When Are You Ready to Call Yourself a Professional Artist?

man in suit and tie professional

Anyone can consider himself or herself a professional artist, but that doesn’t make it so. I ran a juried contest in which I asked artists to define, “When are you ready to call yourself a professional artist?

Here are the definitions offered by the winners:

Anybody can order business cards, obtain a business license and call themselves a professional. To be a true professional requires a commitment of time and resources, a commitment to detail. A true professional never settles for less than giving 100% to anything and everything they do.”

Passion, commitment and determination are the attributes I focus on in my professional career as a fine artist. Passion to do the kind of work I can be proud of, commitment to many years of work to continue to grow as an artist, and the determination to get the finished work out to the public.”

“What I have that makes me feel professional right now is a well organized studio, business cards with my artwork images on them, memberships in arts professional organizations, acceptance into juried shows, postcards mailed to a growing mailing list, subscriptions to arts magazines, a growing body of work, and people who purchase my artwork.”

There is more to professionalism than simply claiming it.

1. First, You Must Think Like a Professional Artist 100% of the Time.

Everything starts in your mind. You must think like a professional artist all of the time. Become aware of all your attitudes and beliefs about having a professional art career.
You must root out any ideas or thoughts that that will keep you from assuming full responsibility for your career decisions. You must commit to eliminate any negative self-talk that prevents you from taking all the actions needed to build relationships and to live up to your art career responsibilities.

You no longer subscribe to any stereotypes or myths about artists. You slough off negative attitudes, like “You can’t make a living as an artist.” or, “Get a real job skill to ‘fall back on’.” These common sayings were probably intended to keep us from harm, but are deadly if you allow them to persist and to control your behavior.

2. You Accept the Multiple Responsibilities of Being a Professional Artist.

Being a professional artist means juggling multiple responsibilities. You are ready to engage professionally when you can say that the following statements are true of you and your business:
Your work is consistent—not all over the place. Your work is unique, identifiable, and well developed. Even your experiments fit into your signature work. Both your audience and your sales representatives can easily and instantly recognize artwork as yours.

  • You have an inventory of properly finished work. You have plenty of completed work, already in final show form to be able to exhibit at any time. If a gallery owner or collector were to come to your studio, they would find an impressive body of work to view and select from.
  • You have gotten feedback that your art has an audiencenot just friends and family. You have a history of shows and sales. Your work attracts media attention, interest and excitement.
  • You develop business relationships. You are able to commit time and attention to building and nurturing relationships. You know how important it is to relate professionally and engage with those in the art world, and you are both ready and willing to do so.
  • You have the money to exhibit and market your work. You present your work professionally and meticulously. You have professional marketing materials, and a first class web site.
  • You understand how the art market works. This is a constantly changing environment, but you have taken the time and trouble to research and understand what you need to know about how to access your audience and market.
  • You have good photographs of your art, a one to two page resume, and an artist statement. You’ve put in the time, effort and money to create professional materials to present your work and your credentials.
  • You have consistent pricing and a pricing policy. You know how to price your work so that you are competitive in the market. There’s logic to your pricing and that logic is obvious to prospective buyers. The consistent development of your signature contributes to the consistently rising value of your work.

It’s not always so easy to identify exactly what makes artists professionals. What else do you have in place that lets the world know that you are a professional artist – and proud of it? We’d love to hear from you…

*****

Aletta de Wal is a popular guest blogger here at FineArtTips as well as an Artist Advisor and Artist Career Trainer - this post is an Excerpt from Aletta’s forthcoming book, “My Real Job is Being An Artist: What You Should Know Before You Quit Your Day Job (Or Get One).”

How to Overcome 3 Barriers to Success as an Artist

How Do You Define Success as an Artist?

5 Common Traits of Successful Artists

You are in Charge of  Your Art Career

Commissioned Art – Tips to make it a Success!

Create a Powerful Portfolio

The Right Art Gallery – How to Find One

How to Bring Out the “Mona Lisa” in Your Own Artwork

Private Consultation with Lori (for art critiques and social media advice for the artist)

About Lori McNee

Lori McNee is a professional artist who specializes in still life, and landscape oil paintings. She is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of Idaho, serves on the Plein Air Mag Board of Advisors, and is an Artist Ambassador to Arches/Canson/Royal Talens. As the owner of FineArtTips.com, Lori blogs about fine art tips, marketing, and social media advice for the aspiring and professional artist. As a social media influencer, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and named a #TwitterPowerhouse by The Huffington Post. She is a keynote speaker, has been a talk show host for Plum TV, writes for F+W Media publications including Artist’s Magazine, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, Photographer’s Market. Also, Zero to 100,000: Social Media Tips & Tricks for Small Businesses. Lori is also a member of the CBS Entertainment Tonight & The Insider Tweet Team.

