Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And What Do You Do?

It’s a curious thing in our western culture, when we meet someone for the first time we want to know “What do you do?” I realize it’s an attempt to find common ground to build a conversation on, but for most people (unless you’re a doctor, lawyer or Hollywood celebrity) it’s such a fear-inducing question.

Before I became a creative and more specifically an artist, I was a corporate.  I worked for the telephone company and its many incarnations through the years.  I left in 1992 to become “something”, anything other than what I was.  I hated being a corporate.

So how come for at least five years after I left that world behind, my answer to the question “What do you do?” would be “I used to work for the telephone company.”  I so identified with that version of what I had been that I couldn’t quite figure out who I was in the present moment.
"Yellow Pepper"
4 x 4 Oil on Gessobord

Which brings me to today’s topic

In response to the question “What do you do?”

-          Do you say you’re an artist and then fumble and stumble for words to describe what kind of artist you are?
-           Do you secretly feel you’re not really an artist and have a bit/lot of an imposter syndrome? So you talk about what you used to do or what you might do.
-           Or are you my least favorite new acquaintance that uses 10,000 words when 10 would have nailed it?

Today’s Nitty-Gritty Nugget:
         Be prepared!(Have your elevator pitch ready for delivery)

I’m not talking about a stiff delivery read off a cue card.  Be clear on your chosen field as an artist and what type of art you do.  Above all be genuine, this is not a time to fake it until you make it. This would also be an excellent time to have your business card or postcard ready at hand with your website and/or online shop listed, and for goodness sakes don’t fumble through your purse for it…..awkward moment.

For me I want to include two things (OK maybe three things, if this writing gig pans out):
-          Artist
-          President of a national art organization
-          Writer

My response to “What do you do?” might go something like this:

                “I’m a still life artist and I work primarily in oil and pastel. I volunteer my time as National President for the fabulous Colored Pencil Society of America, and I just launched a hot new blog about selling art online.”

Thoughts of the telephone company and my life as a corporate are far behind.
"Pear Up"
4 x 4 Oil on Gessobord
Hang Me on Your Wall

What’s Next?

1.       Get off the fence and put both feet on the ground.  You are either something you used to be or you are an artist.

2.       Get clear on what kind of artist you are. (If you say painter, someone will think “house painter” or “tole painter”, I guarantee it.)  Are you an abstract artist, mixed media, illustrator, etc.?  Do you mostly do figurative work, landscape, portraits or still life? 

3.       Do you volunteer your time in an arts organization? Are you on the board of your local arts council? Do you work with kids?

4.       Tell them you sell your work!  Most non-creative types don’t get that artists make a living.

5.       Practice on your friends or make a video of yourself until you aren’t snickering anymore.

6.       Try it out the next time you meet someone new and they ask the question “What do you do?”


  1. I have totally been in that situation.
    I like how you don't leave it just by saying "I'm and Artist"
    Saying what medium and style and that you sell your art.
    All very helpful.
    I want this blog to go on forever.
    Would love to see comments from others.
    I'm sure you have readers that are just not leaving a comment.
    thanks, donnarose

  2. I, too, am loving this blog. It not only shows me a lovely piece of artwork but it makes me think and re-evaluate how I handle my art career. Thanks so much.

  3. Thank you for the support Donnarose! My blog has a really good following for only being 12 days old....we've had over 1700 hits. For the last two days it's been over 300 each day. I do plan to keep writing! I'm not too worried about comments...I think that will grow with time.

    Thanks you, also, Maria! I'm so glad to hear you are loving the blog. Makes my heart go pitty-pat.

  4. As someone who works a "professional" job, I always say "I'm a Purchasing Agent by day, and an Artist by night. I typically work in the abstract, using colored pencils or acrylic paint, and though I like my day-job, one day I'll be a full-time artist."

    Then I hand the person a card. :)

    It's VERY good advice to have your "Elevator Pitch" ready!!!!

  5. Perfect solution Betsy! Geniune...that's how you want to communicate. Everyone's story is different.

  6. Hi, I am one of your newest followers :) I am reading my way through all the posts, love all the information! I am so thrilled I found this blog!!! Thank you! :)