Am I Professional Yet?
Professionalism...Every individual hopes to appear as though they possess this highly elusive quality when it comes to job applications or interviews with potential employers. Yet, strangely enough, we tend to confine our association with the word to business offices, piles of paperwork and stuffy suits- it's hardly the first quality trait we have in mind when we think about what it takes to be successful as an artist (as seen in photo 1).
Learning the difference between amateur and professional art practices could be the deciding factor between having a successful, invigorating, self-supporting career and having to relegate your passion to being a slowly simmering hobby crowding the backburner of your daily life.
If being capable of holding a paintbrush or purchasing expensive canvases isn't enough to qualify you, what is it that makes an artist professional, then (as seen in photo 2)?
A rapid google search asking exactly this question yielded an astounding array of insightful articles, wikis, and blog posts from creative individuals either posing the same question or answering it for others the best that their own personal experience and knowledge would allow.
One such brave individual had thought it prudent to seek this information by posting the question on yahoo answers of all places.
"What makes someone a professional artist?" they asked. "Can anyone call themselves a Professional artist? Or do you have to be making profit from your work? Or do you have to register in some national artists' guild or something? What if you make money from it unofficially?"
While somewhat sporadic in nature, these questions were actually fairly logical and pointed towards possible conclusions on their own, showing that the person asking had put some thought into the question.
The answers in response to all of these questions, of course, were all over the map.
Some suggested the answer was as simple as being paid for your art (whatever your "art" may entail), and others stated that most likely it was attending an art school or earning an art degree that did the trick. One individual even felt the need to post paragraphs upon paragraphs of text wherein they define "professional" and then explain how all of the instances in the previously given answers weren't inaccurate necessarily, but misleading by comparison and ultimately drew forth their own concluding definition based on their acute analysis.
According to a short excerpt of Aletta de Wal's book My Real Job is Being An Artist: What You Should Know Before You Quit Your Day Job (Or Get One) shared on finearttips.com, "There is more to professionalism than simply claiming it." (http://www.finearttips.com/2011/02/when-are-you-ready-to-call-yourself-a-professional-artist/).
De Wal makes it clear that she believes there are two main objectives you must accomplish in order to consider yourself "professional": "...think like a professional artist 100% of the time," and "...accept the multiple responsibilities of being a professional artist."
Once you've decided you want to be considered professional in your work, you have to think the way a professional artist would think, all the time. You can't be a professional one day, then a hobbyist the rest of the week. You've got to commit to a professional manner 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. "You must root out any ideas or thoughts that that will keep you from assuming full responsibility for your career decisions," de Wal says. "...and to live up to your art career responsibilities." You must always be thinking of the career aspect of your work, what you produce, and how you go about presenting your work to the world.
So does that mean professionalism is a mindset more than anything else?
Well, yes, and no.
As de Wal said herself, it's about accepting the responsibilities associated with being "professional." Most other online sources tend to agree.
There's an expansive list of the sorts of things that look professional in an artist's work, and it has little to do with the actual subject, style, or even the quality of the work itself. A lot of it has to do with presentation.
Some of the most common practices include knowing and understanding your market audience, knowing how to properly finish and ready your pieces for display (whether or not they ever hang in an art gallery or exhibition), possessing an attractive portfolio of work, and knowing how to sell your artwork.
Having a professional art education can give you a leg up on the competition for sure-- you've had hands on experience in an advantageous environment with access to numerous resources such as equipment or tools and the instruction and knowledge of experienced instructors to help guide your success. Adding a $200,000 student loan debt to your name doesn't automatically make you a professional, however. As was aptly said In an article posted on skinnyartist.com regarding the top signs of an amateur artist, "What you'll discover is that more often than not people will take your art about as seriously as you do."
It's not what you know, or what you can do, but what you actually do with what you know you can do that makes or breaks your professionalism in the art world (as seen in photo 3).
All images were free to use, from morguefile.com: http://www.morguefile.com/
9 Warning Signs of an Amateur Artist. (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2014, from skinnyartist.com website: http://skinnyartist.com/9-warning-signs-of-an-amateur-artist/
What Makes Someone A Professional Artist? (2010). Retrieved June 25, 2014, from Yahoo Answers website: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100208091559AANAv4W
de Wal, A. (n.d.). When Are You Ready To Call Yourself a Professional Artist? Retrieved June 25, 2014, from Fine Art Tips website: http://www.finearttips.com/2011/02/when-are-you-ready-to-call-yourself-a-professional-artist/
Victor, B. (n.d.). Amateur Vs. Professional Artist. Retrieved June 25, 2014, from About.com website: http://painting.about.com/od/careerdevelopment/a/Amateur_Artist.htm
4 Ways to become a Professional Artist. (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2014, from Wiki How website: http://www.wikihow.com/Become-a-Professional-Artist
Tyrrell, K. (2011, October 18). How Do You Define A "Professional Artist"? Retrieved June 25, 2014, from Blogger website: http://makingamark.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-do-you-define-professional-artist.html
de Wal, A. (2011, February 1). Hobbyist, Amateur, or Professional Artist – Which are You? Retrieved June 25, 2014, from emptyeasel.com website: http://emptyeasel.com/2011/02/01/hobbyist-amateur-or-professional-artist-which-are-you/