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A.C.T. Featured Artists: What Makes an Artist Professional?

There is still a lot of debate amongst artists about the need to say they are professional. For artists who consider themselves "pure artists," the term professional implies commercialism and "selling out."

That's not how I see it.
The answer to "What makes an artist professional?" is different for each of us.
That's how we like it.

When I interview mid-career and established artists in the A.C.T. community, I ask them to define what makes an artist professional. You'll see that they each contribute a different perspective to the answer.

Realist Painter, Eric ArmusikRealist Painter, Eric Armusik

"What makes an artist a professional is the unstoppable desire for success.  You have to look at yourself as a professional and act the way a successful professional acts. I view my career as a thriving business, I am successful because I chose to be and I refuse to subscribe to failure. I've seen far too many people acting like they need to 'pay their dues' or they aren't worthy to be successful - or worse, that there is no merit in success.  This belief system impedes artists who have an inability to see beyond their own self-imposed limitations."

Female Form Sculptor, Fabienne Bismuth Female Form Sculptor, Fabienne Bismuth
"You have to make a point to go to your studio, inspired or not.

"You have to show what you created: sign up for shows, contact galleries, submit work to competitions, maintain a website. You need to market your work: take good pictures of your art, update your website on a regular basis, post on social media, send invitations, create marketing material...And the office work, keep track of your finances, get your taxes ready, pay your sales taxes on time, insuring your work, update your mailing list..."



Painter, Muralist, Digital Artist, Peter BraginoPainter, Muralist, Digital Artist, Peter Bragino
"A professional artist is someone who is fully interested in the craft, the history, and the journey of their own growth and understanding as an artist. I believe it's important to be organized and focused on where you'd like to go with your career as well. It's good to have some direction, and it's that awareness that provides the avenues on which you can focus your attention, and dedication to learning. Above all I feel the willingness to seek internal and artistic grow is the most important part of being professional."



Fine Art Nature Photographer, Conservationist, Connie BransilverFine Art Nature Photographer, Conservationist, Connie Bransilver
"Once you commit to being a professional, you don't just produce when you feel like it - you have to be consistent and produce the best all the time.   

"What separates the professional, however, is a consistency of excellence, day in and day out, wet or dry, producing the images required on assignment or for self-assignment, telling stories in one frame.  The other half -- yes, half -- besides consistency and excellence in production, is relentless marketing combined with a thick skin."


Artist-Entrepreneur, Painter, Ceramicist, Edd CoxArtist-Entrepreneur, Painter, Ceramicist, Edd Cox
"To be a professional artist, you have to have an incredible amount of desire, patience and persistence. You have to feed the creative energy and use everything you have inside of you ... for say, 10 years, working consistently to evolve and refine a deep knowledge of tools, medium, and techniques to create a sustainable lifestyle in the arts."




Abstract Artist, Priority Box Project, Franck de las Mercedes

Abstract Artist, Priority Box Project, Franck de las Mercedes
"I think discipline, respect and integrity in all aspects of an art career is what makes one a professional artist. Aside from thinking about what you are making, you are also thinking about the person who looks at your work."


Watercolor Artist, Patrice FederspielWatercolor Artist, Patrice Federspiel
"Professional artists take themselves and their art seriously, and derive a significant portion (if not all) of their income from their art. Being a professional also refers to a level of business standards to which one ascribes. Professionalism also comes through in the documentation used in one's business; i.e. business cards, postcards, brochures, website. If I take myself seriously, it's more likely others will do so too."



Painter, Pat FiorelloPainter, Pat Fiorello
"Commitment to learn, grow and create on a consistent basis. The key is mindset - that this is your work, it's important - not just a casual leisure time pursuit. It's a serious commitment. It's not just when you are in the mood. Communicate professionally. Do what you say. Be responsible. Don't make it challenging for others to do business with you. If something happens, get together and clean it up. Collaborate to make it a win for everyone."


Glass Artist, B.J. KatzGlass Artist, B.J. Katz
"Professionalism comes from creating commissioned artwork on time, in budget and as agreed. My professional approach to my career has brought me long-term clients who bring me many opportunities.  We enjoy open communication and can count on each other.  I also enjoy a certain amount of press coverage and that is a product of my professional approach to my career.  As a professional artist I believe that it is my obligation to help the field and to help other artists in the field."


Mixed Media Collage Artist, Vickie MartinMixed Media Collage Artist, Vickie Martin
"It is so important to have a professional presentation, from business cards, to a website, to framing.  Having an artist statement for your work, and descriptions for every body of work strengthens your bond with the work and legitimizes you as a serious artist and not a hobbyist. I live with a professional photographer, so I have the advantage of having great pictures of my work (he has photographed work of many artists, including Oldenburg)."




