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"Are you a professional artist?"

Every now and then someone asks me that. It's a funny question, because I'm not even sure how I would define a professional artist in a small city that has few art opportunities in a state that ranks 48th in per capital arts funding (National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, 2021).

The standard definition of 'professional' is connected to income, so someone who derives their main income from the activity, rather than engaging in it as a pastime. But I think its a mistake to connect money-making and art-making. You certainly CAN produce whatever art is currently fashionable or in demand by hotels or greeting card companies, and if that is sustainable for you, great!

When I was doing graphic design, a legit art profession, I found that the joy of creating quickly went out the window when there was a client who needed to sell something. There is very limited amount of creativity that is useful or permissible when selling to the general public. So unlike that old adage, "if your job is doing what you love, you'll never work a day in your life," I found something like "If your job is doing what you love, you will quickly lose your love for it."

There are artists who make an income off of YouTube, and those who devote time to seeking grants, finding public art opportunities and traveling to art fairs. And of course, artists who teach art. They all equate to another part time job, separate from art-making, but maybe that is what people mean when they ask that question.

So am I professional artist? I still don't have a good answer. I can say that I am an artist - beyond that, it's open to interpretation!

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