Ask the Art Prof: Will Negative Stereotypes About Visual Artists Ever Go Away?

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“Do you think art will become an integral part of the everyday person’s life where the negative stereotypes about artists are removed and respected as much as any other profession? What do you think will get us there?”

I think the issue is not that people aren’t exposed to visual art enough, rather it’s that frequently they aren’t given the opportunity to see what’s really involved in the process of being an artist.  People encounter visual art on a daily basis, but it’s rare that your average person would have access to seeing the blood, sweat, and tears, and years of effort that happens behind every work of art.

The negative stereotypes that are prevalent about artists certainly don’t help either: that visual artists are lazy, flaky, do drugs and drink alcohol to get inspired, or that visual artists don’t get famous until after they die. These stereotypes could not be farther from the truth.  My colleagues who are practicing artists are some of the most hard-working, intelligent, diligent, conscientious people I know. They are as deeply engaged and dedicated in their creative pursuits as my friends who are doctors and lawyers.

William Kentridge, art21

Contemporary artist William Kentridge on art21

The average person wouldn’t question for a minute that a cardiologist had to work extremely hard for years to achieve their level of expertise.  That’s generally not the case with visual artists, the layman doesn’t view visual art as requiring the same level of rigor that a doctor would require. Certainly, the fields of medicine and visual art could not be more different from each other, but the assumption that visual artists are undisciplined, people is completely wrong.

The one that really gets under my skin is when people think that being an artist is just a matter of being talented.  People say to me all the time “you’re so lucky that you’re talented”, as if that’s all it takes, and the decades of hard work, dedication, and commitment had nothing to do with my success as an artist.

In order for people to attain a greater understanding of the process of being an artist, at least two things would need to happen:  artists would need to start to make themselves and their processes more transparent and accessible to everyone, and the general public would need to a mainstream venue in which they could see what happens in the creative process.

Sarah Sze, Art 21

Contemporary artist Sarah Sze on art21

An excellent example of this is the PBS series “art21”, which features documentaries of renowned contemporary artists and their process. Reading about historical artists is fascinating in its own ways, but nothing substitutes hearing directly from an artist who is working and living in same contemporary context that we live in. I found that I could relate to these contemporary artists in an intimate manner because their work is a reaction to the same contemporary events that I’ve experienced myself.


Another of my favorite resources is cartoonist Bill Watterson’s “The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book”, in which he writes in great detail about his creative process writing his comic strip.  He’s direct and honest about his thoughts: “People always ask how cartoonists come up with ideas, and the answer is so boring that we’re usually temped to make up something sarcastic.  The truth is, we hold a blank sheet of paper, stare into space, and let our minds wander.”

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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