Art Marketing Minute: My War Against the Term “Emerging Artist”

In my interactions in the art world, I frequently hear artists refer to themselves as “emerging”. This used to be even more common as the term seemed to take on trend status, but it is still pretty common.

The term “emerging artist” originally indicated an artist who was still in the early stages of his or her career but was beginning to build a reputation. As originally defined, an “emerging” artist may have caught the attention of an art critic and may have received some media attention, but hadn’t established a strong base of sales or collectors and may not have gallery representation.

The term was soon picked up by savvy art marketers who used the phrase to indicate that a particular artist was currently producing work that was a great value because, though the artist is certainly going somewhere, they haven’t arrived yet and their work is priced accordingly.

Over time, however, the phrase has become overused. Eventually almost every artist who hadn’t yet achieved fame and fortune seemed to adopt the label, and, in my experience the term has become a meaningless catch all used by artists and galleries. Artists want to capitalize on their inexperience by using the term to signal art buyers that they will get a good deal.

I would argue that this isn’t a great approach to marketing. I discourage you from using the term in your marketing efforts.

Think about what you are saying to a potential buyer if you label yourself as an “emerging artist.”

“I don’t have much experience.”

“My talent is still developing.”

“My art isn’t as good as established artists.”

It’s that last message that I find particularly troubling. Would you want an “emerging” brain surgeon to perform an operation on you? Would you want to take a trip on a flight with an “emerging” pilot? Why should an art buyer acquire artwork by an artist who isn’t a master of her craft?

I find that many artists, whether they use the term “emerging artist” or not, look for ways to excuse something in the quality of their work. They feel inadequate as they look at the art market and see the many well-established artists already out there selling their work.  They feel intimidated when gallery owners or buyers look at their work critically and judge it against the work of these “more established” artists. I can completely understand why an artist would be tempted to say, “cut me some slack, I’m new at this!”

I want to let you in on a little secret though, almost every artist you see out there feels the same way about their art that you do about your work – insecure, unconfident, scared. If they appear more confident it’s only because they’ve put on a brave face and projected that confidence. In other words, you should fake it til you make it!

The art business is very much about perception. Rather than spending a moment trying to excuse yourself for not being as well-established or skilled as you could be, I would encourage you to spend more time establishing yourself. When talking to gallery owners or collectors, and when writing your bio, keep the focus on your experience, your talent and your unique, creative voice. You may not feel confident, but if you act confident, people will believe you. Your work will sell, and pretty soon you won’t have to act anymore.

The art business is no place for humility – share your successes, emphasize your triumphs, and toot your horn. You can do this without sounding like a braggart or coming across as arrogant. You can believe in yourself and your talent without feeling superior to those around you.

I encourage you to work toward projecting confidence in your art business. Think about the way you talk about yourself and your art – and refine your marketing and sales efforts to focus on your experience and success, rather than your inexperience.

I know that together, we can stamp out the term “emerging artist”!

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

35 Comments

    1. Interesting. If not “self taught”, then what term should be used on an artist’s resume? Not everyone had the opportunity to attend art college.

      1. @Cindy, that’s a great question, and perhaps I didn’t think my response through enough to account for resumes. Do you really need to put on there that you didn’t attend art college? That’s a sincere question and I’d love to hear responses. I think it’s expected to say “I attended such and such art institute” but is it really necessary to say you *didn’t* attend one? I think your accomplishments and your art itself are more important. My point in was that some artists seem to use it as a buffer (I didn’t attend art school, so don’t judge me as harshly) or as a sort of humble-brag. I’d love to hear from Jason as to how he, as a gallery owner, perceives self-taught vs art college on a resume and how much bearing it might have on his interest in an artist’s work.

        1. I may be an outlier on this, but I actually do mention in my resume the fact that I dropped out of art college because I no longer felt that I was learning anything. Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on that, sometimes wondering if I should mention it at all…but one thing stands: my art sales have increased each year for the two decades since then, and no one seems to ask or care what my educational background is. I mean, people do ask, “where did you learn how to paint”, and I usually do tell the story of how I learned the most when I skipped my classes to go plein air paint in the nearby canyons. haha. 🙂 (Disclaimer: I wouldn’t recommend anyone dropping out of college or anything, unless they truly feel it out and ponder the options for their individual lifelong education plan).

          Back to the original point of doing away with the “emerging artist” term, I remember hearing someone explain something similar in musical terms, pointing out that there’s no exact point at which someone graduates from “learning to play the guitar” to finally “playing the guitar”. He said that even if you’re only on your first day of guitar [or painting], you can at that point rightly say that you “play the guitar” [or, “I’m an artist!”]. It’s all in our head, or in our attitude. Only we can decide. I’ll be the first to admit I could easily point out 100 or even 1,000 artists who are better than me, so by one definition will never “emerge”, but I also realize that I’ve enjoyed over 20 years of making it as a full-time artist and so I must’ve “emerged” back then before I ever sold my first painting or ever established a relationship with my first gallery. I think, therefore, that an artist “emerges” in the very moment when the thought crosses his or her mind that, “I want to be an artist…no wait, I AM an artist!”

