12 Things you should never say to an artist, unless you want to piss them off
The art world is intimidating. Between grasping for meaning in scribbles and splatters and barely surviving gallery openings where asymmetrically barbered people speak in a strange version of proto-English called "name dropping," shit can get weird.
How are you supposed to communicate with these people? How do you talk to an artist about their work in order to simultaneously appear both not-dumb and interested in their work?
To be honest, I don't know. I've never known.
What I do know is how not to communicate with them. I'm privy to this information not because I'm an artist myself, but because I have several artist friends who are obviously also models (objection: relevance). One of those is Robert Rutherford, who is a painter, a motorcycle owner and a self-described "boyfriend to someone." Robert Rutherford is a pseudonym, because he is too entangled in his own ego and "brand image" to be interviewed publicly. Gotta maintain that mystique, I guess.
Based on the number of times I've tried to interview him and the degree of side eye he's given me, I've been able to surmise several questions to never, ever ask an artist, which I've listed for your inquiring ass below.
Robert, ever the helping hand, is also here to answer these inane questions from an artist's point of view so you can see their inherent shortcomings. It's for your health.
1."Oh you paint, abstract or real?"
I make stuff, so it's real, but not that real.
2. "What was your mood when you made this?"
Heart crushing caffeine anxiety.
3. "What inspires you?"
ConEdison final notices; dappled light.
4. "How long did it take to make this?"
Twenty-five years, which is my age. This is most dick headed thing I’ve ever said to someone asking me about a painting. I immediately regretted it but they fucking loved it.
5. "How much does your work go for?"
It takes the train for $2.50 but sometimes Uber pools for $5.00. [Not sure what that means, but an artist said it, so it's eloquent.]
6. "How would you describe your work?"
A masterful impatience ... fuck off.
7. "Is this for sale?"
Come on baby kick my tires. [Again, what? Actually, don't explain.]
8. "It must be nice to not have a real job!"
I have to pay rent for my '"office."
9. "What's that supposed to be?"
It's a wolf, it's always a wolf.
10. "I love the way you use colors! But do you have anything in black and white?"
You gon' die.
11. "When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?"
When I realized I couldn't be a cowboy.
12. "How do you know when a painting is finished?"
There's typically a moment where I step away from the painting, sit down and think: 'This is either the best thing I've ever done, or complete shit.'
... Yeah, so basically everything you wanted to ask them is unsafe. Dare to probe and your woefully basic sensibilities will show through and offer themselves up for sacrifical evisceration. Great.
However, there are a number of Robert Rutherford-sanctioned artist interrogation questions I'd like to share with you for your own good.
Thank me later, or don't.
1. Where's your studio/ how long have you been there?
2. What do you listen to while you work?
3. What aspect of your art are you focusing on right now?
4. What do you envision people doing in a house where your art's in?
5. Whose art have you been looking at lately?
6. Are you hungry little guy? You want some lunch? Some munchies?
There you have it, in essence, avoid asking them to explain things you don't understand, because art doesn't always have/need an explanation *cue string orchestra and zooming out shot of a painting in a gallery, then a crying "Indian"* Instead, focus on the person and buying them a burrito. They need sustenance. They are hungry.