"What do you do?"


Well-known member
When I'm out and about one thing I dread is when someone asks "What do you do?". To say "painter" means to most people that you paint houses. To say "artist" doesn't mean much since no one can define "art". And "artist" like "freelance" or "self-employed" is often taken as code for - unemployable. but I've come upon a viable solution. When someone asks "what do you do? - you simply say "I sell art". Hopefully, that will scratch their itch.

If not and they follow up with "what kind of art" - paintings. If they ask "what kind of paintings" - figurative" (in my case). If they ask "what artists?" - (in my case) Bongo exclusively. If they ask "who is Bongo?" - a contemporary painter working in oils and acrylics. If they ask 'where can I see his work" - give them your web address. whadda ya think?
The thing to do is for every question they ask, follow up with a question of your own. "what do you do?" often really means they want to tell you what they do
If you dress the part when you go out on the town, they won't ask. They'll come to their own conclusions.

In my case, Carhaart jeans, earth-toned t-shirts (I wear black on my feet only, otherwise I look abysmally bad in it), a battered WWI vintage leather motorcycle dispatcher's jacket or textured leather long coat, a floppy white beret, horn rim specs. And of course, long hair.

"You must be an artist."

Or, "You must be a musician."
I just tell people I'm a bum. Ha ha ha.

When hard-pressed, I will say "artist." I've never had a problem with the word, since I've done a number of different kinds of art (music, writing, painting, etc.). But you are right that people just want to talk about themselves. However, I've found that a lot are intrigued with artists when they do something that's nothing like art at all. They want to know more and will keep asking about the kind of art you make. That's when it gets tricky, so I too just tell them they should just go to my website. I usually say it's "weird, and not traditional. You'd have to see it." I'll often say, "It's not for everyone." :rolleyes:
Maybe it would be better to just make something up. Kinda like Clive Owen, who plays the writer Jack Manfred in Croupier-- when he's getting a makeover so he can work in the casino, the manicurist asks him what he does, and he says, "I'm an arms dealer." Then the hair stylists asks him what he does and he says, "I'm an undertaker."
My problem is when friends ask for and think I can paint them a thing....person, view, site,
kids, flowers or a nice landscape......!

I can’t paint for toffee, but I do tell a good story
If I don't feel like I can say "long-term unemployed due to disability" in current company "freelance illustrator" is my go-to. It sounds feasible and it's not technically wrong since I have actually sold... more than one commission. I hate that question so much though. In my country it's a veiled "how much money have you got and therefore how worthwhile is it to talk to you"
To say "I sell art" makes me think you're an art dealer -- not an artist yourself. I would instead answer that you are a "professional artist". If you want to clarify yourself as an artist / painter, rather than a wall painter, then try "I'm a fine arts painter".
I totally understand what you mean drizzle. A lot of people value other on their material worth or what they can physically give to society.

I have no issue calling myself an "artist," but I know that even the "greatest" artists won't call themselves such. When I call myself an artist, I do not think myself great by any means whatsoever. I know I am not, but it is how I make a living for the most part, and so it's never bothered me to call myself that. I was a musician for a good part of my life too and never had a problem calling myself that either.