Dan Fox, an editor at Frieze, has a long but excellent essay? article? exploration? of what it means to be a "professional artist."
How should artists behave? How should we discuss art, build venues to show it in, tell people about it, try and support artists? There is no single answer: each situation demands a different solution. Perhaps, as we are hit daily with dire economic news, what is needed is to remain sensitive to the details, those small elements in the art world that cumulatively exert their own pressures on the ways in which people behave or relate to the making of art.As my projects and interests have become increasingly some combination of quixotic, ridiculous, and conceptual, I'm left with the reality that the only rubric to justify their existence or realization is "art."
But as someone who's been wandering through the art and gallery and museum worlds for so long in the guise of anything-but-artist, I find defining myself as an artist to be problematic at best, mostly because of many of the issues Fox identifies: I've never sold a work. I don't support myself through making or selling my work. I can barely imagine the idea of making saleable work [though if you're in the market for a 100-foot satelloon, I'm sure we can work something out.] I was in a gallery show, but I don't have or seek the external validation of an authoritative figure such as a dealer, critic, or curator. I'm an art history undergrad with an MBA where my MFA should be, and an art writer with a few NY Times bylines where my October credits should be.
If I were a "professional artist," I'd immediately consider myself an abject failure, and my collecting, writing, fundraising, and curating reflexes would tell me to ignore my credential-less, dilettante-ish loser self.
So no, even with the art market evaporating like dew in the morning sun, I'm not too sanguine yet with the definitional aspects of being a professional artist. Still, good reading.