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Ten Things to Never Say to an Art Major


“What’s your major?” is a question every college kid gets asked too many times to count. Most of the time this question serves as small talk, and no one actually cares about the answer. The question is annoying to most students, but typically easy to answer and conversation flows on smoothly. The student is asked how they like it, and what they want to do after they graduate. Easy peasy. Unless you’re an art major. This question is the most stressful, anxiety-provoking thing for me because every time I answer I am afraid that one of these 10 phrases is going to be said.

1. “Oh”

Every art major I’ve talked to knew exactly what I was talking about. This is the response we get right after saying our major is in the visual arts. This isn’t an “Oh boy! I’m so happy” kind of “oh,” this is an “oh” accompanied by a sigh or an eye roll. You can almost hear the disappointment in their voice and they either ask insulting questions, such as, “Why are you wasting your money studying that?” or make insulting suggestions, such as, “a lot of people switch their major in college, it isn’t too late to pick something new.” This is one of those moments when I bite my tongue, excuse myself to go pee, and angrily rant on Facebook.

2. “You’ll be a certified waitress (or waiter)”

This is potentially the single most insulting thing you can tell someone who is pursuing a degree in art. You basically just told them that they have no shot of making it in their field, and they will be forced to pick up a serving job in order to make ends meet for the rest of their life. You just implied that you don’t believe in what they are doing, and their career has no worth. I will admit, the art world can be competitive, but it is not impossible to make a decent living as a painter, photographer or designer. Instead of knocking down a future artist, why not support them by attending their art shows and exhibitions?

3. “But isn’t everything technically art?”

Sure. Kinda. Not really. There is a fine line between what is art and what is not, and I can tell you all about the modern movement if you have the time, thanks to all of the art history classes I have been forced to take. However, I am spending my money and time obtaining a degree in fine art, and therefore I am developing technique and skill to create the art that I do.

4. “Can you draw my tattoo (for free)?”

No. I cannot. I don’t think that people realize how much time and effort goes into just one drawing. There is a reason why a tattoo artist is called an artist. They are a person that you are paying to put art on your body. Talk to that person about developing the design. I’m a broke and tired college kid with two papers and a painting to finish. I don’t have time to design your Pokémon-themed half sleeve.

5. “I drew a picture once”

Good for you. Congratulations. This is the equivalent of approaching a biology major and saying that you made a paper mache volcano that erupted and expect to be taken seriously. Unless your drawing contains actual substance and technique, don’t embarrass yourself.

6. “Oh you’re so lucky. That’s so easy”

This is incredibly rude, and I truly do not understand why people think this is an acceptable thing to say. My major is anything but easy. I live in my studio. I eat, sleep and breathe in the toxic paint fumes like a champ. Studio art is not something that one can procrastinate on. Art takes time, and careful planning of the artistic process. While others can pull an all-nighter and write a paper that is worth 40% of their grade (and still manage to get an A), art majors spend at least an additional 6-10 hours a week on their projects per studio class. Art is not easy. An artist may take months, years, and even decades developing a skill set to create their pieces.

7. “Starving artist.”

This is very similar to the certified waitress comment. You just told a young artist that they will live in poverty if they pursue their dreams. ‘Starving artist’ is just as bad as a swear word in my mind; it degrades art as a profession and discourages artists from progressing their careers.

8.    “That’s not a real degree?”

Right because I’m not receiving a bachelor of fine arts at commencement. I’m just walking across a stage in a cap and gown for s**ts and giggles. The degree requirements for art majors at UT are rough. We have to take studio and history classes, as well as seminar classes and mandatory graded reviews of our work.

9. “Can you write this for me? Your handwriting has to be better than mine.”

Actually, I wish this stereotype were true. My handwriting is chicken scratch. Just because I spend my days drawing a still life does not mean that my penmanship is pretty. Use a stencil or projection for help if you need it, not me.

10.  “What are you gonna do with that?”

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe have a long, successful career working in a field that I love and feel passionate about? Art is a form of expression as well as important academic discipline that dates back to the beginning of human existence. If you’ve ever looked at a painting in awe, or walked away from a visual performance moved then you viewed a great art piece. Artists spend their careers creating pieces for the public to view, criticize, and appreciate. Speaking as an artist, this is not an easy task, but worthwhile and an important in terms of expressing the human experience. Artists deal with a lot of crap, but do so because we love what we do and are committed to our careers.    

Caitlin O’Brien can be reached at

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