Charmed, I'm Sure: Categorizing Artist Levels of Achievement

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Photo courtesy Flickr user Ed Yourdon
Photo courtesy Flickr user Ed Yourdon

The art world can be backward on what is considered appropriate and inappropriate. Charmed, I’m Sure explores different perspectives from people in and around the art world on what they consider to be art world savvy and socially professional.
While defining the terms “art” and “artist” has always been something very debatable, it is still something we all consider, judge, and form our own opinions on. Regardless of whether artists need to know, or care, about what “category” they are in compared to other exhibiting or non-exhibiting artists, there should be some general awareness about this issue. Whether you are a writer, critic, curator, juror, collector, gallerist, artist, or patron of the arts in any way, the topic remains confusing. As my first “Charmed, I’m Sure” post, I have gathered my resources and defined the following categories.
The Emerging Artist
An emerging artist is someone who’s in the early stage of a career and has created a modest body of artistic work, but who hasn’t yet established a solid reputation as an artist among art critics, art buyers, or art galleries. The term emerging artist is often used for someone young and recently graduated from a prestigious art college, but it can also apply to someone who has made a career change or recently decided to prioritize art above everything else, no matter the age.
The Mid-Career Artist
An artist who has created an independent body of work over a number of years and who has received regional or national recognition through publication or public presentation of his or her work is at mid-career. A mid-career artist has had a significant number of solo exhibitions at significant galleries and museums, situated nationally or internationally, rather than locally. A mid-career artist is separated from the emerging artist by the simple fact of having had more time on the job, more experience, and having been recognized multiple times nationwide and abroad for his or her accomplishments.
The Established Artist
An established artist is one who is at a mature stage in a career, who possesses specialized training in the art form, and who has an extensive body of independent work. This type of artist is considered a “blue chip” artist in the market. The value of the established artist’s work has been decided through consistent years of sales and confirmed at auction. Established artists have a level of consistency in value that separates them from mid-career artists. Because of the very high level of achievement, recognition, and consistency it takes to be labeled “established,” many artists remain mid-career. Established artists have garnered national as well as international recognition from peers and institutions. Maybe the established artist becomes established by having the reputation of being established?
Something to note here is that there are often many overlaps within the terms. Gray areas exist because we rarely jump from one name tag to another overnight. Many misconceptions of these terms are due to the artist’s location and to proximity to major art cities. Oftentimes, an artist is thought to be mid-career or established in one city yet remains an emerging artist in another. Many a gallery starts as an emerging artist gallery but grows into a mid-career artist–based gallery, and/or shows a range of work between the two stations. One example of a gallery that shows a range of artists from emerging to established would be The Journal in Brooklyn, NY. In particular the group show “Salad Days” displays artists who exist in and across all categories, although it may be said that gray areas still exist.

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