'Poppy' ©

Poppy © Mary Baker, Oil on Paper

Living with an Artist

Living with an artist isn't easy, particularly if you are the significant other. So, after living with and working with artists for over 20 years I've put together a few suggestions and insights.

Most artists I know go through classic symptoms of withdrawal when deprived of their work environment for too long. They get grouchy, irritable, may suffer from physical complaints such as headaches, body aches and often times find themselves depressed for no reason. These symptoms miraculously disappear when they are given the opportunity to work again. The primary reason for this is artists are wired differently than the rest of us. While most of us can get by with the basic elements of Maslow's theory, food, shelter, etc... artists need to be able to create as much as they need food or oxygen. It is so much a part of who they are, that to deprive them of it would be like asking you or I not to talk, not to eat, not to breathe. They have been given this gift in the same way we were given blue eyes or brown. Making art is not an option for them, it is a necessity.

The concept of "working" was a hard one for me to understand. Often times I'd go into my husband's studio and see him sitting on the couch with the television on or listening to the radio... staring at his paintings. I'd been at my office all day, talking on the phone or busy with clients. This was not my idea of "work." It wasn't until I really understood the process of making a painting that I realized how much of the work is in just looking... thinking... imagining what it would be like to do this or that. Mental activity that to the lay person looks like relaxation. I could accept the fact that slathering paint around was work... but, sitting and staring, that was hard for me. What I came to learn was that the "looking," is the hardest part. It was kind of like hearing about the way Mozart wrote music. He wouldn't write anything down until he could hear it all in his head first, then he would write it out perfectly in a matter of minutes.

Contrary to the common stereotype of artists as slackers, artists are incredibly industrious and hard working. In most cases, regardless of what they do for a living, they are working on their obsession 24/7. Acknowledging this, can help tremendously in understanding an important aspect of an artists' character... and saving a relationship.

© By Sylvia White

Please visit Sylvia White at her website, Art Advice,, career management for artists; share her wit and her wisdom, and find out the many things that she has to offer at Contemporary Artist's Services.