Professional Artist: Are you one? Do you want to be one? What is a Professional Artist anyway? Well …. there are thousands of definitions – about as many as there are Artists and Art Professionals (Gallery Owners, Critics, Art Historians, Art Marketers, etc.). I am sure YOU even have your own definition.
However, for the purposes of this blog post I am going with the most common definition that aligns with professionals in other industries. A professional, in almost any industry, is someone who makes most of their living off the thing they are claiming to be professional at. If I take that and apply it to being an Artist then very simply: Professional Artists are in the business of producing Art to make an income.
In this definition notice that being a professional Artist has nothing to do with your talent, skills, experience or education as an Artist. You and I both know Artists who are extremely talented, skilled, experienced and educated and DO NOT focus on marketing or selling their work. We also know Artists who sell their Art consistently and who may have LIMITED talent, skills, experience or education.
Bottom line: it is not, by this definition, what you create or the quality of what you create that makes you a professional Artist, but rather, what you choose to do with your Art after you have created it.
Many people in the Art industry break their definitions down into various categories or sub-categories such as: hobbyist, amateur and professional. I will, for the purposes of this blog, simply collapse it into professional vs. non-professional and know that I am in no way judging the quality of the work itself. I am simply shining a light on the game of being a professional Artists and the mindset that goes along with it.
I am purposely also setting aside all the other labels we have for Artists, that define their skills sets and experience levels such as: Beginning, Emerging, Intermediate, Mid- Career, Advanced, Master, and Established. To me, a professional Artist may be at any place along the spectrum of those labels.
Just a little bit about non-professional Artists first: A non-professional Artist creates for the joy of creating with no real intention of making moey from it. They may be early in their career or a Master at their craft. A non-professional Artist may make money off their Art but it is not their driving force. If it happens great … if it doesn’t great. It doesn’t matter that much to them if their work sells or not. They are NOT in the Business of Art. For non-professional Artists, it is Art for the sake of Art.
If you are a non-professional Artist then this blog may remind you why you choose not to go the professional route. It is either for you as an Artist or not. Some of the things I talk about might still be great for you to take on (minus all the business associated references). If you are already a professional Artist then perhaps, by reading onward, you can pick up some new concepts or practices that will take your professional game to a new level. Most professional Artists are always looking for a way to up their game.
If you want to become a professional Artist, then perhaps you can learn here what it takes so you can make an educated commitment to do so vs. trying to jump into it on a whim. Becoming a successful professional Artist, just like becoming a professional in any industry, is not a decision to make without a reality check.
I am going to roll out what I have seen that most successful professional Artists have in common and what I coach professional Artists in every day. The more of this that you are willing to take on the greater your chances are of succeeding as a professional Artist. If you choose to go this route, then I want you to be wildly successful!
First, being a professional Artist is a decision. It is a choice. It is a commitment to walking the talk and dedicating yourself to the business of your Art instead of just taking about it. To become a professional Artist you need to put your priorities into place. It is a mindset and a lifestyle. You may need to spend 75-80% of your time on the business and only 20 – 25% of your time creating Art and even though that may go in waves, you need to willing to accept that. It takes grit and determination.
A professional Artist may still need a day job for some time, just like many professional entrepreneurs do. But if you are wanting to be a professional Artist then your mission is to have more and more of your living depend on your Art endeavors. You may also need to create multiple streams of Art income, besides creating Art, to support you … such as teaching your craft or developing creative products or services. Choosing to be a professional Artist constantly stretches you to push beyond what you currently know or do to make a living off your Art.
There are things that I am clear need to be in place to be a professional Artist. Please note, many of these may be present for Artists who have no desire to be professional, but if you plan on being a professional Artist you need to make sure you take these things on with a vigilant commitment to them. By the way, this is no different than a professional in any industry who would need to commit to, learn, acquire and practice specific skills and mindsets to be a professional in their industry.
To be a professional Artist you will need to develop strict work habits. You need to learn to work no matter what. You cannot wait for inspiration … you need to, instead, hunt for and create inspiration for yourself. If all else fails, you would create even when you are not inspired. You need to work on a schedule … daily … and put in your time. You can’t just work when nothing else is happening in your life or until something else comes up in your life.
Your creativity needs to take priority over many other things. You learn to love doing what you do even when your brain may tell you that you hate it. You must be organized and structured in your life to be able to consistently produce the Art you need to produce. You need to invest in your own development as both an Artist and as a business person and stay focused on your goals in both arenas. You need to become deliberate and intentional.