Comments

  1. I’d break it down to something pretty simple: you regularly get paid for creating art.

    A professional basketball player isn’t someone who plays well, always makes the shot, markets themselves well, etc. It’s not even someone who has an agent, is on basketball cards and so on. Those might be good indicators that someone is a professional basketball player, but what really counts is that they get paid to play basketball regularly (i.e. not just in some random contest they won).

    I’d say that the same is true of artists. You don’t have to have all of the trappings of a business. You don’t really have to have professionalism. You just have to have people paying you for the work you create.

    I agree that the things you talk about are good and usually necessary to be successful, but they are not definitional.

    • Hi Will, thanks for adding the all important ‘you regularly get paid’ to the definition of a professional artist. I totally agree with you…
      This point might have been overlooked because it seems so obvious! But, I am glad you shared your comment here, just in case a reader doesn’t understand the importance of getting paid. Yes, a professional artist consistently receives payment for a service rendered. I like your basketball analogy.

      I hope to see you again-
      Lori :-)

      • Hi Lori!
        I have a few questions about the art world if you may have some time to answer them could you possibly send me an email? I would appreciate it to the fullest extent. Thank you!

        Stephanie

  2. From someone who juggles a full time job along with an art career this can be rather difficult. But regardless i believe that if a person has the passion to see it through then it will happen. I think it’s important to understand that professionals are not all on the same level. Each of us has room to grow and develop so there are certainly areas as noted above in which I need drastic improvement.

    However once identified, we understand the importance of them and work hard to fill the gaps as needed and aspire to be all that we can. I think professionalism is really centered around attitude and determination. Like you said, artist need to be serious, and if they don’t take their career seriously no matter what level it is at, no one else ever will.

    • Hi Vanessa, thanks for bringing your important perspective to this post. Yes, our attitudes determine our altitudes!

      Thanks for taking time to comment here again. Happy creating-
      Lori

  3. Thanks Lori for this awesome post…being a self taught artist, I often felt that having a degree/certification in the specific field is a must to be called as a professional ….however over the years I have realized it is not mandatory , since continuing education is necessary even for a certified artist….. So all the things you and Will have mentioned are what counts…I also agree with Vanessa attitude is a must…

    • Hi Sandhya, I read somewhere that there are other countries that will not consider a professional artist, ‘professional’, unless he or she has a degree in art. I will have to do some research on that…but, I do remember reading it. Anyway, to become a professional artist it takes talent, determination and business aptitude. Artists must always be students and grow and evolve. It is not easy being an artist, and a degree really doesn’t help that much!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us,
      Lori

  4. I guess the thing I instantly reacted negatively to, in this article, is the notion that you must be wealthy enough to get your art out there.

    “•You have the money to exhibit and market your work. You present your work professionally and meticulously. You have professional marketing materials, and a first class web site.”

    Frankly that indicates wealth. And there is no greater burden to so many of us from the middle and lower classes of our respective countries than being told the only way to make money is to have money in the first place.

    I call myself an Artist, not a professional artist, even though I make some money at it, because the term “Professional Artist” just goes against my grain, and in reading this I can see why. Exclusivity, as opposed to excellence, is just plain infuriating in an arena where it’s enough of a struggle to get seen. The Art should be the most important thing anyway. Our culture’s overemphasis on money and some abstract notion of “success” is detrimental to pursuing art as a career OR as an artist, because the fact is and always will be, so many great and genuine artists slip through the cracks and are never recognized. I’m all for tips on how to succeed, or at least do better, but “Be Rich” is not useful.

    • Hi Lili,

      Thanks for your interesting perspective and feedback on this article. Yes, it does take money to run any small business and being an artist is no different. It does not take ‘wealth’, but that old saying, ‘It takes money to make money’ is uncomfortably true for artists.

      It is so competitive ‘out there’ nowadays that artists need to put their best foot forward to stand out. Good art should be enough, but it usually isn’t.

      There are plenty of free website templates available and lots of free ways to learn how to blog, etc. I started out on a free site and have taught myself how to manage and update my two blogs. A portfolio is much more affordable these days with the ease of a digital camera. I use to pay a professional photographer to take slides of my art, now I photograph my paintings myself – that has saved me a bundle.

      Artists are frugal and creative. There are many money saving ways to keep your art business a float. Framing is a big cost overhead for me. I have gotten on the phone and shopped for the best deals, and saved some money that way.

      You are an ‘art purist’…I like that! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts here. I enjoyed it.

