Living the Artist Life

How to Tell When

You're Ready to Go Pro

Artists ask themselves all the time whether they have what it takes to go professional, become successful, get recognized for their art, make a difference in the art world, and most importantly, make enough money to survive entirely on art sales. They compare themselves to other artists, compare their art to that of other artists, look at who the good galleries show, follow their favorite artists, read about successful artists, and learn as much as they can about how those artists got to where they are today. But ultimately, getting the attention and recognition you believe you deserve is not so much about what other artists do. It's about what YOU do and how you do it. In case you're wondering exactly what that means-- going pro, that is-- here's a checklist of characteristics common to successful professional lifelong artists to help you figure how far along the going-pro road you are. The more you can say yes to, the better:

* You are serious about being an artist, treat it like a job, have a disciplined schedule and routine for working in the studio and creating art, and take no extended breaks or vacations from creating it.

* You produce enough new work on a ongoing basis to impress galleries and other professionals with your level of commitment and dedication.

* You know why you're an artist, what your art is about, how it all fits together, where you're going with your work, how to get there, and what you want to contribute, communicate, or add to the larger art world conversation around you.

* You have developed and perfected an identifiable style or technique to the point where no one can question the quality of the work or notice any obvious shortcomings, flaws, or imperfections about it. And if they do have concerns, you can address them immediately.

* You have enough completed and currently available art for a gallery, collector, or other art world professional to take you seriously. That usually means at least 20-25 works, preferably more, and with new ones on the way at all times.

* You have enough recently completed and never-before-exhibited works for a stand-alone solo show.

* You can convincingly engage about your art with any gallery that expresses interest in showing or representing you.

* If you are currently working on a series or body of work that's not yet complete, you can persuasively explain to a gallery not only what it's about and why they should pay attention to it, but also how many more pieces it will include, what those pieces will look like and be about, and when you'll be done. This approach works better for artists who already have solo show experience than it does for those who don't.

* You've taken the randomness out of your art. In other words, everything is purposeful and organized, and you have a good solid sense and explanation (in case anyone asks) of how it's all related and fits together. If you can't make sense of the body of work you've created, no one else will be able to make sense of it either.

* You are able to speak about and present your art as groups or series or bodies of related works rather than as isolated unrelated examples.

* The individual artworks in any given series or body of your work have a clear relatedness or unity about them. In other words, they look like they belong together from a purely visual perspective, regardless of how little or how much a viewer might know about them.

* You are able to speak about how and why each individual piece belongs in the group or body of work it is part of, and what its significance is within that group.

* You have a good solid sense of how you see your artistic future playing out. You are able talk about what you believe you'll be working on months or even years from now. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to do exactly what you're saying now for however long you think you'll be doing it, but at this moment anyway, you are confident of your direction.

* You know why you're going in the direction you are currently going in. You can talk about your current focus, vision, and what you want to accomplish in ways people can understand and appreciate.

* You work in a consistent style, or perhaps several consistent styles. You have produced enough artworks in each of those styles for viewers to grasp the significance of those styles with respect to the art you are creating.

* You continue to experiment with new ideas, compositions, mediums, materials, styles, themes, and so on, while at the same time, constantly produce new works that are the focus of your current artistic journey.

* You have a good solid sense of when a particular series or body of work in nearing completion.

* You know what you want to work on next once a current series is complete.

* You have shown your art in enough places, both online and in person, to have a good solid understanding of how people respond to it, what they see in it, what kinds of questions they tend to ask you about it, how to answer or respond to those questions, and how to dialogue about your art in ways that excite, energize, and more deeply engage viewers.

* You are able to speak and answer questions about your art on a professional level, including with curators, collectors, critics, and gallery owners.

* You understand the importance of getting the word out about your art, and that no one does it better than you.

* You invest the necessary time and energy in learning how to promote and sell your own work. You understand that being able to sell your art is essential to your advancement as an artist, especially when you're just starting out.

* You don't wait for galleries or anybody else to get your art out there in front of the public. You take the initiative, get fearless, get dedicated, and do it yourself.


(art by Christine Streuli)

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