Stereotype threat


Dear Artist,

In 1995, Stanford University psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson coined the term “Stereotype threat.” At the time, they were dealing with such stereotypes as “Girls do poorly in math” and “African Americans are challenged in higher education.” Their idea was that the mere knowledge of expectations affected performance. Conversely, such stereotypes as “Jews are smart” seemed to have a positive effect on Jewish academic performance. Prophesies and indigenous myths can be self-fulfilling.

As artists, one of our frequently heard stereotypes is “Painters are poor.” A more gentle variation is “While painters may live enriched lives, they suffer a lifetime of having no money.” Funnily, this stereotype hasn’t been around long — mainly since Paul Gauguin deserted his wife and kids and tried to live cheaply among the brown ladies of Tahiti. Somerset Maugham wrote a play about it: “The Moon and Sixpence.”

These days, the poor-artist stereotype is sometimes reinforced in art schools where instructors advise students on the thrills of their impending poverty.

In the Stanford psychologist’s theory, the most recent or oft-repeated stereotype has the most potent influence. Students who were issued a written test, for example, tended to do better when asked for their personal details at the end, rather than at the beginning, of the test.

When I was about ten years old, my dad took me to visit a couple of Fine Artists. Both these painters seemed to me to lead enriched lives, working with integrity and to be anything but poor. They had no day jobs and, apparently, no inheritance to keep their families comfortable. They worked long hours and sent excellent art to distant dealers. The penny dropped in my bony little head that an artist could prosper, and the penny has been lodged there ever since.

Popping the festering bubble of stereotype ought to be part of our job description. Here are a few more to think about: “Collectors prefer their artists to be male,” “Art is what you can get away with,” and “Painters are flogging a dead horse.”

Best regards,


PS: “Some members of stigmatized groups lag behind others because they have internalized the stereotypes.” (John Cloud, Time Magazine)

Esoterica: One of those artists my dad and I visited was quite elderly. We bought his old, much-sanded drawing table, which I still treasure. It was this sort of experience that gave me the idea of the Eternal Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists. While we tend to be solitary, we are part of a greater movement that spans generations. And while misery, poverty and poisonous pedagogy lurk beside our paths, we can take power from the positive in one another.


Don’t snow us out here
by Allan O’Marra, Ajax, ON, Canada


“Nasturtiums in Late Light”
oil painting, 16 x 24 inches
by Allan O’Marra

You make it sound so easy. Simply surmount stereotype threats, be positive, focus on your muse, work hard, find a good dealer and presto; a solid and highly remunerative art career. Well, maybe for you, with the style of work you turn out, the undeniable hard work you practice and some magic with dealers and clients. However, it’s hugely unrealistic of you to suggest it’s a really simple formula that needs to be followed and then you’re on your way to the Big Time.

I’ve been painting professionally for 38 years in the biggest population centre of Canada, the Greater Toronto area. Out of necessity of paying my basic living expenses, I’ve had to maintain a parallel career with various positions in advertising. Throughout all that time, I kept my muse alive, showed as often as I could and tried on different dealers (who always promised the moon and came up with nothing). Two years ago, my corporate marketing job was eliminated at a major financial institution and I was turned out to make a living as best I could. Since then, I have been beating the bushes, in the Durham Region of Ontario, promoting myself, submitting to every juried show possible and turning out paintings at an aggressive rate. And, I still only get a paltry amount of return for all my efforts with no dealers lining up to be my champion. It’s not as easy as you make it out to be. Please don’t snow us out here.

(RG note) Thanks, Allan. I didn’t promise you a rose garden. Through more than a thousand letters I’ve tried to touch on technique, attitude, motivation, colour theory, composition, dealer relations, psychology and dozens of other considerations, many of which I don’t fully understand myself. While there are things about our game that are mighty simple and straightforward, there are still puzzling mysteries, including the business of achieving success. As I’ve said in a half dozen places before, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”

There are 4 comments for Don’t snow us out here by Allan O’Marra

From: Not giving up — Jun 01, 2009

I’m assuming Robert and Allan have very different attitudes. Allan may believe it is difficult and so it is. Robert has been proving over and over that he just keeps on keeping on and believes it can be done, and so it is. In order for things to change, artists need to be ready to make the change towards positive attitude which includes taking a good hard look at our work, otherwise we will remain stuck regardless of the amount of energy expended. Trying to convey this is more challenging than selling art.