      Lori

    • HI MS. FUGIT,
      I AGREE WHOLE-HEARTEDLY WITH YOUR STATEMENTS!!!!!! I HAVE BEEN AN ARTIST FOR A LONG TIME AND I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN VERY PASSIONATE ABOUT MY WORK AND HAVE TRULY ENJOYED THE PEACE OF MIND AND CONFIDENCE THAT COMES WITH CREATING MY BEST WORKS AT ALL TIME . I AM A MEMBER OF THE MIDDLE CLASS AS WELL, I AM A HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL OF 17 YRS AND I DON’T MAKE ALOT OF MONEY AT ALL…..AND I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THE FACT THAT MY ARTISTIC ABILITIES OR MY WORK ARE ANY LESS THAN THE “WEALTHY ARTIST”!!!!! I WORK VERY HARD AND I AM SUPER PROUD OF THE GIFTS AND TALENT’S THAT GOD HAS GIVEN ME!!!!!! I DO KNOW , AS LORI SAYS, IT TAKES MONEY TO MAKE MONEY , SO I WILL CONTINUE TO USE MY “LITTLE BITS” TO MAKE A LOT!!!!! THANK YOU ALL!!!!!
      PEACE AND BLESSINGS…..

      • Hello again Jo Ann and thanks for your remarks. I too believe it is important to use our gifts! Congrats on your ‘little bits’ and may they help make a lot for you. :)

        Happy creating,
        Lori

  5. To me a professional artist is someone who is earning 100% of their living by creating / selling art and they are fully committed to it.

    Just like one of your previous commenters – a professional athlete is not someone who dabbles in sports in their spare time. If that were the case, I could consider myself a professional surfer!

    However, the word “professional” does not mean “better” or “good” or “great”. It’s just a designation that you would give someone who earns their living doing something professionally.

    Some of the most talented artists I know are not professional artists – they create part time while they work an unrelated job full time.

  6. Great post Lori…as the post says, “…someone who is earning 100% of their living by creating art” Well, that’s not me, but I feel more like a professional then ever before…so maybe I am! :)

    David

    • Hi David-

      Thanks for reading and commenting on this post. This article is meant to be a guideline, and not a hitching post. The comments have been as interesting as the article itself!

      Thanks for stopping by-
      Lori :)

  7. Thought provoking. I’ve always attached the term “professional” to “money”, and that was certainly the objective in my art college days, long before the bends in the road.

    The gifts I have include a talent for drawing. Not included are business and entrepreneurial skills, and I don’t know that I will ever be a professional artist by any definition. I find the word “professional” can carry a connotation of predictability that isn’t always desirable, and perhaps it’s the label that I resist. However, as long as the creative inspiration flows, professional or not, I hope to always know that compelling and perhaps unprofessional sense of surprise and satisfaction in each idea realized. :)

  8. Ok I am on the road to bw a professional just need an inventory and some business cards a and adedicated studio. Ian

  9. Certainly there is no magic wand to wave through the air and, ‘voila!’ one becomes a professional artist. I see it more as an evolution rather than a revolution. Somewhere between ‘artist’ and ‘professional artist’ are a number of steps (or layers). Your list of indicators is one of the best that I have seen as a measure of ‘where am I in my metamorphosis?’ toward professional artist. It is possible to be a successful artist without becoming a professional artist…being successful, much like being ‘professional’, still involves maturity and (often) time and probably several steps.

    Thanks for a though-provoking post!

    • Hello Paul, thanks for adding to the conversation. I agree with you about the idea of being successful without being a professional. There are many talented/successful artists who choose not to be ‘professional’.

      I appreciate your comment,
      Lori

  10. Lori, Love you page!

    I noticed one huge omission, maybe I just missed it here? Be it artist, or any other endeavor. One must make your living at your skill to be called a professional.

    Until your art pays all your bills, your not a professional. Working full time as an artist and someone else supporting you, just don’t cut it.

    Star hungry!

    Maxx
    (real professional artist)

    • Hello Maxx, thanks for adding your thoughts to this post. I do agree with you about being able to pay the bills, but I do know many professional artists who moonlight to help offset their costs. So, this point is a hot button and could be debated… ;)