Representational Drawings, Huguette May

Representational Drawings, Huguette May
"Professional artists have a firm belief in one's own worth as an artist - arriving from conviction that the work we produce has value in its own right. Artists must come to terms with the notion that the world isn't going to proffer us respect just because we say we're artists! First, learn to respect yourself, your work: the value of your place in society. Without that confidence and conviction, it's tough to convince art world professionals to take us, or our work seriously. If you're shaky on confidence, figure out why and see what you need to do to fix it.

"Professionalism is conveyed in presentation of oneself, presentation of one's work, and evidence of deep commitment. Every aspect should be organized, well thought through - impeccable. Commit to a code of business ethics. Treat everyone you meet as if you will be doing business with him or her the next day - because you just may! When we decide we want to market our artwork in any systematic way - we've just become a business with all that entails. Professional artists have learned to manage the duality of being both creators and advocates of their work with few if any internal conflicts over it."


Painter, Lori McNeePainter, Lori McNee
"Being a professional artist takes discipline. We have the luxury of being our own bosses, but in order to truly be a success, we must be responsible. A professional artist has specialized training in his/her artistic field and strives to uphold a high standard of artistic ability. A professional artist's works have impact and claim the attention of the viewer. A true professional derives income from his/her art form, is recognized by his/her peers and is committed to devoting time to create." 


Plein Air Painter,Plein Air Painter, Lee McVey Lee McVey
"Artists who behave professionally are more likely to be treated as possible business partners. Gallery directors have complimented me on my professionalism. When I prepare for a show, I have things ready for the gallery before they even ask for it. Actions like this help me stand out from the crowd. Being professional in actions and attitudes has earned me respect from the people with whom I work."



Portrait Artist, Conservationist, Nicholas PetrucciPortrait Artist, Conservationist, Nicholas Petrucci
"My view on professionalism is dedication to your craft and intellectual curiosity.  I have always thought it is enough to believe in yourself and your art.  

"To be a professional in other's eyes is a judgment they must make." 


Liturgical Sculptor, Karen SchmidtLiturgical, Sculptor Karen Schmidt
"A professional artist is one who creates high quality work with great commitment and focus, investing time and money to support both art making and everything else that goes into showing and selling art. This includes developing a plan, setting goals, registering the business, using business banking accounts and services, paying taxes, entering shows and exhibitions, and having an online presence and quality print materials. A professional artist knows when to seek advice and when to delegate."


Figurative Painter, Julie SnyderFigurative Painter Julie Snyder
"When I arrived in the U.S. as a young newlywed I looked through all the photos of things I had done and put together a portfolio.  I hit the streets running - made plenty of calls and visited advertising agencies with my portfolio and began my career in earnest as a freelance commercial illustrator. I learned to do
all kinds of work and meet deadlines. That was when I felt I was truly a professional artist - I had a professional identity -
I was confident about offering and producing consistently professional art."



Fire Bowl Artist, John T. UngerFire Bowl Artist, John T. Unger
"The question that defines a professional from a 'non-professional' is 'Does your art support you?' When you are a professional artist, you don't spend all your time in the studio. You have management tasks, business tasks, and marketing tasks.  The amount of time I spend in the studio is not as much as I spend in the office."




Metal Sculptor, Bilhenry WalkerMetal Sculptor Bilhenry Walker
"I felt like a professional artist when I quit my 9 to 5 job as a social worker in 1972 and devoted myself to making art full-time. This meant living on a shoestring and prioritizing the making of art over the making of money. I was able to live on the income from part-time jobs in order to maximize my art-making time. Eventually, I discovered I was un-employable in the greater job market despite the skill sets I had learned. This served to harden my resolve to follow my muse regardless of where it led."


Which perspectives do you think are most important and what would you add? Please post your comments here or on Facebook and Twitter.    

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Reader Comments (3)

Superb blog, Aletta. Finding that balance between creative pursuits and tending to business can be a tightrope walk. I find myself going through periods when I hang on every day's webpage hit count and the number of new followers I've gained to days when I want to do nothing but paint and be damned with the rest. There is also the matter of being able to fund the level of business materials, promotion, and training that one know's is necessary. Living in the moment is the only way to escape the weightiness of these issues, I guess.

May 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Glatz

Hi Aletta,

This blog post is inspiring and thought provoking. The one that is most touching to me is Franck de las Mercedes, this is his quote..."I think discipline, respect and integrity in all aspects of an art career is what makes one a professional artist. Aside from thinking about what you are making, you are also thinking about the person who looks at your work." I'm not a professional artist, but I do love to paint and these words sum up my thoughts.

Others that also spoke to me are Patrice Federspiel, Pat Fiuorello and Lori McNee.

Excellent post! My favorite, and the one that probably surprises most, is by John Unger who states that a professional artist spends less time n the studio. The most successful artists are the ones who have learned how to market themselves and effectively negotiate with clients, galleries, museums. Gone are the days when we all just sit in our studios and create.

An artist is an artist whether he/she sells work or not. But art as a profession means it's also a business.

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