I Don’t Know What I’m Doing: IMMA GURL ARTIST HALP

surrealist painting by Arabella Proffer

I was talking to Paula, the bassist of one of my favorite current bands, September Girls. A drunken guest had just been thrown out of my husband’s book party for various reasons; mainly that at one point after expressing to guests he was a fan of September Girls, he walked up to two of them and said flatly, “you looked like shit on stage last time I saw you”.

Something as harsh as this wasn’t what they were used to, however, Paula said all too often they did indeed get male fans who would almost always say, “Hey your band is great! But, you know what you should do…” because OBVIOUSLY when you are an all-female group you must need help and unsolicited advise from a man. Never mind they are more successful and have a farther reach than many all-male bands in Ireland right now — they’re women in a band, hence they must not know what they are doing. Never mind women get marginalized and treated like fuck dolls, imbeciles, or little girls in the music industry no matter what — they need a man to manage them. They need a man to help them navigate because IMMA GURL HALP PLEEZ and they must be winging it up until now. They could do so much better if only they had some help. Right?

It must have been something I blocked out, or something I just got used to. Maybe I was trying to be polite or assumed they were dumb so I just kept my mouth shut instead of getting nasty about it? “Your work is great! But you know what you should do…” is something I have heard from a ridiculous number of men with regard to my art-making practices and anything to do with my career. I guess I really did just get used to it. In fact, this was how they made conversation. But, now that I’ve registered more women saying it happens to them, I know it was a way of talking down to me. A way to show that they knew more about something than I did. I’m not saying every man has done this — of course not — but the percentage that have is pretty damn high.

Backhanded compliments, micro-aggressions, mansplaining, whatever you want to call it.

They take place in my studio when it has been open to the public; at my solo shows where work is selling; at group shows with other artists; at public art-making events or charities; online in group discussions; in an email that was unsolicited; in front of my husband, best friend, gallery owner, collector, or my parents. It happens at parties when I first meet someone and I tell him I’m an artist (oh those can be precious). It happens when someone I don’t know well sees that other acquaintances buy my work, and then they go on about how they want to commission a work of mine while simultaneously telling me what I need to do to be a famous/rich artist despite the fact they have NO experience or history in working in the realm of art.

And by the way, I can read people real damn quick when it comes to saying they want to commission a work. I’ve been doing it long enough I can tell who is serious and who is full of it — usually because they are showing off.

Hey I’m all for advice, when it really is that. I have male artists friends who tell me about cool products and stuff I should check out, or galleries and all that. Those are the men who aren’t out to try and prove they know more than me, insult me, or actually do work in my field and know me well enough that the advice or statements they make are helpful. They also don’t assume I’m a dummy.

I’ve heard many things. So many I can’t recall them all. Dumb things. Yet, the assumption is always I don’t know what I’m doing:

“Your prices are too high.”

“You should make your prices higher if you want to succeed.” (say that a little louder with the gallery director standing right there)

“You should do some social media.”

“You should get a publicist, I know a guy, he works with a lot of art types.”

“Your work doesn’t look as muddy in person.”

“You’re the one who does those Disney big-eye paintings. Yeah, I know who you are.” (What the living fuck?)

“You really should mold your contrasts more.” (I don’t think he knew what that meant)

“You should look up Hi Fructose Magazine.” “Yes, I’ve taken ads out with them and they feature my work on their website periodically.” “Oh.”

“You should read Juxtapoz Magazine.” “Yes I’ve been featured on their site many times and my friends are in it often, but since Complex Media bought them out I don’t look at it as often.” “Oh.”

“That’s not oil, that’s acrylic — I can TELL.” (the painting was in oil and I was sitting right there and he didn’t bother to talk to me in my own studio)

“Well, that’s certainly…interesting.” (blows nose into snotty tissue and drops it on my studio floor as he walks out)

“Have you ever thought of doing commissions?” “Yes I’ve been doing them since I was 16” “Oh, but like real ones? Like mayors and judges?” (I think my facial expression told him everything)

“You should do velvet paintings.” “Those are awful, why would I do that?” “Because people really like buying those.”