From: Don Cadoret — Jun 02, 2009

There are many reasons as to why one person may succeed whilst another, who utilizes the same formula, consistently fails. Yes, there are secrets we all learn and use to paint well…however, attitude and personality may be the biggest hurdles to overcome when seeking artistic success while they are alive. Some artists may just not have the ability to clear those hurdles, even if what they create is quite wonderful…..

From: Ken Flitton — Jun 02, 2009

All I can say is those nasturtiums look like a super painting!!

From: Anne Kullaf — Jun 02, 2009

you’re both right…

realistically, as an artist you really can’t expect to earn a lot of money — yes, of course there are exceptions, but the majority of us don’t earn what we might in other careers. There simply isn’t a need for paintings the way there is a need for food, clothing, gas, and the other necessities of life. I actually enjoy being thrifty if it means I can do something I really love to do for a living and hard work doesn’t scare me — but I can’t say I don’t stress out when I’m not sure if enough of my classes are going to fill (I teach drawing & painting in addition to selling my work) to pay my expenses.

on the flip side, I also agree that we need to knock down stereotypes. No matter what our status in respect to painting sales, we always need to present ourselves as professionals. Forget blaming gender, style, and the rest of the world for the difficulties presented to us because we made the choice to be in a field that is one of the most competitive there is.


Where there’s a will, there is a way
by Ron Elstad, Anaheim, CA, USA


“The Overseers of Batiqitos Lagoon”
oil painting, 36 x 48 inches
by Ron Elstad

I’m one of those who went for it all with the belief that I could make it no matter what. That is, as long as I did the best work possible. As well, to increase those possibilities by yet ever working to be the best I can be. I too had a friend and mentor of over thirty years now, Dan McCaw, who had meager beginnings along with a large family to care for. I saw him making it as he did, big time. As I followed him and his career, I just knew I too could do it. Unfortunately, I had a period of time with some disabling health problems which caused me to lose all progress on a career that was on the edge of true success. Fortunately, I overcame my illness and hardships and with a new outlook on life, I forged on. It took the consciousness of having to live a more meager lifestyle and for a while a part time job in an art supply store. These days I’m living in a place by myself with a workable makeshift studio. Furthermore, I have four great high end galleries who appreciate my work and do their level best to connect collectors with my work. I’m now painting full time, living off my art work, and traveling to those wonderful places that inspire my work. I’m so very grateful.

The bottom line here is if you have a will, there is a way. If you want it bad enough, if you have a strong belief in your abilities and, if need be, have the willingness to tighten your belt, you can and will make it. I still believe my time is yet to come, and I’m sixty four years young.

There are 6 comments for Where there’s a will, there is a way by Ron Elstad

From: Win Dinn, Painted Turtle Gallery — Jun 02, 2009

Your ‘Overseers’ makes my mouth water!

From: PeggySu — Jun 02, 2009

Just wanted to say I don’t usually like realism but this picture is wonderful!

From: Ct Cummins — Jun 02, 2009

I have had the pleasure of Ron’s tutelage a few years back and must say that I share his thoughts here.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jun 02, 2009

I was so entranced by Overseers that I looked up your website and became even more entranced. If I could afford one of your paintings, I’d own one. We are on a similar path, in some ways, but you are ahead of me by far. If I were anywhere near you, I’d sign up for one of your workshops in a heartbeat.

From: Laurel Alanna McBrine — Jun 04, 2009

Hey, Ron – I saw your work in a a gallery in Tucson last year. I remember admiring the texture and color.

