How to be a professional artist
To be a professional artist, you must do three things:
1) Make art every day.
This requirement should go without saying. You cannot be a professional in any industry unless you are practicing that profession on a regular basis.
2) Behave in a business-like manner.
This requirement has some flexibility. Different artists will choose to play with business conventions in different ways. For example, most artists will not wear a suit and tie and, depending on the circles they move in, they will not be considered unprofessional for eschewing this bit of etiquette.
Mostly, this stipulation is about showing respect for your colleagues and your patrons. It consists of showing up on time and answering queries about your work promptly, among other things. It’s about being polite even if your art isn’t. Another way to put it: don’t be a flake.
3) Be recognized as an artist by your colleagues.
This requirement might seem to smack of in-crowd politics, but it’s not that at all. It’s actually a matter of demonstrating your commitment to your career choice in such a way that others cannot help but acknowledge it. This could translate to simply doing your thing for long enough but, to accelerate this process, you might also focus on getting publicity as an artist, obtaining gallery representation, earning an MFA, or winning grants and other prizes.
You’ll notice that making a living as an artist doesn’t appear among the requirements for being a professional artist. That’s because making money is not necessary in order to qualify as a professional, but, perhaps not surprisingly, money tends to flow towards artists who do all of the above. That’s just part of what makes being a professional artist—also known as an entrepreneurial artist—better than being any other kind of artist.