“You should show in galleries.” “Thanks, I do, all over the US, and Israel, and Australia.” “Oh well I guess you have it all figured out, huh?”

“Have you ever thought of submitting to galleries?” “Yes I’ve actually been showing in them for a long time.” “No I know, but like, real ones.”

“Yeah, I could tell you use different oil paint brands in one painting. Weird. Huh.” (what the living fuck?)

“You should take out advertising in Art in America or something.” “Well, that’s not my audience and some of those ads are $5-10K” “Oh.”

“Nice work. But, you should come to my art show tonight, it’s just right down the street and a couple blocks over.” (I was right in the middle of my own solo show opening reception)

“These are nice but I don’t know if I’d frame them like that.” (It was the opening reception and I sold two of them)

“You should try painting on linen/canvas/panel. I bet it would look really nice.” (I work on all of these)

“You should show your work in Los Angeles. You’d sell a lot there.” “I do show there. I’m from Los Angeles.”

“Your work is too slick. You shouldn’t make it so slick.”

“I could tell a woman painted these. It’s so obvious.”

“I saw the article about you. That was a really weird combination of your work they chose.”

“The guy you have taking your artwork photos is really good.” “I take all my own photos, thanks.” “Oh really? Isn’t that something.”

“Have you ever thought of doing this professionally?”

“You should sell your paintings on Etsy. My wife sells her handmade soaps on there.”

“You should make prints of that.” “I have them, here’s where to purchase them.” (Spoiler Alert: doesn’t buy print!)

“Do you know an artist by the name of… [pick a name of any male artist ever in the history of time and insert].” “Why yes, I have a book on him.” “Oh, well, yes I thought I’d tell you about him, but I guess you already know of him.”

“Do you know [insert current female artist]? Her work is okay, but she’s hot!”

“I bet you like Frida Kahlo a lot.” “Actually, I don’t. I never got into her.” “Oh, I thought all women liked her. That’s strange!”

These things would never get said to a man in the tone they get said to me. And I don’t go up to writers at book signings and get all, “Hey! You ever heard of this guy Hemingway? You’d like him because dudes like him!” or “You know what you should do? Have you ever thought of getting a publisher?” when I’m at a book store where the guy is signing books.

Anyway, you get the idea. I’m sure there are more egregious examples my friends can attest to that I’ve blocked out of my memory. I’m sure many to do with my appearance as well. I’m lucky that the art scene I am lumped into has a large number of female artists who are supported in the media, by their male counterparts, curators and so on. I could be wrong, but within that scene alone, I feel like the amount of solo shows is almost evenly divided between men and women. Sadly the percentage of female solo shows at major art institutions, major galleries and fairs in hovering around 33% though it drops sometimes to 20%. The exception being the Venice Biennale at 50% in 2010. Ten years ago women made up more than 60% of the art school students in the USA, so aside from going into arts administration (which now is mainly women) I don’t know what to think.

And again, apologies to those men who are genuine fans of the band, artist, writer, and are smart and confident enough to not make these little digs. You guys are rad! I know sometimes it doesn’t seem like much, but this stuff gets built up over time and I’m done making excuses for dopes or rationalizing their behavior.

As with anything, think before you speak. If no one asked you for a suggestion or critique, don’t give it. Like a normal human. And, don’t assume that the first thought that pops in your head of how you would do something or do it different, hasn’t already been considered.

Tell me your thought or stories in the comments. I think I’m finally “grown ass lady” enough to start calling this stuff out when it happens again.

Friendship Friday Gift Guide

I hate shopping. Well, I hate being around sales people, and other people, and… well usually I know what I want and I go right for the thing.


