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What Do You Think it Means To Be A 'Professional' Artist?

Add your input to the discussion: What do you think it means to be a 'professional' artist?

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I am because of art. We are only the foot steps that we make and all will wash away in time. Title me and my work as you will but, for truth ask collectors of my art. I treat clients with respect and dignity, which is as a rule, is returned. "Professional", sure why not?  Rondo.

by definition it can mean a lot of things.  Good technical skill, good understanding of the elements and/or principals of art, good connection and reasoning skills demonstrated by what you visually create, good conceptual skills... employed, ect. pick your favorite.   I feel however that giving yourself that label is unnecessary self indulgence.  Artist is enough of an honorable title, because it means you have a skill and mind-set others don't.  Saying you're professional seems to be claiming that you're better at a skill that most people don't have, and smug.  It also doesn't seem to be an unnecessary term, because no matter how good you are, there's always room to grow.  And with that in mind, if you claim you're professional  because you're employed, keep in mind that art is a competitive field and you might just be lucky to have the job.   Not to be offensive, but someone more suited for that job (AKA more conceptual or technically skilled) may be unemployed.  Do I feel the same about people who give themselves titles like "mentors", "graphic artists", "concept artist", "illustrators"? no. That's just specifying your skill or occupation in art. "surrealist?", "impressionist", "minimalist"? that's ok too, as it specifies your taste/genre.

In a nutshell, it just feels like adding "professional" to any title that already could be taken as an occupation as it stands is like trying to put extra emphasis on the fact that you can do what your title claims you can.  You don't see me calling myself a professional student, do you? ;) 

Even though this thread is a bit of an antique, I am going to contribute my $0.02.

note: To believe that any one profession is somehow "better" or "worse" than any other is to make a personal value judgement. To declare that value judgement as anything other than that is arrogant.

Want to know what constitutes a "professional artist"? Try using the same criteria that you would use for any other field. Lets re-ask the same question substituting some other career choices:

What do you think it means to be a professional brick mason? teacher? welder? politician? doctor? lawyer? surgeon? dog trainer? baker? mechanic?

OK, there are a few other professions placed at the end of the same sentence. I know people that I would refer to as "professional" in all of those (you will note I said) CAREERS. That is the crux of the dog biscuit. "professional" means that it is your "profession", your career.

From Wiki at

"A professional is a person who is paid to undertake a specialized set of tasks and to complete them for a fee. The traditional professions were doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects and commissioned military officers. Today, the term is applied to nurses, accountants, educators, scientists, technology experts, social workers, artists, librarians (information professionals) and many more.

The term is also used in sports to differentiate amateur players from those who are paid—hence "professional footballer" and "professional golfer". Many companies include the word professional in their store name to imply the quality of their workmanship or service.

In some cultures, the term is used as shorthand to describe a particular social stratum of well-educated, salaried workers who enjoy considerable work autonomy and are commonly engaged in creative and intellectually challenging work.[1][2][3][4]

Due to the personal and confidential nature of many professional services, and thus the necessity to place a great deal of trust in them, most professionals are subject to strict codes of conduct enshrining rigorous ethical and moral obligations."

It kind - of seems like there are some actual criteria to adhere to in order to claim "professional" status in a field, "artist" included. An educational background of some kind (in this day and age it should be a university, college or specialized institution of higher learning, (though I am sure that long term unpaid apprenticeships in art are still available) and strict adherence to a 'set of rigorous..obligations'. In the USA that would include such as filing a DBA with your county court, filing yearly tax returns with the state and federal government, maintaining business accounts and ledgers and earning the majority of your income from your "profession". There are a few other requirements for an artist, like not plagiarizing work, using the pertinent media for the project, truth in advertizing, fulfilling contractual obligations and the like.

The ooey - gooey steamy dreamy 'oh but I am so inspired' stuff is superfluous fluff - anybody can say that, it means nothing in the real world. Worse yet, such statements are mere posturing which leads the initiate to question the speakers motivation.

The question addresses the nuts and bolts of what it means to be a professional, the answer is the same for any field. If you think not, try having your gall bladder removed by a non - professional surgeon then get back to me a month later and tell me how things are going.....if you are able.

Hi Richard,

Thanks for your input, and I agree with you. If you're running a business, you need to have exceptional skills and reliability, a business license, etc.

There is planning, investment of time and resources, marketing, and a lot of risk-taking. Cash flow or profitability may take several years to achieve. Does this mean the entrepreneur is not a professional until the cash starts hitting? If this is someone's full time work, being handled in a professional matter, income, to me, is not the determining factor. One must have nerves of steel, and hopefully savings or some other income until it does.

An artist who paints only for their love of it and doesn't need or want to sell is a hobbyist, and there's nothing wrong with that. That would be a wonderful luxury.

Self respect and a certain poise. Confidence.

When you can write expenses off the income tax.


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