Artists are stereotypically free spirits. And free-spiritedness is in total opposition with professionalism. Free spirits have their own clocks, their own special way of doing things, their own distinct appearance. Free spirits are what drives the beauty of the creative arena. But too much of a good thing is unbalanced. I love art as a career because it allows all types of expression; a veritable melting pot of ideas, values and people.
Art is freedom. Art is love. Art is, quixotically, everything and nothing at the same time. Professionalism isn’t Waldo, so where is it? And what does professionalism even look like when art is such a non-traditional career?
Creatively, something as stuffy as professionalism may not seem important. But it gives your brand consistency and reliability, which in turn, creates trust. This dependability makes return clients. If I can’t trust a professional to return an email or text within 24 hours, I’m less likely to trust them with my time and even less with my money. Visual appearance aside, professionalism is about growing relationships. It doesn’t have letters after its name or fancy shoes and is something that anyone can learn at any level.
A more modest phrase for professionalism is “good customer service”. They’re similar, if not synonymous. Good customer service may seem ambiguous in the art world, because many folks you come across aren’t customers. Meaning, they haven’t actually purchased something from you. It could be a potential client, a collaborator, a gallerist, a fellow artist next to you at an art show, a potential vendor (if you organize art shows or markets). Anyone you meet as an artist/creator/maker, is eligible to experience your best version of professionalism.
There’s a general consensus on what is acceptable professional behavior. And, yes, it counts even for the people who are… challenging to deal with (to say the least). Some basic skills are, but not limited to:
Accountability means that you can own up to your actions, or lack thereof. It means taking responsibility for yourself, for your brand. You didn’t meet a deadline? You thought a different color scheme would work better? A family emergency? Own it. Bring solutions, bring alternatives, don’t bring excuses.
We all hate group projects. Why? Because there’s always one, or a few that are unreliable either because they’re late, they lack commitment, or sometimes they lack competency. Part of being a professional is not only providing a cohesive brand, but consistency in behavior and policies as well. Be on time, do the work you say you’re going to do, if not, circle back up to accountability and take responsibility for it.
How we all feel though:
There’s a positive correlation between organization and dependability. The less organized you are, the less dependable you’ll look. If you’re a professional, your creativity is a business so treat it that way. Organization can be as simple as having business cards, pricing sheets, collaboration/commission contracts readily available, and of course, being on time.
Knowing about what you do is one thing but you should also be able to talk about it. You can have a whole lotta knowledge, but if you’re unable to talk about it, it’s as good as having none. If you have extensive comprehension about your work, you should be able to speak to other professionals as well as non-professionals about it. In other words, you should be able to speak both technically and simplistically about what you do.
As always, being a genuine and amicable person will take you far in any career. We can’t all be Kanye West or Gordon Ramsey. Depending on your career, being disagreeable may work for you. But for most of us, it’s not going to work. So, be kind. It doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover. It doesn’t mean giving away your work for free. It means being polite, even when the favor isn’t returned.
Professionalism may seem tedious.
After all, it’s about appearances. Like going on a first date, continuously. There may never be a point where you and your clients are both comfortable enough to sit in sweats and binge watch Game of Thrones for two days without bathing. But practicing a little professionalism will gradually make work easier for you and, hopefully, leave those you deal with in your career with a good taste in their mouths while you feed the hustle.
Any skill at being a stellar professional? Tell us about it!
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