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The Artist's Uniform

by Keith Bond on 8/8/2011 10:54:11 AM

This article is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.



Back when I was in college, I would intentionally get paint on my jeans.  As I was out and about wearing those colorfully splotched pants, I felt the part of a true artist.  I imagined people looking at me and saying to themselves with awe and admiration, “He is a real artist!”


Fortunately, I grew up.


But there does seem to be a bit of that mentality among many aspiring artists.  I was there.  I felt that if I looked the part, it somehow legitimized me to others.  Visit any art department on any college campus and you will see a group of bohemian looking aspiring artists.  They are playing the part.  Many underground art circles in many cities also have this group of artists.


The truth is, though, that I have come to know many, many professional artists over the years.  Almost none of them feel the need to dress the part of the stereotypical starving artist.  Fact is they all look, dress, and act normal.  While it is true that there are certainly some professionals that do fit within the stereotype, I think the vast majority dress and look like most normal individuals.  Ragged clothes and unkempt hair don’t make an artist.


But let’s take this one step further.  How do you dress when you are at a gallery reception?


Once in a while, you see a few who “dress the part” of an artist.  But most people simply wear nice, but casual clothes.  A few dress up in dress shirt with tie (for the man) and a skirt or dress pants and blouse (for the woman). 


May I suggest that you should always dress up when attending a show, reception, or gala at which your art is on display.


The military has two uniforms, the Combat Uniform (working uniform), and the Service Uniform (also known as the formal uniform, worn at formal and ceremonial occasions).  As an artist, you should also have two separate uniforms.  One for while you create your artwork and one for receptions and shows.  Your work clothes and your reception clothes.


If you dress down at shows, in your combat gear, you fuel the stereotype of the starving but free-living artist.  When you dress up, you present yourself as a successful professional.  Isn’t that what you want, after all?  You are professional.  Play the part.  Dress up.


Best Wishes,

Keith Bond

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Topics: art marketing | FineArtViews | inspiration | Keith Bond | originality 

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Barbara Andolsek
You said it all and I, for one, completely agree with you Keith.

Nicole Hyde
There's a dress code now? No thanks.

I absolutely agree, we should always look our best when at openings and receptions. First impressions mean a lot.

What do you think an artist should wear when asked to paint publicly? I almost always end up getting paint on my clothes so don't know what to wear to an even like that. I have thought that nice "scrubs" might work.

Once I was asked to paint at an event at the local college. I wore a good pair of jeans, a long sleeved cotton top, painters apron and I was careful to not get paint on those jeans. A photo showed up on the cover of the local newpaper of me painting, so I was thankful I put thought into what I wore that day.

Joeline Wieburg
I so agree with Keith! There is a time for work cloths, and a time to show respect for your work and others, show it by dressing for the occasion. Besides, a show is a party for you art, have fun and wear something festive!!

jack white
Your article is dead on correct. I have seen artist dress like slobs at important art events.
One had one paint covered tennis shoes at a black tie show.

When I was doing shows my uniform was an expensive cowboy hat with two paint brushes in the headband. I always wore boots. My hat and well worn boots became my logo. People came to events expecting me to be in uniform. My boots had several patches, giving them character and a conversation piece. I loved to tell people after they made a purchase I might be able to buy some new boots. They know I was doing well, so the boots always opened a easy conversation.

Mikki has several silk suits for her shows. People are shocked to see her painting in a white silk suit. Dress nice but not too much.

It's a fact, no one wants to buy from a starving artist. Look the part until you become a success. You only get one shot as a good first impression.

I hope artists will take you advice. jack

Sue Betanzos
Yes, I you have a great point and I completely agree with you Keith. Nice professional dress cloths should reflect you as a Professional Artist. That ratty, or wacky look is so 80's-90's.

I recently went to a studio art event that had guest artists doing demos. One was a lady who had purple hair extensions with a big flower in her hair. Her demos were kind of cheesy too.

Yes, a professional dress code for Professionals. Beautiful, tasteful fashion with artful, accents can say professional artist with class and style.

