What is a Professional Artist?

A few posts ago I included a link for Jack’s article, Line in the Sand“, published by Fine Art Studio Online. CLICK HERE if you missed it. We received many requests for more of his articles, so I’ve included another today. But before I get to “What is a Professional Artist?” I want to share a little of our spring with you. The Red Corn Poppies and Arizona Sun Gallardia are just beginning to bloom in the picture above. The deep purple plant behind them is a loropetalum bush. It has just finished blooming in hot pink, fringy flowers that look like chenille.

Jack surprised me with the Geraniums on the shepherd’s hooks. What a bright spot of color they add to our back patio. Now, back to the question, What is a Professional Artist? This is one of Jack’s recent articles for Professional Artist Magazine (formerly Art Calendar).


Being a Professional Artist
By Jack White

When I received Kim Hall’s letter informing me of Art Calendar’s name change my thoughts were, “it’s about time“. The new title Professional Artist also brought to my attention two questions. What is a professional artist?  And what is expected of us?  I’ll answer with another series of questions.  What is a professional nurse?  What is a professional police person?  What is a professional athlete? What is a professional doctor?

My definition: “A professional is someone who can do their best work when they don’t feel like it.” The dictionary says, “A professional is when you get paid instead of a hobby.”

A recent example. My nephrologist had been on call for twenty-four hours with no sleep. At about hour 36 with no sleep I saw him for my monthly checkup. He went over my vital numbers as if he had been on a two-week vacation. He is a professional doing great work even though he was tuckered out. The poor guy’s face was drawn and eyelids drooped, yet he performed excellent service.

A professional nurse is a person who accepts payment for their services to assist in healing. It has nothing to do with how much the nurse is paid, or the number of degrees they earned. A professional police person can be a first day rookie, who has yet to write a ticket or make an arrest or they can be the Chief of Police. When the police person is sworn in, he or she is titled a professional, because they will be paid.  An athlete can be considered a professional if he is playing weekend baseball for $50 a game. Or perhaps plays in a lesser basketball league where he is paid peanuts, not thirty-five million a year like LaBron James. A doctor is a doctor when he gets his license. He doesn’t have to wait till he is an accomplished open heart surgeon to use the title.  Remember this, a professional is not called that because of what they earn for their services, it’s only because they receive any amount of money for what they do.

Let’s fast forward to artists.  I detest the titles amateur artist, emerging artist, starving artist, beginning artist and struggling to become an artist. Fellow artists, you don’t want an emerging or beginning cop to answer your 911 call. You want a professional to show up for your protection. My argument has always been the moment you sell grandmother your first painting for $5 you have become a professional artist. There is NO difference between those artists selling $1,000 a year and G. Harvey, who sold his last commission for 1 million dollars.  You are both professionals, only G. Harvey has figured out how to sell his work for a tad more.

What do I consider the tenants of being a professional artist? What is the charge of the occupant of the name?

1. A professional artist will freely share all information they have learned with those lacking in knowledge. Those who hoard their knowledge are not fit to be called professional. I call them knowledge hogs. As we share what we’ve learned we have additional  room to learn more. None of us got where we are independently without the help of others. I helped a 85-year-old sign painter when I was in college. I used what I learned from him about gold leaf to invent an art process that earned me several million dollars. Without what he taught me I never would have invented a unique form of art.

2. A professional artist will conduct themselves with honesty and honor at all times. We, who by good fortune have reached some financial success, must never forget where we started. I sold my first painting for $10. Mikki made out much better, I sold her first painting for $200 in a frame that cost her $160.

3. A professional artist will strive to improve their entire career. I did a portrait of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s. Ray told me, “Jack, when you are green you are growing. When you get ripe you begin to rot.”

4. A professional artist learns to step to the easel whether their spirits or down or they are sky-high and produce consistent work. We get up and go to work. Some days we may not be “in the mood”, but we still paint/sculpt. Suddenly, as if by magic, we are filled with inspiration. When we lived on the Big Island of Hawaii, Mikki and I met a group of artists who invited us to go to the volcano. I asked, “Why?” They shocked us. “We are going to sit by the lava flow and get inspiration to paint.” I’m sure they could tell by our faces we were confused. A guy with a pig tail asked, “Where do you get your inspiration? Mikki smiled and answered, “FedEx!”  She stunned them. “What?” Mikki followed up, “We get our bills from the mainland twice a month in a FedEx envelope. Seeing bills we have to pay gets us inspired.

5. A professional artist keeps his/her word.  Lying has no place in the life of a professional artist. A pro is never late on a deadline. Most of us have worked all night to finish a piece for a client. A professional artist communicates with their client and gallery. Misunderstandings occur when we fail to converse. A pro paints/sculpts what the client desires, not what the artist thinks is great. This is true if you expect to earn a living making and selling art.

Now that you know you are a professional artist, assume the role. Talk professional, joke like a pro, laugh like a pro and deliver what you promise like a pro. A pro goes by two rules.

A. The client is always right.
B. If the client is not right refer to rule A


Jack and I appreciate all of you and the comments you make. Thank you for visiting our studio and have a wonderful day.

Hugs, Mikki Senkarik

4 Responses to “What is a Professional Artist?”

  1. Donna Says:

    Thank you both, for sharing not only your knowledge, but your hearts. You bless many, many people.

  2. the famous nemo Says:

    very cool shared this blog with my twiiter friends, some day we will meet up, im in comfort till late may

  3. Debra LePage Says:

    Excellent points all. Especially like number 1 though I know some who won’t even have a website for fear someone will “steal” their ideas. It gives me great pleasure to demonstrate and explain to just about anyone interested. Thank you!

  4. karen johnston Says:

    Thank you for sharing this, it clears up a lot of misunderstandings about what it is to be a professional artist. I shall be sharing this with other people I know.

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