Sometimes I experience something wonderful, like at Saks or at Rubenstein’s . Any high-end place that does it right by giving me samples and champagne. But really, anytime I go to a big chain store or even the grocery store, I want out! I certainly don’t want to cook a huge holiday meal for more than 6 people. Isn’t that what a caterer is for?


I don’t understand people who line up at electronics stores and whatnot when the sale prices are not really that great, or gear up like it is an exciting outing. A holiday tradition? Yesh!


So I thought I’d throw together a list on my friends who make or sell cool stuff and places I buy from. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot, but this is a good broad list of everything from music to jewelry to neckties to art.

Stick it to the man this season. Keep it independent!

Susan Danko (tiny art and some big art too, starting at $30!)

Edith Lebeau (original paintings and portrait commissions)

Hyperclash (clothing, lifestyle gifts, and art)

Blood Milk Jewels (I need more of this stuff)

WolfChild (cool graphic tees)

The Cotton Candy Machine (books, prints, toys, and original art)

Maybe Mars (Chinese psych rock and the most punk thing going on)

SassyFrass (upcycled jewelry)

Tim Frick Guitars (because a custom guitar sounds awesome)

RTD Design Collective (classes, jewelry, accessories and more)

Dionysus Records (exotica, garage rock, and punk reissues)

Derf Backderf (graphic novels you’ll dig)

Marianne Angeli Rodriguez (art things for your walls)

Camille Rose Garcia (the fairy tale books, yes)

Beessential Personal Care Products (I like the shampoo)

Bent Crayon (curated source for psych, electronic, experimental releases)

Babooshka Boutique (for the goth girl in your life)

Cyberoptix (for the dapper man in your life)

LittleRobot (amazing art prints)

The Brilliant Magpie (prints and tiny originals for only $5 !)

Scottesque (been saving up for one of these tartans, I’ve had my eyes on them for like, 6 months)

Now that was easy. Go on, have a drink!



Arty Farty Fancy Pants Art Shop Redux

I finally got around to making my shop FANCY for those who want a quick way to purchase original artwork of mine.

Visit ArabellaProffer.BigCartel.com

There are framed, unframed, and some sarcastic drawings in the bunch. More will be added eventually. I still do 6 month payment plans, just email for details (I require a $100 deposit on everything).



I finally got fed up with Etsy and moved over to Big Cartel. I’m not sure yet if one is better than the other, exactly, but we’ll see how it goes.

New Portrait: A Girl, A Cat, A Dragon


Katie 18×24″ oil on linen.

Click image for full-view.

I have to sit with it a bit more and take additional photos post-varnish (no colors ever seem to be accurate as they are in real life), but here is my most recent commission. God I love that dress! It took a lot of patience but I really wanted to include it.

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Ike does not look amused by this extra cat in the house.

Why I Fired A Would-Be Collector

I don’t normally get public about this kind of thing, but a line really got crossed. If you know me, you know that takes quite a bit of effort.

For over a year I had marked this painting as sold. I’d only exhibited it once before at the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University.

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“Prada is Poetry” 14×18″, oil on canvas.

It seemed I found a perfect owner, we had a few mutual friends, and they went on a payment plan with me. I do this for just about everyone; I figured if Cleveland Clinic can do it for me why not do it for others? It has been great for all involved for several years, now. That is, until someone comes and ruins the party! How someone can bounce a check to me for a minimal amount, jerk me around, and then have the gall to keep it going for 8+ months? I don’t know. I almost sent the painting to this person when they had so little left owed on it — thankfully, the bank stopped that from happening. Try doing all of that with your plumber or mechanic. Why do people think this is okay to do with artists who run a business?

Anyway, I finally had enough since the value of all my work had gone up significantly this year, so I essentially “fired” this person since I had lost opportunities to exhibit this painting, and refunded them their money thus far. I’m glad I sent the refund certified mail, because it was forwarded on a whirlwind across the country to 3 different addresses and a P.O. Box that had been closed. Another red flag indeed. So, what kind of response do I get when the check finally made it to them and I said they don’t get the painting? Well according to this person, they are now caring for a sick aunt (which I don’t believe for 2 seconds) and then the kicker, “Having had cancer yourself I thought you would be more understanding”.