From: Bruce Griffiths — Jul 12, 2009


Sharing mutual encouragement
by Janice Slattery


watercolour painting
by Janice Slattery

Artists work in solitude. Due to the fact that encouragement is an essential element (other than just spite) to bring us out, to experiment and jump to the next tier, I met and consoled with two artists who live and work in my community, Larry Hart and Veronica Kortz, about how much I needed encouragement. Less than three years ago, we started a small group of three to lift each other up. Larry has since passed away after having completed an array of incredible wood turnings. Veronica and I are still in the mode of encouraging each other, along with 40 other artists in our very small community.

Our group has the following structure; there never will be a group president, leader or boss. Our main purpose is encouraging each other. At each monthly meeting, show or party, our goal is to have fun, to enjoy each other’s company, to share our works and to share food. Everything is voluntary as we have no dues or requirements outside of good behavior. Simple? Yes. We have already had two major shows and have been invited to be a part of other events. We have become in essence a family, tribe or colony working together and independently. Although, we have not decided on what to call our type of group, we are the La Habra Heights Fine Artists and Artisans _____________.

There are 2 comments for Sharing mutual encouragement by Janice Slattery

From: Kells Mooty — Jun 03, 2009

How difficult was it to find artists who were advanced enough to add to your ability? I find it terribly difficult even among the teachers.

If I had the money, I’m retired, I could take an expensive workshop. But, at my age, 67, it seems a waste because I don’t try to sell my paintings.

From: Sarah — Jun 05, 2009

You might find that the workshops are a delight in themselves. I try to remember that it’s the journey that gives pleasure. I don’t plan to give up attending workshops at 71, so I encourage you to try one out.


Good for the soul
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA


“What if you were me”
original painting
by Diane Overmyer

I was recently visited by a sculptor named Jake Webster. Even though I am not a close friend of Jake’s, I always enjoyed chatting with him when I see him at art events. This time his conversation included bits about the African American Art Community, which he is a part of. He told me how closely knit this group of artists are and how he knows other black artists from large cities who would welcome him any time day or night to stay at their studio if he was in the area and needed a place to stay. He went on to say that several of them have dropped by his studio several times. As he talked I felt like he was talking about a family. In a very real sense he was. While Jake has not received an easy ticket to instant riches from living off of his art, I do believe that he has gained the respect of many, many other artists. That fellowship and respect doesn’t pay the bills necessarily, but it does do a lot of good for the soul!


Artistic temperament stereotype
by Scott Murkin, Asheboro, NC, USA


“Strata XLVIII: Resistance is Futile”
quilted textile, 36 x 45 inches
by Scott Murkin

Another similar stereotype that many artists internalize and that threatens their sustainability is that of the ‘artistic temperament.’ This beast is used to excuse all types of behavior. This especially includes the failure to meet deadlines, requirements of exhibitions or competitions and poor social skills. Ironically, the stereotype is so pervasive that often artists who fail to exhibit the ‘artistic temperament’ aren’t taken seriously. They simply aren’t flighty enough to be ‘real’ artists. When artists do succumb to the stereotype, they are often seen as unreliable. The stereotype does indirectly serve to keep expectations low, so that when the artist does come through, it is seen as a major accomplishment. The stereotype probably also gives some artists permission (both internally and externally) to ‘be themselves’ and to experiment with their work. But it seems easily possible to do this without the stereotype as well.

There are 3 comments for Artistic temperament stereotype by Scott Murkin

From: Darla — Jun 02, 2009

I’ve certainly seen that stereotype used to excuse some unacceptable behavior. One way many artists can display their “artistic temperament” without being unprofessional, is with slightly eccentric clothing — unusual jewelry, etc. That way you use the stereotype without being a problem to the people you deal with, and you are immediately identifiable as “the artist”!

From: Lanie Frick — Jun 02, 2009

Anyone know how some of these stereotypes got started? I’ve seen the one you mention here Scott in those wanting to “be” an artist so they focus on the act instead of their art.

From: Mary Carnahan — Jun 02, 2009

A mathematically gifted friend recently told me there is evidence that mathematically and artistically gifted people have a genetic inclination toward depression. I see as artists being more aware of and emotionally reactive to our environments.

