Who’s an “Emerging Artist”? Defining the 5 Stages of a Career Artist

Who’s An “Emerging Artist”?
Defining the 5 Stages of a Career Artist

by Daric Gill

Click for full PDF

In this article, I’ll discuss the differences between the levels of an artist’s professional career. The following titles can help you describe your current career path, aid in giving background to pricing your artwork and help correctly match you to future opportunities. Download the PDF above and read on for more descriptions.

Amateur Artist
A creative person who makes art in their spare time, purely for personal enjoyment rather than a professional pursuit. While they may have occasionally shown or sold a few small price-point items, they are doing it simply for pleasure. Art-related career ambitions aren’t a priority.

Other similar names: hobbyist, Sunday artist, dabbler, art as an avocation

Emerging Artist or Early-Career Artist
A person who is in the early stages of a professional art-related career. They are developing their artistic “voice” and are in the process of establishing a foothold in the professional arena. It’s commonly accepted that unless someone has had a lot of early national success, an emerging artist likely has been practicing for less than 10 years, regardless of age or education.

This artist is in the initial phases of building significant recognition. They are actively working to grow and sustain an exhibition record, gallery representation, honors or awards, reviews by art critics, grants, or publications, etc. While this term can be a little left up to interpretation, it also allows a combination of flexibility and direction.

Other similar terms: early-career artist, up-and-coming artist, unknown artist, budding artist, new artist, artist on-the-rise

Mid-Career Artist
A professional artist who has developed a consistent body of work and has gained regional and national recognition over a span of time. They have a past, present, and ongoing identity as a professional in their field(s). Note, how long someone has been making work does not necessarily equal their placement.

Because this category is measured by a combination of accomplishments and time, there’s no set age or years of experience that propels an artist into a mid-career status. The focus is truly on professional consistency regarding the extent, quality, and breadth of professional achievements. They have an ongoing record that includes a considerable amount of solo and group exhibitions, gallery representation, honors/awards, residencies and fellowships, reviews by art critics, grants, or publications, etc.

Public presentation of artwork likely includes museums or high-placement exhibitions that are outside of commercial gallery venues. This means that their artwork has been presented and acquired by patrons, collectors, institutions, and/or museums. Additionally, they have a national and international focus, rather than local.

Other similar names: full-time artist, professional artist

Established Artist
A professional artist who has an extensive body of work and has consistently garnered national and international acclaim, often for many years. This artist, living or dead, is at an advanced stage of career achievements, has contributed significantly to the field of the arts, and has a sustained reputation that can support this.

This artist has been consistently presented in established museums and represented by important galleries. An Established Artist has a higher level of global achievement than a mid-career artist, often spread over even more time. Their work has been acquired by patrons, collectors, institutions, and retains a value that reflects this success.

Other names: Late-career artist, advanced artist, master

Blue-chip Artists
An advanced type of Established Artist, this is a person who holds the highest level in the art career topography. Their work is presented in the most prestigious museums and establishments in the world. A blue-chip artist has work that reliably commands significant prices when sold at established galleries and auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips. Additionally, their artistic contributions to the world are of cultural value and intrinsically appreciated by many.


Final Takeaway

Something to note – A person with only a handful of local group shows over 20 years of art-making might not be considered mid-career, as they haven’t yet ’emerged’ with a steady stream of professional accomplishments. While another person who has had a meteoric rise over a short timeline might have already accumulated enough accolades that they are now beyond that distinction.

As you can see, labels are usually broad generalizations with some interesting grey scenarios. Ultimately, your title is your decision. Find a title that feels honest and you’d feel comfortable backing in art-related introductions. Maybe you’re an amateur artist who likes to make things purely for personal satisfaction. Or maybe you’ve been seeking out a list of goals you can start pursuing to make it to that next level. Either way, I offer you this article as a resource. Hopefully, this has helped clear up some confusion before you approach a new gallery, price that new body of work, or apply to that next show.

Click here for “What Kind Of Art Do You Make?”: Defining Your Discipline

You can find more free articles like this on my Artist Resource page. My mission is to provide free and accessible tools for artists, educators, and enthusiasts. I encourage you to share and refer people here as often as you wish. Naturally, these articles take many hours to thoroughly research and write. If you’d like to support me as an artist and advocate, please consider donating whatever you can. Thank you!

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