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The Artist's Perspective - Professional Artist

Tom Neel, author, is also a professional artist.

There’s a distinct change that happens in an artist after they have taken money in exchange for their art. What was an exploration into self expression, becomes in a sense, business. While many artists tend to repel the business side of art, they find themselves inherently stuck to it anyway. There are lots of hobbies in the world and certainly not all are ever confronted with finding a need for a financial transaction. But some are and art just happens to be one of them. Why then do so many artists feel funny about it?

If you have invested yourself into learning a skill, cared about mastering that skill, created a work of art, and enjoyed the pleasure of doing so, why shouldn’t there be value in that which you’ve created? It should also be no surprise at your present level of skill, that there might be at least one person who sees this value. If your work is offered for sale and fairly priced based on your present level of skill, your intention to sell that which you have created, becomes possible. Once it happens and you have proven to yourself that there is actual value from others for your work, the wheels start turning. A change occurs in you. Your perception of yourself as an artist is different and you must not only be prepared for it, you must accept it.

Now as I delve deeper in this topic, let’s be clear about something. The exchange of money for your art, by no means makes you a professional. By no means. A profession, by its very definition, has everything to do with one’s occupation—a primary one at that. Because you sell a piece of your art or even several pieces of art, I wouldn’t tell anyone that you are a professional. I’ll be frank in saying, with now just shy of 30 years under my belt as a working artist, I count the years from 1994 on as my professional years as an artist, even though I had sold thousands of dollars of my art before that time. While I started selling my paintings in 1988, my primary occupation was in art management. But in 1994, I took the leap of become a full time artist, and trust me, that was a switch.

I share this for a very important reason. I’m all for artists titling themselves as artists, very soon on. If you create art, you are in a sense an artist and should have no problem saying that to anyone. But, if you say that you are a professional artist when you are not, you are getting dangerously ahead of yourself. As a professional anything, nothing gets in the way of that which you do. You wouldn’t ask your accountant how come your taxes aren’t done and except having them say, well, I spend most of my time as a florist. You also wouldn’t tell a client who asks why their commission is taking so long, well, I really earn my living as a real estate agent. Before calling yourself a professional, make sure that you can be, and frankly, want to be. That you want the responsibilities that come with that title.

Short of this, as you begin the possibilities and openness of creating your art career, my best advise is to give the business side of things its equal due. Many artists continue to invest in their artistic selves through workshops without ever spending one moment on learning anything about the business side of things. Don’t let this be you. If you’ve ever taken a dollar for your art, you owe it to yourself to care about the business you are in.

Read more on being a professional artist:

When is it Time to Sell Your Work? 

Pricing Your Artwork