I found this on Psychiatric Times: “Are Genius and Madness Related? Contemporary Answers to an Ancient Question” — Dean Keith Simonton, Ph.D. (May 31, 2005 — Psychiatric Times. Vol. XXII No. 7)

“Because some psychopathological symptoms correlate with several of the characteristics making up the creativity cluster, moderate amounts of these symptoms will be positively associated with creative behavior. Moreover, more creative individuals will display these traits to a higher degree. Creators operating in less-constrained domains will also exhibit these symptoms to a greater extent.”


Cultural values play a role
by Ruth Howard

Is the fact that Jewish families value education a stereotype? And are “prophesies and indigenous myths” to be equated with stereotypes? My having been a school teacher for thirty-three years in the public school system, I come to the conclusion that, on the average, Jewish children seem to do well in school. This is because they come from a background where education is highly valued, encouraged and expected by their immediate family and their cultural milieu at large. I give full credit for the academic success of Jewish people as a whole to their home and cultural environment. And that is not a stereotype. It is a fact. As for studies of psychology, it is easy to extrapolate conclusions by looking at bits of data. I disagree with the broad brush that the mere knowledge of expectations affected performance, unless the “mere knowledge” is bolstered by the immediate family.


King and Rowling’s slow road to success
by Rev. Sedgwick Heskett, Racine, WI, USA

Yes, this letter indeed applies to writers too. One of the most frequently given pieces of advice is that most writers don’t sell very much, or anything, and that most writers can’t dream of supporting themselves with their work. Except, of course, for the superstars like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling. Therefore, it’s useful to remember that King placed his typewriter on his trailer’s washing machine and wrote Carrie at night after teaching high school. Furthermore, the first Harry Potter book was rejected by publisher after publisher before becoming an international sensation. Also remember that not every writer, or painter, needs to be a multi-millionaire. That might be as unhelpful as poverty. It would certainly be as time-consuming.


Necessary mentorship
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA


“Adriennes #8”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

Your father showed great wisdom by introducing you to artists whose lives, attitudes and ethics were excellent role models for the successful artistic career. We need more of this sort of interaction in any trade. Young people need to be connected to the wisdom and knowledge of the veteran. They need to know that, yes; art is a serious career for serious minded people. “The Painter’s Key’s” is playing out this valuable interchange. You are passing out your knowledge and wisdom and inspiring others to join the great game of painting. Problematically, the media seems fixated on the misfit painters like Gauguin and Van Gogh whose lives make for good movie fare. You don’t hear as much about the Robert Henri’s and John Singer Sargent’s or Ingres’ or Delacroix’s. We all need clear-headed heroes and mentors.


100% financial loss
by Betty Billups, Sandpoint, ID, USA


“Overlooking dingle harbor”
original painting, 12 x 16 inches
by Betty Billups

In 2007 I had a major exhibition of over 150 framed originals at a college in southern California as a result of a mural I had created for the campus. Framing 150 paintings was one major expense. Add making crates and shipping and it cost me over $4000 to participate. Because the curator did not want to lose any government grants, she refused to put any prices on my work or make a price list available to ensure that there would be no sales! To date, not one contact has resulted because of this exhibition. I’m not too sure what kind of message this is sending to their students as far as encouraging them to pursue an artistic career. Although the exhibition was gorgeously hung and I thought it was a very powerful show; it was a 100% financial loss.

There are 8 comments for 100% financial loss by Betty Billups

From: Ken Flitton — Jun 02, 2009

That is certainly a wonderful painting of Dingle Harbour. If it only cost you $4000 you are fortunate for 150 paintings. Try some other venues and don’t give up.

From: Sharon-Margret — Jun 02, 2009

In response to 100% Financial Loss, It’s a shame you didn’t get all the details ironed out before you went to all that expense and effort!

