Articles describing behaviors that annoy doctors, waitstaff, retail workers, and people in other professions are plentiful. We know doctors hate it when you argue with them based on something you learned through an internet search last night. The person waiting on you at a restaurant does not want to be stopped to take a picture of you and your date. And “It didn’t ring up so it must be free” hasn’t been funny to cashiers in a very long time. But what about artists? We hate being left off lists of professions and careers. Here are some more behaviors guaranteed to displease the independent actor, guitar player, singer, poet, writer, photographer, or other artist you know.
Ask us what we do for our “real job.”
A person is a professional once they get paid to do something. If the person has been paid to produce their art work in any form, they are a professional artist and this is their real job. They may or may not have a second career, or a day job or side job to pay their bills. But the work they are doing is real work. If you are working with someone who has not yet been paid for work in the arts, but is working toward that goal, they should not be treated any differently than someone working to build a business in any other field.
Describe our work as “messing around.”
Artists do often say they’re “messing around” or “just playing around” when they experiment or try something out just for fun. That doesn’t mean their entire body of work is just “messing around.”
Refer to us as a “nonessential” worker.
The arts are essential in so many ways. Sometimes, they provide a way for issues in society to be discussed and worked through. They may provide a voice for those who feel they are not heard. Or maybe they simply offer an escape, a way to alleviate stress and enjoy yourself for a while. Artists created the last piece of music you listened to, the television shows you like to binge watch, the novels, short stories, and poems you like to read, and the comedy routines that make you laugh. If you hired a photographer to take your wedding, graduation, or anniversary photos, an artist is responsible for capturing those memories for you. Most people would agree that all of those things are essential to life.
Treat us like we’re a member of your staff.
Staff members are people who filled out a W-4 form and receive a steady wage or salary from you, regardless of the type of work they do. Anybody who is paid by the show, article, or other piece, and issued a 1099 tax form is an independent worker. While there certainly are jobs in the arts that pay steady wages or salaries, the comedian you hired to perform two sets at your company retreat isn’t working one of them. They are not there to help clear the tables, answer the phones, or go find out why your assistant isn’t back from break.
Act like you’re completely unaware of our presence.
We get it that you’re preoccupied at an event or gathering. It is especially difficult to manage anything offline now, as we all have the extra work of making sure to keep the number of people in the space at a certain percentage, keep everyone spread out, and make sure everything is sanitized and everyone is wearing a mask. But when the performer says, “How is everyone doing?” from the stage, or the person bringing their paintings into the gallery walks in and asks where they can place them, responding is still necessary.
Move our belongings around without telling us.
Guitars, makeup kits, laptops or tablets, costume bags, and other tools the artist may bring along should be left alone unless it is absolutely necessary to move them. If you need to move them, and the person is setting up or doing something else that can be interrupted, ask if it’s okay to move their stuff around. If they’re in the middle of a performance or out of the room, move the items quickly and carefully and let them know where and why you had to move them as soon as you get a chance.
Behave as if we couldn’t possibly have a schedule.
The stereotype of the artist who only works when “moved” or “inspired” and does nothing else all day has been around for decades. The relatively recent trend of promoting working from home in any field with photos of people lounging on the beach with their laptops didn’t help that. As with anyone else who makes their own work schedule, an artist may work only when inspired, or they may have their day scheduled down to the minute. They may also have second careers, side jobs, family obligations, or other life details that require a schedule. Ask if they can do something or when they’re available, don’t just assume they can meet with you at your convenience, including on Zoom.
Assume our other work is an entry-level customer service or retail job.
The “actors waiting tables” assumption is made a lot because the job and building a career as an actor do fit well together. An actor who secures employment at an upscale restaurant, when the place is open at full capacity, can earn the money they need to pay their basic expenses in just a few shifts, leaving the rest of their week open for classes, auditions, and the other tasks of an actor’s career.
That doesn’t mean everyone in the arts waits tables. An artist may have a second career that’s just as important as their career in the arts. Or they may have a steady job in the arts, such as owning or managing a store related to their art, teaching, working for a non-profit that promotes their art form, or working in the creative department of a company.
Give us job leads we never asked for.
For the longest time, I was the person to ask if you wanted to know who might be hiring in customer service, office work, and news reporting. I didn’t want or need a job in any of those areas, but so many people assumed I did, I got every lead in town. Some people would even greet me with “You want a job?” or “Hey, there’s an opening at…,” which was especially annoying when they interrupted my online writing teaching to do it. Artists who are looking for jobs and want your help finding them will let you know that, just like people in any other career field.
Ask us why we don’t live in Hollywood (or Nashville, or New York City or Paris)
Just like any other career field, artists have different goals. You may meet one actor whose goal is to teach Theater at a university in the area, and get regular parts in local stage productions, and another who wants to go to Hollywood and make it in studio films. One country musician may aspire to be as famous as Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean, while another may just enjoy local success. And even for those who do want to seek “fame and fortune,” moving to an expensive city simply because it’s the center of their art form isn’t always feasible due to finances, family situations, health, or other issues in their lives.
Act like our fee is a gift when you pay us.
Of course we know we should be grateful to be making money for doing work we love. Everybody should be grateful if they get to do the work they love, no matter what career cluster they may be in. That doesn’t make our fee or the price of a painting, book, or album something optional you gave us out of the goodness of your heart. Anytime anyone produces a good, or provides a service professionally, the money you give them in exchange for that is a price or a fee, not a present.
Getting any or all of these responses to our work can range from frustrating to downright demoralizing. What to do if you get them depends entirely on the situation. A snappy comeback to the social media troll who asked you when you were getting a real job might make them go find someplace else to waste their own time. The same response to the person who hired you to play a gig or write an article might not get such a desired result. But we can always use anything that happens to us to inspire our next project.