Donna Robillard
I agree with dressing for the part - after all we are professionals and should be proud to be showing our work.

geri degruy
people judge by appearances, much as my insides rebel against that. part of good marketing i think is presenting ourselves as genuine, and as professional. dressing well is a part of our "package", our presentation to the (hopefully buying) world.

also i find that "dressing up" to some extent helps ME to feel the part. When i was a health administrator, i wore power suits. it helped. i saw myself as powerful and so did others. not that clothes are everything. they aren't. but they contribute to how we feel about ourselves and how others see us.

Sharon Weaver
Originally I made my living as a fashion designer so I have always been a clothes horse but have had trouble making a good painting outfit. I like having pockets so I have tried hiking pants but recently switched to a fishing vest. I will always take a nice outfit for the reception but sometimes the weather just doesn't cooperate. Especially when the event is outdoors, as many plein air receptions are. Sometimes too cold or rainy for that nice dress. I have found it saver to always have a nice pair of slacks and sweater.

Donald Fox
Uniform is a loaded word that conjurs many negative thoughts for artsy types. However, an art opening is a business event and one should dress accordingly. The artwork is the main attraction, and why would an artist want to detract from the work? Most artists would not display poor taste with their work (sadly, some exempt themselves). Why should they do so with their dress? Dressing well doesn't mean being drab.

maria poroy
Robert Burridge described his wardrobe as clothes covered in paint and clothes about to be covered in paint. This is a real hazard for me.For outdoor shows I wear my dress up sunday go to meeting jeans and a nice western shirt or tshirt with my art on it. For Galleries I get more fashion-y but no more power suits for sure. I'd of burned them but I am sure they did more good at Goodwill.

Roxanne Martin
Yeh, I remember being told in university that I did not look like an artist. LOL

Lee McVey
I totally agree with you, Keith. Many people commenting make good points as well. If we want to be seen as professionals and taken seriously, I think it behooves us to act that way, which includes a little dress up for our art receptions, whether it's for our own show or someone. This dressing up allows for a lot of leeway and isn't too rigid.

Joanne Benson
I agree with the article completely. I was interested in the comment about plein air events. I hadn't considered my dress for them too seriously.....hence my old jeans or capris and an old T shirt. Now I'll have to reconsider. I recently bought one of those smocks that goes over everything....perhaps that will work...if it's not too hot! I generally wear an apron as the first line of defense anyway...hmmmm....need to ponder my plein air attire now.....hmmmmm

But I do enjoy getting dressed up for gallery events! These days most things are so casual that it is nice to have an occasion to get a little dressy! I get out my funky jewelry to spice things up a bit.

Maybe it's my science training, but I decided to test Lori's advice about wearing a dress to your own opening reception, and while the sample size was inadequate, and there was surely sampling bias involved, I have to say that I did sell 4 pieces that night. Who can say if there's anything really to it, but it's a bit of harmless mental magic that might help and certainly can't hurt. Thanks, Lori!

LynaLou Nordstrom
Hi All, I totally agree with all of you. It's good to dress up for our receptions and for other people's. One thing I had trouble with in high school and college. I didn't "look" like an artist because my clothes were too ordinary. When I started to dress a little more avant garde, people started to believe me! I want to dress up more when I teach workshops, but I don't want all of my clothes to have paint all over them! ...and I think you are one wants to buy from a starving artist and I don't want to be one either!! How about when we are just about town?? should we "hide" the fact that we are in working mode??

LynaLou Nordstrom
This is a great arena for sharing such stuff!

KJ Todd
Nice subject Keith! It seems like, of all people, artists would realize that fashion is art...I love any excuse to dress up...I relate to Joeline's comment about our shows being a party, yes...a celebration!...and Donald's right, dressing well isn;t necessarily drab! We don't want to take away from our art...but the most interesting people take what the designers give them and make it their own...I try to "do unto others".., would I want an instuctor teaching me art looking lazy/not creative? and would I want to buy from such an image? Image is something, but maybe not everything!

Joanne Benson
Congratulations on your sales! The dress certainly couldn't hurt. My biggest problem is dressy shoes that I can stand in for hours! I have hobbled around a few openings and now try for attractive flats!