From: B.J. Billups — Jun 03, 2009

(This is response to Sharon’s question: why I didn’t get all the details irnoned out prior) In regards to “knowing” whether or not a gallery is going to price any art work for a major exhibition, it is usually assumed (yes, and we all know what THAT word means!) that galleriers… (not MUSEUMS…) end result are two fold: (1)To present a powerful exhibition and (2) to market what is presented, so that both the gallery and the artist can benefit, and CONTINUE with their “passion”! AND if the gallery chooses NOT to, then THEY need to make this known to the exhibiting artist, since this is NOT THE NORM!

ALSO, not listing a price on the actual art is often “UP TOWN”, “big gallery” type “thing”… but not to have a price list available, or to direct any sales or contacts to the exhibiting artist, to me is very unprofessional!

To my thinking, a college should be preparing a mind in the complete cirlce: ideas, creation, marketing/survival…not a “show and tell” like we had in kindergarten! If it was made known to the students that this exhibition cost the artist over $4000 (not including frames), do you think any sane person would want to pursue the fine arts for a living? Of course not!!! AND thus, the reason for a college degree is some what misleading, in this case!!!

From: Tom L — Jun 03, 2009

Hi Betty, I am sorry for your loss because of the Exhibit. First off, if they (the College) created the show (with your help) and they received a grant from the proposal, they should have absorbed all of the expense. As for your expense, welcome to this game of put it out there and wait for the sale. You now have a larger supply of framed and ready to sell works, as well as additional exposure. This business is a gamble, PERIOD. You have nice work go out there and sell yourself now. Good Luck.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jun 05, 2009

Some financial losses can be avoided by educating ourselves on “do’s” and “don’ts.” Out of the handful of my solo shows to date, I thought that I had an exceptionally bad luck that 2 of my shows were during major snow storms when most of the public avoided using the roads. Then one experienced artist friend told me that most artists would refuse holding solo shows during winter months…lesson learned.

From: Maria Brophy — Jun 14, 2009

That is frustrating, and I’m sure nothing like this will ever happen to you again.

A great remider for artists: When you are asked to participant in a long-distance exhibit, require that they give you their UPS or Fed Ex account number and that they cover shipping costs.

Also, be sure all contracts are signed before you ship anything – the contrace or letter of understanding will outline all details, including pricing of paintings, etc.

This was an expensive lesson to learn. Thanks for sharing it with us!

From: Todd “Coyote” Cooper — Jul 11, 2009

Hi Betty, so sorry you had to go through that. I hope you can re-coup the loss at another exhibition soon. On a different note, I’m thinking about going to Holcomb Valley Rendezvous in September. Haven’t been to a ‘voo in about 9 years. C’mon down, we’ll set up a gallery lodge.

From: — Jul 11, 2009

Betty, I recognize your name as a highly professional artist, skilled in navigating the exhibition system. This is a heads-up for artists, to verify in writing how prices will be presented as well as other details of the exhibit. In your case, you might have encountered a curator inexperienced with grants. Few Foundations want to give to losing propositions.


Stereotypes in the family
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA


stone sculpture
by Angela Treat Lyon

This reminds me of what my father said to me upon my acceptance to the Parsons School of Design. I wanted to go into the Fine Arts department, but he insisted I take Graphics instead because (imagine derisory inflections), “Everyone knows you’re just a girl and you’re just going to get married and give it all up to make babies anyway. You might as well train in a profession where you can make some money in the mean time.” If he only knew, I’ve made more on my sculpture than I ever did as an art director!



There are 2 comments for Stereotypes in the family by Angela Treat Lyon

From: Anonymous — Jun 05, 2009

Hi Angela, Mine were even worse – I was told that I should learn a good trade “in case I get divorced and have to fend for myself”. So the assumption was not just that I would be financially dependent on my husband, but that I may not even be able to keep a husband…it sounds funny now that I have a career that pays 6 digits – but it’s not in arts and am not happy.

