Definitions: Professional vs. Advanced Artist

Determining Your Current Place in the Art World


Have you had a difficult time determining what to call or title yourself to collectors or general public? There has be confusion recently with artists as well as collectors as to what the following phrases mean. Particularly self-proclaimed terms as projected by we who are artists.

Many terms are thrown around to identify ourselves and others as to what kind of artists we are, and where we are in we're career path at any given time. To simplify, let's go over just a few of these key terms. You decide which category you are in (not to place anyone in a box) to assist with marketing yourself appropriately or when purchasing the work of others.

Let's start with one of the big ones:

Professional Artist
A "professional" artist has the same definition as anyone else. "Professional" intimates that one makes a living or income from the work they do. With that in mind, you could be a beginning through advanced or even master artist ranking and still be considered to be a "professional." However, if you are a beginner or intermediate painter selling your work, do you project or give the impression that you are a "advanced" artist? There's a big difference between touting yourself as a professional as opposed to advanced...they are mutually exclusive terms. Please read on.

Beginning Artist
A "beginning" artist obviously is one who is untrained, self-trained, or have taken a few classes in art at a basic level. Even with talent evident, a beginner generally wants to paint but realizes they need training to advance with what they may already know.

Some beginners have never picked up a brush before, while others lean towards Intermediate status. Assessing where you are yourself is difficult at times. A few greatly underestimate how well they paint as others think more of their work than the work reveals.

In my case, I never thought to call myself an "artist" even with working in art from 7th grade to where I am now. For some, it's a huge jump to even tell people, "I am an Artist." For others, they proclaim themselves to be an "artist" way too soon...

Intermediate Artist
The "intermediate" artist sometimes is a beginner or advanced person in disguise. This term is a catch-all for so many painters. When I see the word "intermediate" used, I generally wait until I actually view the work as a whole to see where the artist's really is in terms of craftsmanship, maturity and creativity. Most are late beginners, while a very few could be classified as more advanced than they themselves let on to be.

Advanced Artist
Of late, the term "advanced" artist has eluded me. Truly advanced painters are much like the "it girl" sought after by movie producers. Advanced simply means that an artist is technically polished and may have a recognized style no matter if they are representational or non-objective painters. At the Intermediate level, many leaders in the industry including magazines, museums, juried exhibitions, professional organizations have already placed their "seal of approval" on these folks.

Still, many advanced painters (so called) are still in the realm of Intermediates. The savvy, wise artist themselves will have to be of high personal integrity to take on this title. Also, some advanced artists are still not professionals (remember, "professional" simply means that one sells their work)! That's right. Many skilled and talented painters have held back to pursue a dream of self-fulfillment, discovery and experimentation without selling anything.

So you can see that terms can be tricky. To determine where you are in the scheme of things (currently; things and times change, your skill set changes as you grow, therefore, you can be sure to adjust your position as time moves on.)

So, What Kind of Artist Are You?

1. Do you sell your work whether yourself or through a gallery, gift shop or other? Then you are a "professional" artist.
2. Of the three levels of artistry where are you currently...a Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced artist?
3. Put the two answers together which indicates where you are now.

There is one caveat here. That of Master artist in whatever form of art you produce. A Master artist is not one who self-proclaims that they are such but is most generally bestowed upon them by a professional organization of peers, academic entity or other reputable person/group. Most of the time, a Master artist is also a professional already but there are rare cases of artists not making a living or charging for their masterful work.

Confusing...perhaps! But not insurmountable.

All of this is very subjective, particularly the parsing of beginner, intermediate and advanced painters. In the last twenty years there has been a concern among the greater legitimate artists, museum curators and academia about the watering-down of instruction, artist skill-sets and that ever elusive word, "talent." (The word "talent" is a subject for another day!)

This has not been a comprehensive exploration of terms, rather, a red flag being raised for artists to be honest with themselves on several levels.

First, don't be so quick to categorize yourself. It is better to drag your feet and wait until you have reached a level of confidence in your work before you become or call yourself a beginner, intermediate or advanced painter whether or not you are already a professional.

Second, study with the best master painters you can afford. This is true whether you have gone through a regular to high-end art school. Most of us want to take a shortcut to creating grand paintings, sculpture, or other. There is no shortcut! Remember, that whatever you put out in the public to sell will follow you throughout your career. (Those who are interested please write me about this topic.)

Third, place only your best work out into the marketplace if you wish to become a profitable professional. They don't have to be masterworks, nevertheless, it should be the very best work you can do at the time and work that years from now you will not be ashamed to have your name on. I have many a painting out there from the beginning of my career. However, I waited until I had enough confidence in my work before selling anything. I can safely say that today, I can look back over the last 30 years and not be ashamed of anything that has sold. I know earlier works show a level of immaturity, but at the same time show skill and promise. Additionally, folks who have lived with my older work for years tell me how much their paintings are still growing on them. Gratifying to me and a confirmation that I did the right thing for me.

Note: No matter how much training a painter/sculptor, etc. may have has no reflection on their technical capability or creativity whether Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced or Master. Words do not matter, what you can do does, particularly if consistent in quality.

Johnson is an award-winning artist and instructor with over 30 years experience and was Founding Editor of Plein Air Magazine (now Fine Art Connisseur. See all her current and archived sold works at
©1995-2009 L. Diane Johnson