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Professional Artist?

A Blog Post by artist, John Leben

I’m a “professional” artist. All that means (to me) is that I make my living by selling my art. When most people think about “professional” artists, they picture the elite, New York Gallery artists who sell paintings for many thousands of dollars. I’m not one of those. Most professional artists aren’t either. We work hard to, not just make the art, but to promote it and sell it as well. We make and sell the art because we have to… to make a living. 

How do I sell my art? Lots of ways. I have my gallery in downtown Douglas, Michigan… the LebenArt Gallery. I sell some art at the gallery, but not as much as I sell at art fairs. And I sell my art at other art galleries around Michigan as well. Then, there is the Internet. I sell art online, but not as much as I would like. I’ve come to realize that most people like to see the art first hand before buying it. Most of my online sales come from people who have already bought my art, or from people who have seen my work at other places… either at other galleries or at an art fair. I sell my art to pay the mortgage, to buy groceries, and, (HA!) to buy more art supplies. Most “professional” artists that I know fall into this category. Making and selling art is a challenge and a necessity. It’s our job. But… it’s a job that we love.

Now… you should realize that I’m using a very narrow definition of “artist” in this blog. Of course there are a lot of different ways to be a professional artist. Commercial artist, for example. Lots of different kind of ways to make a very good living as a commercial artist. I was one, myself, for a long time. I sold my “artistic” talents to my clients, creating logos, brochures, designing sets for TV productions, creating animated sequences for educational programs, producing programing for corporate clients… all very profitable and satisfying endeavors. But, in all these commercial endeavors, I was creating someone else’s vision… the vision of my client. So now, as a “professional” artist, I am creating my own vision. I’m making art and putting it out there for the world to see. No client. Only myself to interpret the vision. If there are enough people in the world who appreciate my vision… appreciate it enough to actually spend their money to buy it, then I am successful. I’m a professional artist. It’s the best kind of freedom.

I’ve noticed that there is a pivotal point in every artist’s career when, for the first time, a stranger actually buys a piece of their work. Not a relative… not a friend… not even an acquaintance of a friend… but a bonafide “stranger.” A stranger who buys the piece because it means something personal to them. That is a moment worth celebrating. That is the moment when the artist sees his or her potential to actually create a vision that others can share and appreciate.



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  • John Thomas on

    John has achieved the toughest goal of all for an artist – developing a truly personal style. If you see a work by John, you know it is his. His unique view of the world and his way of sharing that with others makes him very special in the the crowded field of professional artists. That has a lot to do with all of the awards he earns.

  • Ken on

    Thought provoking.

  • Kathleen Benischek on

    You are truly an artist in a very real sense. Your artwork is bought by people all over the world isn’t it? You win contests, write books and produce movies. You are one of the artists I respect most for your integrity, honesty and values.

  • Hillary on

    Very cool that you are writing a blog! Can’t wait to read more!


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