How to Know if You’re a Professional Artist or an Amateur

Are you a professional artist? And how does one even define “professional” artist?

Professional artists

Here’s the thing about building a career as an artist – people will only take you as seriously as you do. It doesn’t matter if you’re working a day job or have only sold a couple of paintings online – if you treat art as your job, you are a professional artist. If you don’t – you’re an amateur.

And let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur. In fact, the root of the word amateur is love. You’re doing something you love. That doesn’t make you less talented than those who work for profit.

In this article, I’ll explore some of the key differences that separate professional artists from amateurs. If you want to be pro, there are some hard truths here. So if you find that you’re relating more to the ‘amateur’ traits, don’t feel disheartened. You can change your approach anytime you choose.

There’s no better time than right now to start developing your career as a  professional artist.

Do you wait for The Muse to strike?

Professional artists know that if they sit around waiting for The Muse to visit they’ll never get any artwork finished. Professional artists show up consistently and have regular practice. Not everyone has the time to paint everyday, but professional artists understand the importance of showing up in the studio, even when you don’t feel like it.

Amateurs on the other hand, wait for conditions to be just perfect. They wait for inspiration to strike before they put paint to canvas. If you find yourself falling into this camp, you may be harboring some subconscious perfectionist tendencies.

Are you prone to ‘shiny object syndrome’?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, success as an artist is all about craft and voice. And it takes years of consistent practice to truly hone your craft and develop your voice. So if you’re constantly changing mediums or styles, that’s a sign that you’re lacking focus as an artist.

Professional artists understand that a jack of all trades is a master of none, so instead they focus on mastering their chosen medium before experimenting in other fields.

Now you might say well what about all those successful actors that are also musicians, and the painters that also write novels? There are exceptions to every rule. But if you haven’t mastered any medium yet, you’re best off sticking with one thing until you consider yourself a professional at it.

Do you believe that your art will sell itself?

It’s not enough to create a painting, take a photo of it and list it for sale on Instagram. Amateur artists operate under the false belief that ‘if they build it, an audience will come’. Not true I’m afraid!

Professional artists understand that creating an artwork is only one piece of the puzzle. Professional artists work hard to understand the process of marketing art, especially when looking to sell their art online. Professional artists approach their art as a business, following the typical marketing principles that all entrepreneurs follow. Professional artists figure out who their ideal audience is and where they’re hanging out. Professional artists are strategic about where they hang their work in order to give it the best chance of selling.

Are you in perpetual “student” mode?

Don’t get me wrong – learning is great and essential on your path to becoming a professional artist. But if you find that you’re spending proportionally more time on reading books, attending workshops or taking classes than actually creating art – you’re not yet a professional artist.

Professional artists understand that there will always be more to learn about their craft and technique, but they don’t let a lack of knowledge inhibit them from creating. Experience is always the best teacher, and the fastest way to learn is to start making mistakes in your art.

Are you part of an artist community?

Amateur artists tend to isolate themselves from the artist community. And you might do this for a number of different reasons. You might feel insecure about showing your art to other artists, afraid that it won’t measure up. You might feel jealous of other artists who are further along in their artist career. Or you might feel too vulnerable to handle any sort of criticism.

But artists need to surround themselves with other artists. And professional artists understand this. As a visual artist, it’s so important to get out and take a look at other people’s artwork or photography and get valuable feedback on your own.

Artists tend to support their fellow artists too. These are the people that will attend your first show, purchase your artwork, or recommend you to potential buyers. Connecting and building relationships with other artists will enrich your life. This is also one of the best ways to feel more like a professional artist.

Do you have trouble finishing a piece of art?

There comes a point when you have to decide that your work of art is finished. There’s a difference between perfectionism and knowing when to stop working on a piece. Professional artists understand that nothing they produce will ever be 100% perfect and so a piece is done whenever it feels finished.

Amateurs on the other hand will edit and edit and edit and still feel unhappy. By staying stuck in perfectionist mode you don’t have to actually show your art to the world. It’s another sneaky tactic our brains play to keep us in our comfort zones.

If you recognise yourself in this, try not to get hung up on every piece of art you create. Realize that no matter how close to perfect you get it, there will be a few people that just won’t like it. And that’s ok. Each piece of art is another stepping stone on your artist journey, it’s not your final destination as an artist.

How do you define a professional artist?

In my opinion, a professional artist is simply someone who takes their art and the profit of their career as an artist seriously. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t quit your day job or cultivated a huge online following yet. It doesn’t matter if you are yet profitable, these things take time in every business. But if you consistently show up and do the work, you’re a professional artist.


Would you like to SHOW + SELL MORE ART? I’ve helped thousands of artists and I can help you too.

Join now. It’s free. No spam. Unsubscribe when you want.


Working in the international world of contemporary art, Crista Cloutier has spent her career selling art and marketing art to art galleries, museums and private collections. 

Using her professional experiences, Crista has created The Working Artist Masterclass, where she’s developed a global reputation as an artist’s coach. Crista can teach you how to be an artist; including how to sell your art, how to sell art online, how to sell photographs, how to price your art, how to succeed at art fairs, and even how to find your art style. 

Crista has worked with established, blue-chip artists to raise their profile and attract greater opportunities. And she’s also helped thousands of emerging artists to build a professional art practice. To learn more, visit https://theworkingartist.com

Scroll to Top

Art Advice + Motivation straight to your in-box