The Laws of Nature

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Artist" vs. "Professional Artist"

In response to my last blog, Margaret Ryall raised an interesting point about making a distinction between the label "artist" and "professional artist." This is worth exploring, and the criteria she posted made me wonder how the term "professional artist" is defined in other countries. So, I found a website for the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies, that provides an interesting analysis. If you don't want to read it, I'll share the highlights.

According to UNESCO (1980) " 'Artist' is taken to mean any person who creates or gives creative expression to, or re-creates works of art, who considers his [sic] artistic creation to be an essential part of his life, who contributes in this way to the development of art and culture and who is or asks to be recognized as an artist, whether or not he is bound by any relations of employment of association."

The UK establishes what makes an artist professional in principle:
"While there are several interpretations of what constitutes a professional 'artist' a broad interpretation is any arts practitioner working in the arts ... be they creative or interpretative, who either makes or endeavours to make a living from their work. A professional artist will also be defined through peer recognition."

Ther term "professional artist" is usually formally defined by countries for tax purposes and benefits. Therefore, the definition varies from country to country. However, there are identified five common approaches, which I'll briefly state (if you're interested in the fleshed-out defintions go to the website):

1. Definition through membership: a person is defined as an artist through membership of a recognized artist association (e.g. a society of professional artists).
2. Definition by committee: artistic status is determined by a committee, such as a committee of 'experts' or of artistic peers.
3. Definition by authority: the taxing authority determines eligibility.
4. Definition by association with artistic output: i.e. an artist is someone who produces art
5. Definition by the nature of arts activity: an artist is deemed professional if their arts work is undertaken in a 'businesslike' manner.

In the USA, our IRS defines nine criteria in its definition of a "professional artist." I'm certain that you're familiar with those if you file taxes in this country.


M said...

The whole professional artist debate is an interesting one that I considered seriously when I switched from a career where I was very much "professional". I knew how professionals acted and I began my art career applying all those characteristics to my art practice. I was very familiar with long term planning and I developed a plan and timeline to move myself along. I took three years of personal intensive study (home schooled-my little education joke) and workshop participation to develop my skills and credibility. I began to show in group exhibitions; I joined the provincial visual arts association and served on its board. That is where I really found out about the professional issues of visual artists. By being on the board I worked closely with other artists who were making a living (with a little outside help) through their art. I did the things professional artists do: I developed a CV (a pathetic one pager initially), and wrote an artist statement. I developed a web site; I continued to participate in group shows and sold my work from my summer studio; I had business cards printed etc. I felt professional. My theory if you act like a professional you are professional.

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret, you and I have followed parallel paths to becoming "professional" artists. I agree that, as you state, "If you act like a professional you are professional." When I was young I had this romantic notion that artists almost mindlessly followed their creative urges and would one day be "discovered" for their brilliance. Little did I know of the drudgery behind the scenes .... endless paperwork, taxes (!), matting, framing, did I say paperwork?? I need a personal assistant.

susan hong-sammons said...

Hello Katharine,
I'm so glad you posted this quesiont regarding professional artist. I think every time I'm plein air painting someone will ask me if I'm a professional artist. It strikes me as such a strange question to ask someone. Now I just answer very simply, "yes" and keep on painting.

Unknown said...

Hi Susan. Thanks for adding to this discussion. Yes - is the answer!

Constance McLennan said...

Looking forward to reading more of your musings.

As an illustrator first, I've never had a problem considering myself or being considered a professional artist of sorts (if we may consider illustrators artists.) But managing the business professionally--pricing work appropriately, marketing (effectively and constantly), etc--is another matter. That is a challenge that often determines whether or not one can survive financially as a full-time artist and often is perceived as a measure of whether or not one is "professional."

Unknown said...

Good point, Constance! In this country, the IRS allows professional artists a 5-year loss on their income reporting before they take the artist of the "professional" list in terms of allowing tax deductions. I suppose one could make a special case and win, but that's been the rule.