  11. I designed ART, ARTISANS crafted!

    For my career of 35 years, I pursued the dream of being a truly creative problem solver with the result being: ART! I chose not to be stuck to, nor labeled by any style or media. I made my full-time living, supporting a family of eight by offering my creative talents as a problem solver to architects and designers. The result was a portfolio of over 400 commissioned art works. The only pieces available for sale have been interpretations/recreations of previous commissions. I never understood “putting my ‘soul’” out there to see if someone wanted to “buy it” as was the emphasis in art school and the market place. Most artist “known” for their “style”, “media” are ultimately sick of replicating, re-interpreting but it becomes necessary because the marketing efforts of galleries/museums and individuals require an identifiable/marketable approach to a product. Michelangelo could in no way have produced by himself all the works that have his name attached. He is thought to have had over 500 artisans between his two studios. Artisans have honed their skills as producers of products. I think the word “ARTIST” is bigger than “ARTISAN” and truly professional means you are willing to give your creative skills your all, regardless of the field of endeavor. TWITTER: @CharlesEvolves

    • Hello Charles, I really enjoyed reading your comment. Although I knew Michelangelo had assistants, I didn’t know possibly 500! I wish I had just one…lol.
      I am always exploring too, Charles. My art is always evolving and expanding. In fact, I have a show on Feb 14 that will showcase my newest endeavors – encaustic painting. Being this versatile it exciting, but it can also be confusing to the galleries and collectors. I am sure to have some type of cohesive theme that relates to my other art genres. For example, this encaustic series is of birds, and my still life paintings have birds in them.
      Thanks for your input!

  12. Hello Lori 
    I just saw your blog and I will try post my thoughts. Apologize for not being native English speaker, but I’ll really try my best! So, I am not a professional artist, because I don’t make my livings as an Artist. Let me make it clear – I sometimes earn money as an Artist, but not enough to be a “Professional”. That’s why I am an Art teacher. I spent exactly 9 years of my life to educate myself as well drawing/painting/sculpting craftsman. I attended 4,5 years Technical school, where I had twice a week 8 hours observational drawing, and twice a week 10 hours of working in studio. True, that happen in ex-communist Bulgaria (which is in East Europe) and our education wasn’t about being “artists”, but being good in techniques and interpretational skills in any meaning. And when I say “good”, I mean “good”, because there wasn’t other chance. I copied twice Rubens paintings (for example), just because it was part of my education to learn main techniques of painting. In real size and without using grid… Then I attended University for 4,5 years where I also had kind of the same schedule + studding “silly” things such as Art History (3 years ) and Psychology and Philosophy of Art (for 3 years as well). That gave me the chance to find myself educated enough, so to be an Art teacher in one of the best schools in Belgium (what I do now). I was also shortlisted and displayed in some contests such as “Derwent Art Prize” (which happen in The Mall Gallery – London few months ago), and also was once nominated for Andromeda award as an illustrator (an American writer asked me to do some illustrations over his first Sci-fi book). I also have several private shows scheduled for next year, and one of them is at place which for first time allows East European to display works there (for example). What I mean is that I still am not a “professional” artist according to all those people who never tried to “educate” them in Arts but claim Art is mainly about one think it could be. I see what our beloved Wikipedia says about what do we call “professional” and it appears that the only thing Wiki mentions is that someone may count him/herself “professional” if he/she had professional education. Wondering, for example, why a butcher can’t call himself a professional plastic surgeon in case it’s not about education, but about the way we believe we see us “right”?! Would you trust a butcher to fix some small things on your face, in case both butcher and surgeon actually use the same type of tools? I won’t, but who knows. I also am wondering if people like Van Gogh could be called “professionals” ? I mean he sold out only one work (actually not he, but his brother did that) during his life? Maybe not really a “professional “ artist if he never had official receptions, huge studio and amount of collectors around him to spent tones of money for his artworks? Nobody posted some cutting-edges interview with him, and didn’t have even a perfect white-teeth smile? … In the end I’ll share what I really think is “professional Artist”. I think that is someone who: first – have professional education in Art as a basis, and then never stops to educate him/herself into Art. Second: one, who understands main things in the Art History and has the idea of how Art reflects the real life. Third: One who never stop try develop both skills and concepts, so to make them relevantly recognizable for viewers all over the world. Four: one, who realizes how wide and deep is the universe of Art, so to not think he/she is the only reason this universe to exist…. Those are the 4 things I find the basis of “professional” attitude to the Art matter. And all they are based on my own experience up to now.
    Best regards,
    Borislav

    • Hello Borislav,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment to this thought provoking post. First of all, your English is impressive and you have shared your thoughts quite clearly. Congratulations on your personal artistic accomplishments and for being an Art teacher – I can tell you have passion for your subject.
      I agree with your points made. Continuing to educate, and better ourselves as artists is so important to professionalism. The world of Art is vast and varied, it is impossible to know everything. True, so many of the world’s museums are filled with masterpieces by unknown artists. The label of ‘professional artist’ will continue to be a much debated topic.
      It’s great to have your visit and add your expertise added to this thread of comments.

      Happy painting,
      Lori

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