Many of my artist friends submitted great questions, and I thought it would be fun to feature a number of these here. Under each question I’ll include a couple of items: the false assumption behind the question, and the truth that dismantles those assumptions.

Why have I structured the post this way? Three reasons:

First, to help us all understand the assumptions behind the strange questions we are sometimes asked as artists. In this classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells us that we should “seek to understand, then be understood.” When people ask dumb questions, we should try to understand them before getting upset and defending ourselves.

Second, to reinforce the truth that your work as an artist is worthwhile and valuable.

Third, to help non-artists understand creative people better.

Here are fifteen questions that make artists want to pull their hair out. (Some of us don’t have that much to begin with…)

 When are you going to get a real job?

(Question by Whittier Strong, writer and Johnna Cutrell, graphic artist)

False Assumption: Being an artist or working in a creative field doesn’t qualify as a real job. Some types of work are inherently more valuable than others.

Truth: A “real” job is one that you enjoy, where you can engage your passions and use your gifts, and that provides for your needs. Period.

 

 When are you going to grow up?

(Question by Jim Woods, writer)

False Assumption: Being an artist means you are chasing a pipe dream. You’re being unrealistic and aren’t acting like a grown-up. You should settle for less than the best and live a mediocre life like everyone else.

Truth: Reverse the assumption. The real “grown-ups” are the ones who dare to dream, dare to create, dare to risk failure in pursuit of an excellent life. Those who are afraid to take a risk and are satisfied with living an average life are the true “little children.” They are afraid to venture out of the sandbox into the playground of life.

 

Do you know any songs by other people? No one wants to hear your originals!

(Question by Derek Brink, recording artist)

False Assumptions: 1) No one is interested in your original work. 2) Your work couldn’t possibly be as good as (name famous person)’s work.

Truth: Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s good. There is no reason you can’t produce work every bit as good as someone famous. There is an audience for your work. You just have to find them.

How much money have you made doing that?

False Assumption: Money is the most important barometer of success and value.

Truth: Money is definitely useful, and can be a good measurement for many things. But some people use it as their only way to gauge the value of other people in their own minds.

 Is your book an NYT bestseller?

(Question by Chris Morris, writer)

False Assumption: Your book is only valuable, or you’ve only reached success, if you’re recognized by all the important people.

Truth: Trying to get on a bestseller list is not necessarily the goal, anyway. People buy books that are helpful or enjoyable. Being on a bestseller list shouldn’t be the primary goal; helping and serving, and creating something awesome, is the main goal. If we accomplish that, people will support our work.

(Even so, sometimes a book is written for a niche market and it’s OK if it doesn’t have huge sales. It depends on your goals for the book.)

When are you finally going to be successful / make it big / make something of yourself?

(Question by Whittier Strong)

False Assumption: Success is all about the destination, not the journey.

Truth: Reverse the assumption. Success is all about the journey of being an artist, of serving others, and meeting needs. It’s about improving and growing, and being the best you can be. Don’t let someone else define what it means for you to be successful.

 What do you do again?

(Question by Blake Atwood, writer and editor)

False Assumption: The person either doesn’t understand what you do for a living, or wasn’t interested enough to remember the first time you told them.

Truth: It’s easy to let others’ reaction to our creative work color our self-image. If someone isn’t that interested in your work, that’s not a reflection on the value of what you do. If someone doesn’t understand, it’s a chance to educate them (or completely confuse them, whichever is the most fun at the moment).

Can you teach me how to do that?

(Question by Alice Perrey, pianist)

False Assumption: “I want to avoid the years of hard work to become an expert, so I’ll just have you teach it to me real quick. How hard can it be?”

Truth: It takes years of practice and effort (and financial investment) to become excellent at anything. There are no shortcuts on the road to excellence.

 

You know you’re not going to get famous doing that, right? Aren’t you in your 30’s (or 40’s, 50’s, etc.)? Isn’t it time to let this go?

(Question by Derek Brink)

False Assumption: The main reason people do art is to get famous or make a lot of money. When that doesn’t happen by some arbitrary timeline, you should just quit trying.

