Do the right thing: your guide to arts etiquette

Daily Review‘s occasional column Do The Right Thing solves the dilemmas and misunderstandings that can arise when artists and audiences come face to face in the real world. If you are confused as to how to negotiate your way in your art world interactions please submit your problem(s) in the comments field below, or if you have a solution to any of the questions below, please share.

Question: I know that it’s not really my business, but I live in a state of perpetual rage about fashionable urbanistas co-opting famous painters’ names for their off-spring as a way of trying to buy personality for themselves. St Kilda and Northcote are brimming with little Vincents, Pablos and Fridas — and even a really horrible little Basquiat. How can I vent my rage? — V.C

Dear V.C,

Adopt the great Aussie tradition of nick-naming. Vinnie, Pabs, Friz and Baz brings their parents down to size. The alternative is to respond to introductions by saying: “How fascinating! Are you related to Van Gogh?”


Q: I am a famous writer with many published books. Many people ask me for free copies of my books, assuming I get copies of my own book gratis. These are often people I know well but are not friends — cleaning staff, children’s tutors, and so on — but despite a 40 per cent discount from the publisher, I still have to pay. I don’t mind giving them my books, but I’d like them to know that it costs me to do so, as I feel I should be earning a higher degree of gratitude than I might for distributing “freebies”. Please advise. — M.H

Dear M.H,

The next time a support services operator requests a copy of one of your books, say “I’d love to give you but unfortunately my Mastercard bounced which has held up the shipment”.


Q: I am a reasonably successful visual artist and mix with a lot of left-wing intellectual snobs who like to believe real artists should suffer for their art. When people ask me where I live, I feel obliged to tell the truth — Toorak — and it always seems a bit pathetic to explain that apartments in this chi-chi neighbourhood are actually cheaper than in hipper and grungier areas. My address is doing my street cred no favours. Please help. —  T van der C.

Dear T van der C,

Casually drop into the conversation that you are currently residing in an apartment block owned by a patron of the arts. The deal was free rent in exchange for a very large and long-term commissioned work. This will explain the longevity of your stay.


Q: A close friend of mine used to be a groupie in the 1970s and is famous for having slept with Mick Jagger when they played Kooyong. I love my friend and don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I feel that at nearly 60, she should call a halt to the “famous men I slept with” anecdotes. How do I break it to her?  — P.K

Dear P.K,

We sense a long-maintained jealousy. If your friend wants to bask in past glories, it is not your job to dismantle her pleasure.


Q: As a published author, I frequently have speaking gigs, after which I am available to sign copies of my books. People whose names I should remember often purchase a book for signing, and with pen poised I am appalled at having to ask them their names. How do I deal with this?  — J.R

Dear J.R,

As they are chatting to you, casually ask –“How do you spell your name again?”  If they respond with the common spelling for “Jane” or “Jim”, laugh and say at high school signings you have been caught out misspelling so many simple names such as the time “Jim” was spelt with a “Y” and an apostrophe, that you are now in the habit of asking.

One response to “Do the right thing: your guide to arts etiquette

  1. My question: At certain parties (hipster-inflected) it seems less problematic to say anything except that I am an artist. Cos *everyone* is an artist. I don’t want to say accountant or dentist as that just asks for trouble. I don’t want to say cleaner either, who does? Nor that I am a teacher, work in a restaurant (I know nothing about either of those). What are some useful jobs I could say that’s extremely neutral, or predictably dull? Thanks.


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