Here’s how you show up for an artist friend or family member if you are broke yourself.
A Creative Type
So you followed my advice and now your kid wants to study art, film, music, or design as a career. You’re excited for them, but you’re also a little nervous, too. Your own company dismantled its design department. Your neighbor’s kid graduated college 15 years ago with a degree in mixed-media and works at a coffee shop. You want to support your kid, but not support your kid. Your retirement account took a hit in 2008 and hasn’t fully recovered. You’re going through a divorce and a bankruptcy. Your elderly mother needs around-the-clock care. What should you do?
Or you have a close friend who was always a creative type. You want to show support but really can’t fund all those Kickstarter projects your friend seems to constantly have. You got your own bills to worry about. Is there something else you can do instead?
Yes, you can do something else.
In this Medium story, I’m going to use friend to represent the artist in your life, such as your spouse, your kid, your parent, your sibling, your roommate, your coworker, etc. I’m also going to use singular they as a gender-neutral term to refer to your friend.
Here’s how to offer support to your artist friend without going broke yourself.
Ask Them About Their Work, Preferably over Coffee or Lunch or Some Other Casual Setting
Are you familiar with your friend’s work at all? While there is plenty of overlap in creative/artist/design fields, not all artists are created equal. You may know that your friend is a glass-blower, but you may not know that your glass-blower friend only makes abstract glass sculptures.
This is your opportunity to ask them what they do. The key is to make this a safe environment for your artist friend, free of criticism, judgment, or the feeling of an interrogation. Talk to them face-to-face. Get them out of their studio or home. Invite them to a coffee shop or park or other public place and put your listening ears on. It’ll also be easy to transition to other topics your friend may care about, taking the pressure off of them to be “on” about their career. We do have interests outside of our artistic careers.
But at the Same Time, Keep Your Opinions About the Details of Their Career to Yourself
If you are related to an artist, you may feel the need to be deeply invested in their career. Please stop. You’re not the expert in that field. No one likes unsolicited advice. No one.
Let’s say you have a friend who is a product photographer. Don’t suggest to that friend they should be shooting weddings instead. Those are two separate areas of photography that require different skills. And it doesn’t matter if you believe your friend can shoot weddings. They probably can. But they won’t. It may not make sense to you why they won’t. But stop asking.
Creative professionals and artists have a difficult time explaining what they do to others, especially if that person happens to be from a background where the majority of the local population is working to survive, not to thrive. Take the product photographer, for example. It’s a niche field. To your friend, he is thinking about his portfolio and brand. You are thinking: “people get married all the time so it’s probably easy money.” This may come as a shock, but while your friend would love money, his brand is worth much more. He’s making a calculated career decision. Oh, and one more thing: weddings aren’t easy money.
Creatives tend to be more concerned with long-term success instead of meeting the short-term goals typical of a person who believes work is just something you do because you are an adult.