From: LR — Feb 10, 2012

As a girl, you are forced to obey and agree with your family’s decisions. You cannot make your own. And for female artists, I heard they quit once they marry and raise children, that is if their partner is not creative and/or doesn’t appreciate art, in order to keep their marriage because their husband might accuse them of cheating, being bi or lesbian, or being an arrogant, moody, and even abusive, neglectful witch, especially to their children. For male artists, marriage is also rough as well, especially if their partner doesn’t appreciate anything artistic and/or their skill, as far as money goes. I heard most of their wives end up cheating on them with men who make more money than they do because their wives see them as sissy and not manly enough. I’ve heard of male students and faculty members in my old art college who had non-artistic/art-appreciative wives and girlfriends who cheated on them with more masculine men like an old classmate of mine, a graphic designer, who’s currently divorced and holds custody of his son because his non-creative, non-art appreciative ex-wife was cheating on him with a rich guy and it hurt him and his family a lot. Non-creative and/or those that don’t that appreciate art are the worst partners any artist could have. Abuse is common and, in the case of male artists, they get abandoned for someone who perfectly fits the gender norm of being masculine. I have a boyfriend who lacks creativity and accuses me of being lesbian or bi, witch, or loose and says that I should cook, clean, and watch after children rather than design, draw, take photos, and paint, even though I’m a graphic designer and illustrator and he even suspects me of ogling other men whenever I draw them and include photos of them in my designs. Above all, marriages and relationships are very tough for artists, especially if their partner is very conservative and religious.


Controlling statements
by Helen Opie, Granville Ferry, NS, Canada


“Smeltzer Cove, Low Tide”
oil painting, 20 x 20 inches
by Helen Opie

This has given me another occasion to chase down “controlling statements.” That is, things we were told and took in as the gospel truth and have controlled our behavior and attitudes from then on. My mother gave me the idea that if you didn’t hang in the National Gallery you weren’t a ‘real artist.’ I then discovered that there are thousands of us out here who don’t hang there, may never hang there. Yet we still derive great satisfaction from our work; demonstrate devotion to art and continuing learning. As well, we are at least known in the puddles in which we live. Then there’s my high school English teacher who used to rant at us about the dangers of getting into a rut. “You know what a rut is, don’t you?” he thundered before dropping his voice to a fierce-sounding hiss, “It’s a grave with both ends open.” At least the other end is open too, so we can drive ourselves on out if we so choose.

There are 2 comments for Controlling statements by Helen Opie

From: Catherine Robertson — Jun 04, 2009

I really love your painting ! It struck me to a “halt” with the mouse as I scrolled down looking at all the paintings/comments. Great job !

From: Alan Crabtree — Jul 15, 2009

I absolutely love this painting. It’s got such a ‘smooth’, peaceful feeling to it. Thank you for the beautiful painting.




Summer in Provence

acrylic painting, 48 x 48 inches
by Jennifer Vranes, OR, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Charlene Marsh of Nashville, IA, USA who wrote, “People love to repeat the stereotype when they hear I am an artist. I don’t allow it. I say to them (usually with crossed fingers), ‘Cancel that. I am a healthy, wealthy, well fed artist.’ ”

And also John Crowther of Los Angeles, CA, USA who wrote, “On the subject of the ‘starving artist’ stereotype, it’s worth remembering that it is a relatively recent one. Before the advent of galleries and agents (starting in the 19th century) artists had to be shrewd entrepreneurs to survive.”

And also CJ Chapel of Corvallis, OR, USA who wrote, “I would like to add another stereotype that I think we should contradict whenever we can. That artist’s are irresponsible, wacky and/or eccentric. Oh, and that they’re alcoholics.”

And also Heidi McCurdy of White Rock, BC, Canada who wrote, “Yes, I agree that the ‘starving artist’ stereotype is really destructive. Not just for painters, but for performing artists as well. Likely it’s hard to be motivated to keep at it if you have been trained to have low expectations for financial success. We need to avidly encourage, not discourage, ourselves and each other.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Stereotype threat



From: Roger Thomas NZ — May 28, 2009

Robert Genn. I just love your weekly words. They are always prolific, informative and ever encouraging. You seem to find and face all the trials and tribulations we as artists find in our world of what we do and can never really put into words…you do! Keep them coming and please, never stop writing, will always be watching. Cheers to you!

From: Roger Thomas NZ — May 28, 2009

Robert. I meant profound in my last comment. Be prolific as you like.