As a professional Artist you are in it for the long haul and must develop patience. You need to train yourself to know that you are working your way up day after day. You find a way to understand that it takes years of practice to fine tune your skills and see each piece you create as a stepping stone. You learn by doing and doing and doing.
You don’t stop. One piece follows another. You acknowledge, to yourself, that your works are at whatever level of quality they are now and concern yourself with details to get to the next level. You distinguish between obsessive perfectionism and producing good quality work. You don’t indulge in obsessive perfectionism because it slows down your production and learning process. You are best served by seeking to continuously learn and ask for help.
A professional Artist knows that there is more to the business of Art than creating Art. You know that you create because of the want and need to create, but you also know that without money you will not have the time or energy to keep creating or even buy your Art materials. You make the money to be able to afford to show and market your work. You completely ignore and reject all the stereotypes (starving artists, only right brained, etc.) and take full responsibility for your career. You invest in your education and the tools of your work.
You don’t resist the Art Market and how it works, but rather, work to understand how the Art Market works. You have a portfolio, an inventory of finished work, great photos of your work, a professional resume or CV and a well-crafted Artists statement. You have created consistent pricing and a pricing strategy. You set up your business and all the structures and processes that goes with it like financial systems, sales systems, professional marketing materials and a high-quality website.
You present yourself professionally all the time. You nurture and grow your professional relationships and respect others. You fulfill on your promises, deliver on time, finish what you start and learn to be professionally polite and appreciative (OMG, did I say that? Yep I did!!). You react appropriately and skip the temptation to be a drama queen. You don’t become annoying for others to work with or become a problem for a gallery, gallery owner, collector, potential collector, etc. You practice being sincere and straight up in all your dealings.
Professional Artists involve themselves in a solid critiquing process and don’t over-identify with their work. You also surround yourself with other Art and Artists, and involve yourself with learning and contributing as much as possible. You self-validate vs. looking to others for validation. You train yourself in the Art of communication and becoming outgoing with others (Aggghhhhhhh … yep I said that too!). You work at mastering your craft while still running the business of your Art and mastering that business too. You collect resources around you that can help you move forward when you are stuck.
To build an Art business, also just like any business, you will need to do a lot of things you may not enjoy such as: marketing, selling, completing paperwork, working with numbers, making plans and proposals, maintaining a website and computer software, and even making sure there is toilet paper in your studio bathroom. You find a way to learn about and do those things no matter what and stop complaining about them.
OK, so I am sure I have missed things that some of you, who are successful professional Artists, can help me point out, however, this is a pretty hefty list. For those of you who want to be professional Artists I have given you, at least, some food for thought!! The question to ask yourself is: Are you willing to do what it takes?
If you are willing to take on being a professional Artist it can be incredibly fulfilling, rewarding and even lucrative. Only you can make the choice – there is no right way (professional or non-professional), in my opinion, to be an Artist. There are hundreds of thousands of us in the world and we each have our way to do it. Thank goodness!
What do you think a professional Artist is?
If you are a successful professional Artist, by my definition, then what have I missed that will help others to be successful?
If you are wanting to transition into being a professional artist, by my definition, then what have I said that you find hard to deal with?
As always, I so very much welcome your feedback or questions! Please feel free to share with me/us anything you want to share about being a professional Artist! Your contribution is so valuable to all of us!
Fantastic as always Kym. I try to treat my art business in the same manner I do with my other business. I hope with time, passion and dedication, always refining and fine tuning my skills as a business woman and artist, one day it will all come together.
Thank you, Sarah!!!! You are completely on target to treat your Art Business like your other businesses. Not only that but the time, passion & dedication you put into it WILL have it all come together. I think one of the biggest things for us to gift ourselves with is the patience to keep committing ourselves to our Art business everyday, every week, every month. It is so worth it! I am here cheering you on!!!!!
Thanks Kym, your advice and support is so hugely appreciated! 😉
It is always my pleasure, Sarah 🙂
wow! sometimes what it takes to be in the art business feels overwhelming! i totally get all those things tho. the parts i love are creating!!!of course!, being at art shows, talking about the images and hearing what other folks say. this past year i learned to think of my art business as a business not a career. it has shifted how i am approaching setting it up and how i put myself and my work out there in the world. thanx for the hefty statement!
Lisa – The trick is to take it a step at a time and focus on the step you are on vs. trying to bite it off all at once. I bet many of the things in this blog post you already do just by nature 🙂 Thank goodness you love talking about your images & hearing what other people say … that is something that makes a world of a difference & that many artists avoid. So glad to hear that you are thinking of your Art as a business … YES YES YES … that shift is a major one! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here. Your Art is extraordinary and deserves to be out in the world!