I like your comment about fashion and creativity! We should try to look a little bohemian in a dressy attractive way! My schtick is always large pendants or funky jewelry of some sort. It is a good conversation starter and I love the stuff!

Melicia Evans
Hey thanks! I didn't know what my problem was. I thought I was just a slob. Now I know I am really an artist. :) When I am in 'mode' I have to make myself think about my dress style. I have a need to be comfortable and just be myself, which does not often include dressing up. I guess I should work on that.

Marian Fortunati
Good points... but no matter what we end up wearing on the outside in a way we're playing a part. Perception is often at least as important as reality.

Jana Botkin
Because I have to wear such terrible clothes while painting, I find it a bit of a thrill to have a reason to dress up! Likewise, I dress up a bit for teaching my private drawing lessons because: 1. I want my students to view me as a serious professional (they are paying me!) and 2. I want my students to respond to me by being serious in their attention and attendance (again, they are paying me!)

LynaLou Nordstrom
That's a good point!

Jo Allebach
Everything is so casual these days especially in the southwest so it is fun to dress up on occasion. I agree with the shoe problem though.Joanne. Maybe I should try Jack's idea with the boots they are really comfortable but I don't think it would work. Good topic and I certainly don't want to be dressed like a starving artist/bum. And it does give you some extra confidence when you are on your selling stage to wear your performance attire.

jack white
Jo Allebach

Mikki began painting horses. She has some boots, but not a showstopper pair. I purchased her a pair of red boots. The boots had 2" heels and an extra tall, thin top. She wore her slacks tucked in so the boots would show. We also found some cute leather vests. One had big sunflowers and the other Indian beading. These were expensive vests.

While passing through Gulfport of all places we found the most beautiful pair of boots. They were made with about a dozen colors. They became a conversation piece.

Mikki is 5'x8" so the boots make her tower.

After she began with her current voice the boots didn't fit. Like I said earlier, now she wears silk suits. One suit is bright red, black, blue-green and a solid white one. On demo day she dresses in solid white.

The main thing is to be comfortable. If you like boots then wear them. jack

Carol McIntyre
Valid points Keith, yet I also think it is best to be authentic to who you are and to feel good in whatever you wear when out in public.

Jana Botkin
Carol, too true! I would look dreadful in one of Mikki's white silk suits but always feel good in a long floral skirt. And if I iron one of my husband's polo shirts, that is a formal occasion for him! Where we live, good Wranglers with boots and a jacket but no tie is Fancy Stuff for men.

Marie Solon Coerver
Painting in the studio, I wear old t-shirts and jeans. I have white men's dress shirts from the Goodwill to wear as a cover-up for demos and an apron (with watercolor society logo) for teaching. For openings, it's fun to bring out something dressy and a bit exotic - but not weird - that can be off-putting to some. A really unusual, eye-catching necklace is essential - it helps people figure out which one is the artist. While out and about, I try to wear something a bit different but nice. People have said, "I thought you might be an artist." and they remember that.

Thanks, Joanne! I kept a little stool hidden behind a display panel that I sat on in between bouts of visitors, and that helped with the feet. If you have a place to hide it, it does come in handy.

Jo Allebach
Jack - thank you for the encouragement on the boots.
you're the best

Carol Schmauder
Thanks for a great article, Keith. I was interested to see a fellow in overalls with many paint smears on them and a shirt that was also paint smeared at a show I participated in last year. My first impression of him was that he was a painter - a house painter. As time went by I saw him several more times and learned that he painted paintings, not houses. What a poor representation of himself as a professional.

Hi Keith:

I completely agree with you. The world is but a stage and we are all it's players. If you come to your show looking the part of a successful artist that is how you will be perceived. Attending your show in your working clothes will make people wonder whether or not you are worth investing their hard earned money in.

Delilah Smith
I agree 100 percent. When I a at an art event I look like the person everyone wants to know but when I'm working in my studio I wear my old paint stuff.

When I am plein air painting I dress a little better but not a lot. I usually were a longer top that I can take off if I want go into a place for lunch and I don't want to look like a paint spot.


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