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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Professional or successful. To me a professional artist means they have all the right qualifications, but that doesn,t mean they are good artists, but a successful artist is someone who mantains a good standard of life by selling art.

I'd define a professional artist as one whose production of original artwork is the core and full time activity in their life, whether or not the sales provide a good standard of living. Van Gogh didn't sell enough to live; would you categorize him as a professional or an outsider? I find 'outsider' artists fascinating, and most of them don't sell, but are driven to produce art, as am I. Are they professionals, obsessed hobbyists or...?

The Greek word that "amateur" comes from means to do something from/for love...something like that.  Anyway it gave me a whole new perspective on "professional".  I don't have to be paid to be validated...nor do I have to "profess" myself.I am what I am...not Popeye (LOL).
Agreed, but even Van Gogh, poor soul, was paid sometimes. In art, I have at times made more money than any of my other business dealings, and at other times barely eaten. My willingness to be poor actually gives me the freedom to paint exactly what I want. Most of my paid work has been commissioned, which involves collaboration and compromise, like a marriage. Not so bad.

Van Gogh (much as  I love him...poor, troubled soul that he was) is a really bad example.  For one thing his art career was only 10 years long and for another, his brother supported him a lot financially. 

I agree about having the freedom to "paint exactly what" I want. That comes in many flavors.  I am fond of saying that I was dragged kicking and screaming into teaching.  This, as arduous a task as it is and as financially minimal as it can be has saved my life...and art.

Totally agree with your comments on this

Amen, Denis, to your final sentence. Patronage gives an artist the time to develop the highest skills (which sadly are not really valued in today's art establishment), but there will usually be some compromise on subject or content.
I too am struck by the last sentence.  I believe this may well be the difference between "professional artist" and those who continue to try to be true to that artistic journey which may pull in an entirely different direction-- disregarding the latest fads and preferences of galleries etc.  The ideas in this sentence are something I have struggled with ever since I became a 'serious" artist.

I don't think Picasso or Matisse would describe themselves as professional artists.  Was Van Gogh who sold only one piece in his lifetime a professional artist? 

  To me the addition of the word professional seems to exclude people who might very well be artists but have not tried or been able to make money at it.  Does that make their work any less valid?   Is it being a professional to spend all your time doing art, or is it just crazy?

My view is that art is a very personal quest for perfection, and since this is a never-ending journey toward a goal that may well be unknown, the word professional seems not to fit in my personal lexicon of what it means to create art. -- I think of a professional accountant, who has learned all the steps needed to do a good job, but when it comes to making a painting, knowing all the steps is only the beginning.  Each work is a struggle, and I think this struggle is evident in the works of great artists who may never have been called professional.

Well said, Christine, that it is that personal quest for perfection! Compromising with client's requests in commissioned work hasn't always been a bad thing, though. Actually it's pushed me to try things I hadn't thought of, and I really don't paint anything that I actually dislike. I did try a couple of times, and it was thoroughly unsuccessful.

Between commissioned works (there's quite of bit of 'between' right now) I do exactly what my own vision is.

I chuckle that before you make much money you're crazy, but if you receive patronage and make money you're only eccentric. And yes, the struggle. At some point, in each of my paintings, I feel I have lost control and wonder how I can save this thing. Thank goodness! Wouldn't it be boring otherwise?

Laurel, I appreciate your comments.  I have not yet taken a commission as I've always been afraid that the client would be disappointed. 

Re money and art: someone once told me that the marriage between art and commerce was a difficult one, and I believe this is very true.  As an artist we want some sort of recognition but at the same time we want to be true to the path we continue to discover.  A lifelong quest, indeed. 

Your last comment about how in each of your paintings you find you have lost control.  It's when you save them that the unexpected result appears and sometimes it turns out much better than your original vision.  Then it's like the poem which you wrote and years later you realize you said so much more than you ever imagined. 

Someone who does a lot of hard work impacted with great emotion and gets little recognition or appreciation and yet can't help but make more and more art in spite of it all.

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