Let that sink in for a moment.

No really, let that sink in.

Yes, let’s throw cancer in my face as a final excuse for lack of responsibility and try to guilt me with it.

And this is supposed to make me WANT you to have my work?


So with that, if you or someone you know who is not a totally loathsome and questionable person would like to purchase this painting, get at me, she’s all yours for $1500.00. I’m not going to let one bad experience ruin it for everyone else. I want this painting to go to someone who deserves her.

Artworking This Fall

Here is my newsletter of what is coming up this next month as far as shows and festivals… Arty Farty News for Fall

I’m also working on the book cover for “Fat School Confidential”, going to Portland, OR in November — I haven’t been since the record release weekend for this EP — and adding photo stylist and interior decorator to the growing list of freelance things I do as jobs. Throw art model, art teacher, and transcriber into the mix and that list is getting pretty long. As always, on to the next….

Support The Arts, Just Don’t Pay The Artist

I think by now people know how I feel about artists being treated as a personal cookie jar to be called upon to donate work anytime an organization needs money. Tax laws are unfair for artists, and I always resent the “exposure” line these organizations use while acting like you should be so grateful to be donating to this or that cause. Besides, what artists do is a hobby and “fun” so it isn’t like it costs us time or money to give away our work, right?


Benefit auctions are not attended by true art collectors for the most part; they are attended by drive-by well wishers,  those looking for a deal, or something nice to match their couch perhaps while they socialize. I have never had a work go to someone at an auction who would later buy direct from me, let alone attend my art receptions. Why would they? With the exception of a few events, the times I have donated art were thankless; I was treated shoddy, and I got nothing out of it except people getting a super deal and low balling the prices of my work. There are some causes I give to — in cash money terms — and I’d like to keep it that way rather than watch my hard work and expense of my materials go for 80% less that what it is worth just to break even — if that. Some organizations give a % back to the artist, but very few. It causes the artist to then donate their less than stellar works; stuff they would have thrown out if they didn’t care to have it hanging around the studio.

In recent years I thought that Cleveland (the land of nonprofits) was the only city who myself and other artists felt was constantly asking us to donate work and all that jazz for the sake of exposure — acting as thought it were our duty for the “community” and so forth. Almost none would offer a % back, free tickets to the benefit in question, or any means of making it worth our while where we might at least be able to say to ourselves, “well at least I broke even on the framing and 12+ hours of work put into my piece by getting these free appetizers, drinks, dinner etc”. But my friends, it seems NYC galleries who are not even in the 501c category are now asking artists to “donate” works to keep them in business! I am not kidding. This is such an awful trend, and all it says to me is that the gallery is really crappy at doing sales. I hope this doesn’t become an acceptable trend in other parts of the country.

I remember a gallery in San Diego hadn’t paid me in a long while, the owner even wrote me, “I’m just really bad with money”. After 5 months I was finally paid, but do you know what this gallery owner did? They had a benefit to make up the artists share of money they had spent!  That money wasn’t theirs to spend (what it was spent on I have no idea), and after getting angry emails and calls from artists, this was the solution — a freakin’ benefit. It seems these galleries are following this logic; if you are bad at business, beg for money from collectors and artists to make up the costs — you know, instead of actually selling the artwork like a normal person. Disgusting, I say.

In response to the Affordable Art Fair, the Unaffordable Art Fair was this past weekend. I wanted to highlight how the idea came about, I think this statement says it quite beautifully,

The arts are a major economic driver, for everyone except artists. Artists are increasingly being called upon to support the economy by lowballing our work or with outright contributions for which we cannot claim fair market value. The benefit of exposure that is said to accompany these sacrifices is a myth; unique objects are not good products with which to generate buzz and, quite frankly, most professional artists refuse to participate in all but the most worthy causes due to unfavorable tax laws. We, the artists of the Unaffordable Art Fair, ask- How do you value art? Remember: you get what you pay for.