Truth: Artists do their thing because they love doing it, first and foremost. Sometimes you can make money (and many people do), and occasionally you might even become famous. But far more people do it out of the sheer love of creating something worthwhile, whether it’s music, books, dance, or a thousand other things.

 Where do you get your ideas?

(Question by Dan Erickson, writer)

False Assumption: “I want to figure out how to get your ideas without going through the creative process myself.”

Truth: It doesn’t really help to know where others get their ideas because each person is different. It’s much more important to ask about someone’s process, how they get inspired, and the habits they have integrated into their lives—all of which result in creative ideas.

You really think you’re going to write a book / learn to draw / play the guitar / achieve a certain goal? Yeah, right!

(Question by a person I won’t name, who sarcastically made a version of this statement about me to my wife when she mentioned I was writing a book)

False Assumption: You don’t have what it takes to achieve your goal.

Truth: When I heard about my “friend” ridiculing my effort to achieve one of my dreams, it made me work all the harder to make it come true. It’s easy to spot insecure people—they’re the ones dashing everyone else’s dreams because they have none of their own.

 

Why can’t your music / poetry / writing / art be more Christian?

False Assumption: Any art made by a Christian should be focused on Jesus, God, the Bible, or other overtly spiritual themes.

Truth: There really is no such thing as “Christian” art. There is only art made by Christians. And since God made everything, no topic is off-limits for the Christian musician, writer, or artist. In fact, we are in dire need of Christian artists who have the courage to deal with controversial topics in creative and interesting ways.

Why is your art / music / writing so depressing? Why can’t you just be happier, look on the bright side of things, or have more joy in the Lord?

(Question by Aaron O’Laughlin, poet)

False Assumption: If you were truly spiritual, you would never feel depressed or sad, much less want to express it through your art.

Truth: Christian artists have an obligation to first and foremost be honest in their art. That sometimes means writing and singing about our messy, murky lives. Everyone is tired of fake Christians who pretend life is always OK. We can acknowledge the pain of life while also presenting the hope of the gospel.

Why don’t you stop trying to find a publisher and just self-publish your book? Or the opposite question: Why don’t you stop self-publishing your books and find a real publisher?

(Question by Whittier Strong)

False Assumption: One approach to publishing is better than the other.

Truth: We are blessed with many options when it comes to publishing today. It’s best to seek out someone who has had success in the publishing world to give you guidance about which option is best for a specific project.

Can you sing / play / paint / write / do graphic design for free? I don’t want to pay you anything but it will be really great for your ministry experience / service to the Lord / portfolio / resume.

(Question by Derek Brink)

False Assumption: Your services are not valuable enough for someone to make an investment.

Truth: This can be tricky. Christians get weird when it comes to money. If you want to serve others by doing your art for free, there is nothing wrong with that. But that should be your choice. We don’t hesitate to shell out big bucks for attorneys, architects, and other professionals. So why are artists often the exception?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the church and have spent the last two decades in ministry and teaching positions. But Christians can be cheapskates when it comes to compensating creative people. We think nothing of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on lighting, video and sound equipment, but we balk at spending money for a good graphic designer or videographer. We are quick to pony up for the latest technology but not for the artists who make great stuff with it. (Jon Acuff has a great post on this topic.)

If you are a professional, you deserve to be compensated for your work just like anyone else. But when we choose to volunteer our time at church or anywhere else, we should do so joyfully and because we want to, not because we think our contribution isn’t worth paying for. The very fact that we know it’s worth something, yet we give it freely, makes it all the more meaningful.

Bottom line: We artists are fundamentally unique and people will sometimes ask questions that seem odd. Hopefully this post has helped you understand a little more about the people who ask them and will serve to build bridges and reinforce relationships with others.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked as an artist? How did you respond?

About Kent Sanders

I help people unlock their God-given creative potential. I live with my wife and son in St. Peters, MO. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or YouTube.

  • Love how you pointed out truth! This is a great piece

    • Hi Christa, thanks for commenting – appreciate the kind words!

  • Dan Erickson

    Nice job on this post, Kent. Thanks for the mention!

  • Great post idea! I love to hate these types of quotes.

    • Ha ha – me too. Thanks for commenting, Dan.