Monday, November 12, 2018

What is a semi-professional artist?

There are two ways of looking at what a semi-professional is.
  • Either they are somebody who is receiving payment for an activity but NOT as a full-time occupation NOR relying entirely on it for a living
  • Or they are somebody who is spending a lot of time on an activity and aspiring to reach the standards normally associated with a professional - and money doesn't come into it
Or maybe both in varying degrees?

I've often commented in my reviews of art challenge programmes on the television about the blurring of the lines between "professionals" and "amateurs". Examples include:
  • people who have worked as trained and professional illustrators or designers or architects in the past now declaring themselves as amateur artists
  • art students who have just graduated declaring themselves to be professional artists - because that's what they are trying to be
  • people who have an art degree and a full time working role in relation to art - but only paint in what they consider to be an amateur capacity(i.e. not trying to make it their full-time job)
So I thought it might be interesting to discuss.....

What is a semi professional artist?

Crop of a Photo by Chris Curry on Unsplash

The best way of coming at a definition is probably by trying to define the boundary either side.

The professional artist

Back in 2011 I wrote How do you define a "professional artist"? It generated a lot of interesting comments

This is how I defined a professional artist
My definition of a professional artist is purely pragmatic - it's an artist who makes their living mainly or entirely through their art.

So for example, that might mean a professional artist was somebody who was a practising artist who sold their art in galleries, also taught art in a school or college or workshops and maybe did some illustration work as a sideline.
In every other occupation, professional is defined entirely by occupational standards e.g.
  • I was at one time a professional accountant - because I had qualified by passing the professional examinations of my institute and been admitted to membership of professional institute recognised as such by the government (Charter status etc). Doctors, dentists, lawyers and many other occupations which have a "duty of care" implicit or explicit within their professional role have very similar preconditions to being termed a "professional". 

For some professional standards are defined somewhat differently e.g.
  • a professional golfer or tennis player or football player is somebody who does it full time and plays in what are recognised as the leagues or competitions for professional players

Sometimes people define it according to whether or not you get paid, not what standard you have reached
  • in some contexts, professional means you get paid for doing what you are doing - and hence can no longer rank as an amateur or enter competitions for amateurs.  (Remember the disputes for a long time about who could/could not compete at the Olympics?)

Sometimes people define it according to how much you get paid for the value of work you produce.

Which leads us on to......

What is an amateur artist?

In the UK, there is a very simple definition of an amateur artist - in the "hobby" sense.

Back in 2016, HM Revenue & Customs changed the definition of who needs to pay tax. (see Changes in Tax and NI for artists in the UK)
Those making up to £1,000 per annum (after expenses and before tax) from creating and selling art will no longer have to pay tax on that income. (see Budget 2016: some of the things we've announced ) 
People who make up to £1,000 from occasional jobs – such as sharing power tools, providing a lift share or selling goods they have made – will no longer need to pay tax on that income.

From April 2017, there will be two new tax-free £1,000 allowances – one for selling goods or providing services, and one income from property you own.

By doing this they removed around 700k people from the tax system who were submitting self-assessment tax forms for very small amounts. Not counting all those who should have been but were not!

The MONETARY threshold for a semi-professional artist

In tax terms, in the UK, there is now a very clearly defined MONETARY threshold for a semi-professional artist who makes money from their art.
  • If you earn more than £1,000 - AFTER expenses and BEFORE tax - then you have to pay tax.  
  • You are recognised as somebody who is earning a sum sufficient to generate money for the taxman.

See The bonus if you're selling art - but not a lot!

I suspect something very similar applies in other countries i.e the tax collectors will ignore small amounts of income - but once you start earning about a certain threshold then you are well and truly embedded in the tax system - and the returns that need to be made for sole traders etc.

In reality, all those art challenge programmes on television only really need to ask one question of the artists who apply - "How much money did you earn last year - after expenses and before tax?"

If it's less than £1k then you are an amateur and if it's more than £1k then you are not!

However earning very small sums of money will not put a roof over your head or food on your table.

Those who have wealthy patrons (whether they have the title of 'husband', 'wife', 'partner', 'parents' or 'sponsor') and who can pursue their art in their own time are extremely lucky people.

BUT that doesn't make
  • their art any better. 
  • their art something other people value. 
However it does mean they have the time and space and the lack of pressure to make art - and maybe they will achieve those two goals in time.

STANDARD Threshold for a Semi-Professional Artist

I must look at hundreds if not thousands of artist websites in a year. I find I've developed a view about which people are professional and which are not yet professional but definitely count as "semi-professionals" in my eyes.

Here are some of the indicators of professionalism and professional standards which count for me.
  • For me professionals will have a lot of them - and semi-professionals will have fewer.  
  • I can tell who will go far and fast by how many they have relative to their age and experience - and given I've been looking at artists websites on a regular basis for well over a decade I know I'm not wrong - because I've seen the progressions....


Getting their art seen

  • entering art competitions or open exhibitions and getting selected (i.e. not afraid of rejection)
  • exhibiting art with an intent to raise awareness or to sell at exhibitions / venues which will attract a serious audience in terms of people who like and buy art (as opposed to tourists looking for something to do on a wet afternoon)
  • attending art fairs - on their own account or with a gallery

Spending time on marketing as well as making art 

  • raising awareness through a proper website and/or active social media accounts
  • news coverage of their activities (this is somebody who is marketing their efforts seriously - and then showing others who thought they were worth covering)
  • identifying names of clients / current and past collectors
  • identifying names of art collections which include their art

  • makes a lot of art with a unique style (i.e. not somebody copying a successful professional artist)
  • gallery artist with a serious art gallery - and when I click the link it works properly!
  • solo or small group (2-3 artists) exhibitions periodically with a serious art gallery
  • Separate available art from archives of past art produced (and sold) on their website

However, I'm not sure we can escape coming back to the Badges of Trade issue - see Income Tax: The nine badges of trade - Art Business Info. for Artists for an explanation of the nine badges listed below.
  • Profit-seeking motive
  • The number of transactions
  • Nature of the asset
  • Existence of similar trading transactions or interests
  • Changes to the asset
  • The way the sale was carried out
  • The source of finance
  • Interval of time between purchase and sale
  • Method of acquisition

I looked at Google Images to see what they produced for "semi-professional" and got tons of pictures of equipment for people who are "semi-professional".

Maybe at the end of the day, semi-professional" might just be a term for selling more expensive equipment to those who want to differentiate themselves from amateurs but know they are not yet ranking alongside a true professional?

What do you think?
(I'm opening up comments again for a week)


Below are some other articles by those who have also written on this topic

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