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).”
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