Please visit the site and scroll down to the Facts section for sure. Read it and think about that the next time you are willing to pay for a new ipod, or a round of overpriced martinis, and yet think the price tag on an artwork is too expensive.

This reminds me of the time someone told me $250 seemed too expensive for my 5×7″ paintings that were hanging in a gallery. They wanted a discount for a commission, they didn’t understand that those little paintings can take me between 12-15 hours to make. This person wouldn’t go two seconds without getting paid for what they do, and yet they were trying to low ball me?! It is a situation that happens more often than you know with artists.


Don’t ever low ball an artist, or tell them their work seems pricey. It is insulting and it just shows that you are not serious about buying art and are not a culture aficionado in any way — it reveals you as a poseur. Be sure to never ask an artist to donate work to your cause without offering something in return; a painting that took 12 hours to make that gets a whopping $70 for your cause is a poor exchange for everyone involved. If you want to have an arts benefit, get some inexpensive later Picasso lithographs and auction those, your cause might actually get decent money from them vs. a few hundred bucks from a living artist who actually needs to pay their rent. Living artists can’t live on mere applause or faux socialites thinking to themselves, “well isn’t that nice, good for them”.

To those of you who are actually appreciative, are not cheap bastards, enjoy collecting, the arts, and buy things because you love them: disregard everything said above. It doesn’t apply to you because you aren’t jerks. Jerks make me mad.

Gallery Press Releases Are In Your Hands

“Art Galleries whine about not getting press. My mailbox is full of boring press releases. My email box is full of boring press releases. If you are not creative enough to entice coverage, are too cheap to advertise and too lazy to network, how dare you take 50% from the artist. ” — Mat Gleason of Coagula.

I write my own press releases and contact writers myself, partly out of being a control freak, but mostly because I got tired of other people dropping the ball when I thought they had it taken care of. I know several artists who do this as well. Not only do I know better what to say about my work, how to make it mildly interesting, and my exhibition history, but I’m usually a better writer on top of it. I thankfully got practice after having to write dozens and dozens of bios for various non-living artists when I was at a certain art gallery institution in Los Angeles. That being said, I had no control over the press releases; these were all incredibly boring and still being faxed to their media list.
I love it when an item appears (yeah that’s right I said “item”, let’s pretend this is The Sweet Smell of Success for a minute) and the gallery, freelance publicist, or curator will either act like they were the ones who did the footwork and made it happen. Or, they get all excited as if it was totally by magic the website, blog, newspaper, magazine wrote about the show. It never crosses their mind the artist might have actually done the job they were supposed to be doing. But, the thing that annoys me the most is people who think that just because we are in an age of instant communication, that editorial deadlines do not apply. It is nice you made a Facebook invite for an event, and maybe listed it on some websites 3 days before the dang reception, or talked about it on Twitter, but if you want something to be in a glossy magazine — an interview or anything — you have to plan 4 months in advance. Even the local newspaper has to get a heads-up several weeks in advance. You also have to build relationships with writers. Don’t be pushy, don’t assume everything you pass along to them will get featured, and remember many times their editor will nix a story or push it back. And, if they didn’t feel like writing about a show in particular, don’t get mad at them or act like a big baby about it.
Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Fine Art Publicity to start. It might be somewhat dated, but many of the rules still apply. Then get yourself Edward Winkleman’s book.
If you want something done right, do it yourself.


My friends came up with a great idea yesterday to start a collection agency for artists, when galleries and curators don’t pay up. Sadly this has been happening more and more, and this is the first time I can remember when I have heard more than one story about bounced checks from galleries. Eep!

