|WORDS WORKS - Photograph courtesy of Shirley Walker|
This is so contentious as it has many people not quite knowing where they fit.
Is a professional artist, someone whose sole income is from their art? That is what they do each and every day?
Is it someone who has shown works in London or another one of the big cities?
Is it someone who has professional qualifications in the arts? I'm keeping it deliberately broad.
I think in years gone by it was much easier to classify who is a professional and who isn't. I know a plethora of people with Fine Art Degrees who haven't produced any art since they graduated. I also know many that have.
When I graduated my Masters, I was intent on becoming a full time artist, that was back in 1994. It was probably easier then. After touting my wares to local and London galleries (art shops) and being turned away from everyone of them locally, a bit more luck in London. I realised fairly early on that I may not be up to the challenge. Remember the internet was in its infancy. The only way your work could be seen is if it was exhibited.
I trudged down the well worn path that so many art graduates do. I thought in my naivety that if I found a part time teaching job that it would finance 'my art'. Walked into a teacher/demonstrator role fairly easily. Oh the exploitation! Sound familiar? My part time role ended up taking full time hours to keep on top of.
My art quickly became a bit of a distant memory, I produced just enough to satisfy my need to create but not close to as much as I would have liked.
ALL of the lecturers I worked with were also artists and had to work super hard to ensure that they still exhibited and produced work. They all saw themselves as professional artists that taught. I should add here that I was employed by the people who taught me on my Art Foundation at 16. Eight years later they gave me my first job.
I moved on and became a lecturer in the South and there was a shift. I worked in a team of 20ish, very few of them practised what they preached. I would say 1/4 of the team were regularly producing work and exhibiting. The rest mainly identified themselves as educators. Why the huge difference?
I know that now many Universities want their staff to be practising artists and I do think that is as it should be. This in itself will keep it real for both the students and the lecturers.
Now the hobbyist/amateur/gifted amateur/not formally trained blah blah blah, who mostly paint/make etc in their spare time and have full time jobs usually in unrelated fields. But they exhibit regularly and make sales and take part in Arts Weeks/Open Studios importantly I should add here and visit galleries.
What about them? They dot all the i's and cross all the t's. But they are not 'professionals' are they?
Or are they?
WHO MAKES THE DECISIONS AROUND HERE?
When I opened the gallery a few 'rude' (some lovely people too, it's all about the inflection and the way the question is asked) people questioned my qualifications and wanted to know where I trained. What experience I had that made me qualified to open a gallery. The irony was that I was more qualified than many of the people that asked. I was allowed to call myself a 'professional'. Thank you very much.
I have taken to calling myself an artist/curator as that is what I am. I was an artist way before I was a gallery owner. Ask me what my profession is. No go on ask me.
Please get involved in the debate, I welcome your insights.
Are you a professional? If yes, why? If no, why not?