From: pascale boulon — May 29, 2009

quel horreur tous ces stréréotypes ,osons les faire mentir,etre ce que nous sommes,halte aux rangements dans des petites boites

From: Suzette Fram — May 29, 2009

To translate the previous comment: “what horror all those stereotypes. Let’s dare to prove them false, let’s be who we are and put a stop to being pidgeonholed into little boxes.”

From: Sarah Clegg — May 29, 2009

Stereotyping works both ways of course. Only last week I was amused by a client haggling with me over the price of a painting. ‘But I’m only a retired farmer’ said he. I countered with ‘But I’m a starving artist…’ Both of us knew the rules of the game. I held firm, stuck to my price and he left his wife to write a cheque for two paintings. Happy client, happy artist (but still broke!).

From: Gene Martin — May 29, 2009

There are many reasons an artist fails. Stereotyping should not be one of them. I have long felt we should not be “donating” our art to the rich, but very needy, community around us. We have the same right to succeed as anyone else. People need to learn to pay our price and stop the incessant begging.

If you are not succeeding then change something. Change your medium, your approach, your attitude or even your location. All the while knowing you have the right to success.

From: Karen Cooper — May 29, 2009

Good morning, another interesting writing, thank you! I would like to propose the idea that we are especially sensitive to stereotyping of artists, because we are artists. Does not every career/job come with a stereotype? Farmers are supposed to be ruddyfaced and wholesome, movie directors are supposed to be flamboyant, accountants are supposed to be glasses-wearing nerds, construction workers are supposed to be wolfwhistling lady watchers — the list could go on and on, right? At a recent meeting, I noted two artist friends. The first, a painter whose work I know sells steadily, came dressed in casual, but elegant attire. The second, came dressed like the stereotypical starving artist, complaining that no one could sell paintings in a market like this. We can support the stereotype, or we can refute it, just don’t whine about the consequences!

From: Wendie Thompson — May 29, 2009

Oh yes…my hubby and I have recently addressed this issue even in our own family. Whenever I do something “spacey” (which I have been known to do, with my head in my next project and all), he dismisses it by saying “Your just a crazy artist” but then I remind him that he was an artist first which usually results in riotous laughter! All fooling aside though…I take very seriously the studies I have read about the programing of the mind. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4-8)

From: Diane Edwards — May 29, 2009

Oh, if only the stereotype about collectors preferring male artists were just a myth!! Anyone who reads art magazines and looks at the list of shows knows that is an unfortunate truth. Once when taking a class from an male master pastelist he reeled off dozens of artists names over the five days. On the fifth day I asked him if he felt that ANY females were good artists. After some deliberation on his part he gave us two, yes, two names. The “myth” goes on.

From: Dwight Williams — May 29, 2009

It ticks me off (nice phrase for what I really would say) when the “starving artist” gang shows up at some local motel and fills the TV with ads about cheap prices (nothing over $19.95) and terrible, assembly-line copies of old masters.

I have always believed the old adage “nothing succeeds like success” and it works. I haven’t missed a meal yet (actually live in a nice place) after thinking that way as I paint for over 40 years.

Don’t let the simpletons (another nicer word for what I might really say) wear you down.

From: Gwen — May 29, 2009

The worst stereotype I ever heard was Artists are selfish people. It was probably the most discouraging thing I could ever hear, as it came from within my household from someone I loved very much. There are people who think that unless you are “saving” the world, feeding the poor, and healing the sick, you are not living a giving life. Needless to say, I have continued with my selfish life. But it still hurts.

From: Nina — May 29, 2009

Well there r always some truth in stereotypes.

I do not like being the starving artist but currently that is my predicament. I am applying for food stamps this week and I am trying to start working as a full time artist.

If you are a successful artist please do not forget you all needed to start somewhere. Especially think about the ones that have no family or a place to start from. Think about the ones who have to overcome such crazy obstacles in life to become successful artists.

I would hope that all artists reach out to a beginning artist. Give them the support you wish you had as a beginner.