Though I worked at a snazzy Melrose Avenue art gallery for a short time, boy did I learn about greed, and the stories, oh the stories. Even artists who were considered well respected and famous; not being paid for a sold out show; having works on loan to museums without payment; gallery owners taking money and losing it in the stock market. In fact I had my own incident with the sculptor John Buck who, as it turns out, hadn’t been paid by my boss in 2 years or more. I of course had no idea, but it was an uncomfortable situation to be in when he stormed into the gallery and my boss was not in — embarrassing and a tad frightening too. Of course there are the galleries that are a delight to work with, who are reliable and pay without you ever having to ask, who actually like art, are fun, and embrace the artistic community.  It is the greedy and badly managed ones that ruin it and give the industry a bad reputation; the art world is populated with just as many sleazy people as the music industry ever was. You never want to think this as a young artist starting out, but boy do you learn.

So speaking of which, How’s My Dealing is a great resource for artists about galleries and art fairs. They just finally added a Los Angeles section, but it is still in the works as far as a comprehensive list. I haven’t visited the site in a while, and now they have a death watch for what galleries are going to go under. Though I feel guilty about finding humor and joy in the misfortunes of others….maybe I’ll file it under: Entertainment. There, now I don’t feel as bad.

The Fabulous Life of an Artist

Lately I’ve been wondering “what’s the point?” because I’m definitely not one of the lucky few who actually make a living at art — I break even. If I am in the black, it is enough to get the ever slightly better frames sometimes. Everything goes back into the art; supplies, shipping costs, promo materials, studio rent, you name it. The only reason I can even do what I am doing now is because I have a husband with good job that he can’t stand, and we live in a cheap city. If we were back in Los Angeles, or Boston, I’d be neglecting my art as I was then because of having to work one or more jobs just to stay afloat; I’d be too damn tired, pissed off, or stressed to even get to it and the work suffered except for a few fortunate pieces. It is true, my art got better once I was able to do it full-time, but this, will not be a situation that lasts forever.

I’ve been wondering if I should have just done the film editor thing, real estate agent thing, joined the FBI or find something else to “do” before I get too old. The problem is I get bored so easy that I’ve never stayed at one job for more than two years, tops. The older I get the thought of jumping from office job to retail, to bartending to whatever else I’ve done depresses the hell out of me. Let’s face it, I’m not good at much except for film and art, and I don’t have a patron who will take care of me for the sake of supporting someone who contributes to culture. Think about it: an artist who sells out a show at $100,000, take away 50% for the gallery (if you are lucky enough to even be paid your half!), another chunk of change for taxes, more for supplies, and really they make about as much as an administrative assistant — without benefits. I always wondered how artists have money to travel all over the place, even for group shows. I’m going to Art Basel Miami for a whole 2 days and I really have no business doing that. Maybe there are more trust fund babies and people with rich spouses than I thought in the world? Or maybe I’m just better at not living beyond my means. Jim Shaw once complained to me about how he had to spend money flying to Paris for a museum show he was in, and that everyone except him just showed installation pieces that looked really expensive to make and they must all be rich. I didn’t understand why he was complaining about it, but now I do.

At any rate, I’m looking forward to teaching in January because maybe it will get me out of this mindset. It will also be something I’ve never done before in the way I have it set up, so it will be a little journey for me as well; there’s a big difference in teaching a class full of young girls fashion illustration, and doing one-on-one oil painting lessons with everyone from teenage boys to adults. I have no shows planned or anything going on after March (unless any galleries out there wanna offer me something?), and maybe it will be time for a break, who knows?

On a happier note, my former visiting professor at CalArts, Richard Wright, has been nominated for the Turner Prize. He was one of the few visiting artists we had who was totally awesome and not full of you-know-what. He had good taste, could actually draw, and his talks made sense. It doesn’t hurt that I totally had a crush on him too! Hey, at least I didn’t cuss him out and storm out of his class like I did with Raymond Pettibon.