What makes the difference between an artist and a professional artist?

I always enjoy a good artist conversation. The latest conversation between a few of my art friends involved deciphering what differentiates a person who calls themselves an artist from a professional artist? Good question.

Is it a question of degrees that separates the so-called artist from the professional artist? Is it dedication? The numbers of hours? Is it the number of sales you make? If you only work at night or on weekends can you still call yourself an artist or a professional artist? Is it the amount of art materials you use? I’ve always had lots of art materials that could make it look like I was a professional artist yet I still called myself an artist. Is your namesake something that only you can decipher and determine for yourself? Are you an artist because you say you are?

For years, I called myself an artist. It’s only recently that I’ve called myself a professional artist. What made the differentiation for me was that it is now the only profession I do. I’ve also run the gamut in promoting and selling. More importantly, however, is my attitude towards making art. I call myself a professional artist because I am proud of what I create and what I do for a living. I’ve been involved in all kinds of artistic endeavors and clubs and have had my share of juried show success. I also belong to CARFAC, a society of artists standing up for all artists’ rights. I feel I have earned that title. 

When I called myself an artist, I somehow felt apologetic as if it was not a “real” job. it was sort of how some moms describe themselves: “I’m just a stay at home mom”. Ah no, just like the mom, as an artist you need to stand up for what you do. A mom literally shapes a future life and art helps shape a child’s sensitivity to the world outside. Different tasks for sure but each equally valuable.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that if you call yourself an artist that that is a lesser title. I’m saying, for me, it was important to recognize that I took my work very seriously and purposefully strived to achieve goals and evolving my style and techniques. You can call yourself a professional artist, have all the accoutrement you want, if you do not walk the walk and talk the talk you are still thinking of yourself as “just an artist”.

I know many artists who work full-time at a different job and paint only at night and weekends and I would still call them professional artists. 

So what I advocate is for all artists’ to consider and think of themselves in professional terms. It is the only way we will ever gather credibility and get recognized for our contribution to society.

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