Artists always r thinking about the competition but there r enough buyers for everyone. I wish the Artist community was more about helping each other out than in competition.

Im starting over my life again and hope to not always be the poor starving artist but currently I fit the stereotype almost perfectly.

From: Barb — May 29, 2009

Hi Nina,

I am sorry to say that you come across as a stereotype – someone who won’t even put an effort to type full words for the convenience of readers, but yet expecting help. Do your best in everything you do – that’s the best help you will ever get – and from the best person – yourself

From: Jeanne — May 30, 2009

It is a part of the human psyche to want to find a way to stereotype, or pigeon hole other human beings. If you dress crummy and complain about your lack of sales, you fit the starving artist stereotype. If you dress clean and decently (professionally) and talk about your work in an intelligent way, you will be pigeon holed as a successful artist. We can overcome stereotypes by surprising others with information that doesn’t fit their stereotype. This won’t work with someone who is sure they know everything, and need to fit people into small boxes, but they probably weren’t going to buy art anyway.

From: Janet Sellers — Jun 01, 2009

If my name were true, yah, I’d be me in the wealthy zone. Here’s to making it happen! I do think that immediate family/close relationships have a powerful influence on a human… ergo success or failure is energetically increased via what we send out to expand… BANG! goes the Universe… out and on… its nature is to grow.

From: lizglass — Jun 01, 2009

Stereotypes can change a life. As a child and a teenager, I wanted to be an artist, but my family was strongly opposed to it, because I “would starve” unless I found a rich husband… I made a sucessful career in international finance and retired early, to spend most of my time painting. Although I don’t expect to live – or starve – on selling my works, my measure of success is the pleasure of doing it daily.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jun 02, 2009
From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Jun 03, 2009

Love your last statement Dayle!

Unfortunately, the stereotypes are out there and perpetuated by the unknowing or the unbelieving…whether verbally or by action. I think the job of any artist is to stop the myths by proof… work harder… speak louder…be your own biggest fan… nurture other artists… chip away at the stereotypes any chance that you get! :) I believe that every artist has run dead-on into a living, breathing stereotype at some point… it’s all in how you handle it. Will it crush you, or will it add fuel to your artistic-passion? Personally, I get vexed… then I laugh… and then I PAINT MY HEART OUT! That’ll show ’em! :)

From: Kells Mooty — Jun 03, 2009

Dayle, you and Dorenda are right to simply ‘Paint your hearts out”.

I never look at a signature to determine if a painting has merit! Anyone who thinks gender has anything to do with talent is lacking the brain matter to matter anyway!

“Experts” are not the means to our end. An ‘ex-spert’ is a drip under pressure! My experience has been that gallery owners do not necessarily know ‘good’ art. They can determine what goes in their gallery, but there are many galleries, and hard work will win out!

I once had a gallery owner using her assistant to determine if an artist was any good. This assistant made the decision as to who would get an opportunity to proceed to the owners attention.

I decided to look around her gallery at those who had made it. I felt better then, and left.

Keep working!

From: Ernest Stonebraker — Jun 04, 2009

Robert — I enjoy your letters and the responses from readers, including the examples of their art. These images differ in size on the screen, such as Betty Billups beautiful painting “Overlooking Dingle Harbor”, which appears very small on my screen. Could you publish guidelines for submission of digital images in terms of suggested number of pixels on the long side of the image, pixel density (ppi) and/or size of the image, so that all images display roughly equal in size? Thanks and keep up the good work. –Ernest

From: Jackie Smith — Jun 22, 2009

As I sit here in my isolated world, Appalachain Mountains of Western North Carolina, I read your letter and do not feel isolated. I feel very much a part of your “artist’s family”. Your letters encourage me which keeps me motivated to “keep on keeping on”. Many thanks to you, I am a devoted reader. I learn from everyone’s comments. Please keep writing…you’re a beam of light down in my little hamlet town of Bryson City. Bless you!

From: JT Harding — Jul 26, 2009

Don’t forget the old “You’ll only make money on your art after you die” stereotype. This I’ve heard many times and it’s laughable.



Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.