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'Professionalism' Part One: What it means and why it matters.

By Team IMA

With a new shift in working dynamics, an increase in online communication and remote working, all industries have crossed bravely over the horizon into a new working world.

Now more than ever, conducting ourselves professionally counts for a lot. In this new era of majority online communication, our professionalism is under newer and harsher scrutiny, and one that can't be explained away as it might have been able to be before. As artists, a large part of our livelihood comes from our ability to create and maintain professional relationships. Making a good impression can mean the difference between getting an opportunity or being passed by.

This article is split into two parts. In Part 1, we discuss what it means to be professional, and in Part 2 we share some case studies on professionalism. Ready?

Photo by OVAN from Pexels

Part 1: What does it mean to be a professional artist?

There is no template for being an artist, no manual, no set career path and no single right way to negotiate our way through the art world. We often have to make it up as we go along, learning new skills and using trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. While there is no absolutely correct way, there are certainly some things we can do to be a little more professional in our day to day dealings with people both within and outside of the art world.

Being professional

If you’re an artist, then you are a one-person business. We may love to focus on making our art but everything else should have a similar attention at some point. Sometimes this is clear communication with those around us, sometimes it’s making sure that our framing is professionally done, our publicity has no errors, our pricing is consistent, that we are respectful of others, that we turn up and deliver on time and that we are polite.

It’s also about making sure we have the right insurance and remembering to document our work, particularly at exhibitions, comprehensively and as professionally as we can. Rather than use our phone, ask a photographer who will know how to control and work with the light. These documents may be crucial at a later date when we are looking for future opportunities. It also gives a sense of our work in a 3D space rather than flat on a screen or print.

Something else to bear in mind is that when we interact with non-arts people, we are to some extent a representative for all artists. Being polite and professional goes some way to ensuring that other artists are seen favourably now and in the future.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Your Online Presence

Social media is just one of a number of windows onto our world and our work as an artist. If we want to communicate our ideas to a larger number of people then we need to think about it seriously and behave accordingly. It is most likely the first place people will look if they hear our name and it can reflect how serious we are about our art.

You might want to present them with a nicely curated archive of your finished work or you could show something of your life behind the work; your process, your inspirations, your research etc. That’s up to you. But make sure you don’t use Instagram as an image dump for phone pix: images in a random order, poorly focused, badly cropped etc. We’re artists, we know how to present something visually.

A lot of artists will know this instinctively and some will have had professional careers in other areas and can bring that approach to their art. But it is easy to let things slip when we are overwhelmed or engrossed in our work. We want to spend our time making stuff, but unfortunately, there’s this whole other side to being a one-person artist/business that needs our attention.

Of course, you don’t have to be an arts professional. Plenty of artists are happy making art as a hobby, but if you want to sell your work or be employed in some capacity as an artist then you’ll need to give this some consideration. Sometimes the only difference between one artist making a lot a sales and another getting none is a professional attitude. And, it isn’t just about getting our work under the noses of the right people, it’s about building relationships. People want to work with artists who are easy to get along with and who are professional in their approach.

Going forward

As a general philosophy, I think we can strive to be as open, transparent and honest as possible in all our transactions, and back this up with a level of professionalism that brings mutual respect and a sense of responsibility to all our endeavours in the future. Now, let’s go and make some work.

Follow on to PART 2 to read some real-life examples of IMA encountering 'professionalism' in the art world.

Team IMA

re-IMAgining the art world

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