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Miss Manners: Artist finds client’s taste ‘cheap’

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am an artist and interior designer. My client uses me for decorative painting and is always asking my opinion on this or that.

The problem is that I realize that we have extremely different tastes. How do I gently tell her that her choices for the accessories in the room are “too cheap” or not up to the standard I had in mind without offending or hurting her feelings?

GENTLE READER: It always surprises Miss Manners when artists disapprove of their clients’ taste, given that the client chose to hire the artist.

Nevertheless, she recognizes that there are some patrons of the arts with limited aesthetic sense. She also recognizes the logic of listening to the opinion for which one is paying.

The artist’s options in this situation, however, are limited. You may politely suggest alternatives. You may withdraw from the project, saying that upon reflection, you realize that you are not the right person for the job. (The latter option has the disadvantage of requiring you to also forgo remuneration, which may cause you to reassess your artistic standard.)

There is a third alternative popular in artistic circles, but Miss Manners discourages you from employing it, in spite of a few historical successes, as it is both impolite and bad business: namely, using the art itself to parody the client’s taste.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I received two gifts that included gift receipts. After thanking the donors, I returned the items because they were not to my liking. Having gift receipts made the process easy and possible.

One donor asked if I enjoyed the item and was disappointed to learn that it had been returned. What should one do if the situation repeats itself?

GENTLE READER: Tell the donor that you enjoyed the item, as of course you did. Miss Manners sees no reason to explain that your enjoyment came from being able to turn it into something that you wanted.

Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, or to her email, dearmissmanners@


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