          1. The ONLY times I’ve been asked about my education background was by other artists and they were more interested in when I actually started because of shared stories. I did acquire a BFA and have done “continuing ed”, but I’ve been drawing since 5th grade. I’m still learning from every piece I create. The past doesn’t really matter, it is what I am working on that matters.

      2. See the other responses above, but I agree, there’s simply no need to mention anything about your education if there’s nothing to mention there. Art buyers aren’t examining a resume looking for gaps in experience or education. In fact, in my experience, art buyers aren’t going to spend much time at all looking at your resume.

        Mention any education experience you do have – workshops or classes you’ve taken – otherwise, remain silent regarding education.

      3. I wish to comment on what “self taught” really says. This might sound blunt but it’s meant for thought and conversation.
        Teaching and lessons are not restricted to the formal “art school setting.” I would wager that every self proclaimed self taught artist has been and continues to be influenced by other artists, other art works, aesthetic experiences.

        It is true that we all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. I see the term self taught as a repudiation of every lesson and experience the artist so proclaiming has had. It is a double insult in that the well meaning teacher of the moment, while they may have had an effect, is denied thanks. But the insult boomerangs back in that for most of us in the audience, we are aware of “life lessons” and after awhile, the self taught moniker begins to sound ungracious and shallow.

        I really want a different term we can all take hold of.
        I’ve been thinking about this for years. “Informal training” was been suggested at one point but was rejected because it sounded too much like school. I have the utmost respect for anyone who dares take brush in hand and make a mark.
        That urge came from a long time ago with the first painting, and is worthy of remembering.

  1. Such great advice. I am not a new artist — I’ve been creating art for nearly 30 years, privately and for my own purposes. In the past 10 years, I’ve become more passionate about my work, and now have sold a few pieces and have a few on display in a college collection. I’ve played with the term “emerging artist” and it felt exactly as you described — that I was seeking excuses for the quality of my work. Instead, I refer to myself as an artist, and work more diligently to improve the quality of my work.

    Thanks for your blog and your pieces like this one. I look forward to receiving them in my email!

  2. I agree. I think using the terms “emerging artist” and “self taught” are unprofessional and unattractive. Love this!!!!!!! Thank you

  3. One of the ways to get around having a college education is to perhaps show who you have mentored under.. I think Jason has gone over this in his blogs that there are ways around it, but saying “self taught” is not one of them… nor emerging artists…

  4. I went to college to study art, just so I could say I was the first one in my Family to be a College graduate, What I really should have done is go to an art school like the Art Students League, or in my state at the time the Cornish School of art.

    I would have had a better education in a professional art school then going to college.

    I think it is important for a person to go to Art school of some kind, even Correspondence school or on line, is better then non, if your going to be a professional artist.

    1. My father pointed out, when I was debating art school or college, that college has the advantage of helping one understand the universe better and exponentially expanding one’s view of the world around us. I have found that exploring philosophies, sciences (especially geology and meteorology), other arts such as dance and music, has influenced both my life and my art for the better.

      By the way, I was the first in my family to be a college graduate. Doesn’t matter.

  5. I have shown and sold my paintings for a quarter-century, and been a working artist for 13 years, after giving up my design business. Though I have a college education, I feel the lack of an MFA. On my CV, I give my BA and post-graduate work in design as the “official” education status, but also give attention to my “self-directed” education in art, naming the most illustrious names of artists and schools that I have attended. I hope that this gives the clearest picture of who I am as an artist: Still emerging after all these years, but trying every day to evolve my practice!

    1. I had the occasion to have a brief conversation with a sculptor who had spent her life making art and helping to form artists. She quizzed me on what I was doing. At that time, I had retired from public education and was embarking on whatever art career I might have in the time remaining. We talked about 20 minutes. It was the first and last time we talked. She died shortly thereafter.
      Here is how my conversation with Dorothy Reister ended. “If you are an artist, be an artist.”
      Being an artist is a matter of the internal stuff of soul, spirit, will, determination. So, be an artist. The other labels that you think distinguish you are beside the point, except, as Jason pointed out, they come back on you in unexpected and not necessarily helpful ways.
      “If you are an artist, be an an artist.” The rest takes care of itself and is beside then point.

  6. Such great advice! I need to get back immediately to my bio and rewrite it… I only started sculpting 4 years ago and felt like I need to let people know, so they would appreciate I haven’t been at this long.

  7. I started defining myself as “emerging” because local area shows offered “emerging artist” exhibits. I’ve seen the terms “emerging”, then “mid-career”, then “established” used as a continuum. So, with only 10 years in, and having switched mediums, “emerging” seemed the best fit. However, at least one of the shows said I didn’t fit, because I had been in a few (very small, shop-like) galleries, and had participated in juried exhibits for years. So now I’ve just thrown the term out! I am what I am, an artist. I’m always learning, as I hope everyone is!

  8. Keep in mind that nobody is “self taught” – we are taught not only by our own efforts at the easel (or chisel, loom, etc.), we are taught by the books we read, the people we talk to, the artists whose work we study in books, museums, galleries, and online, demos we watch, our artist friends, anyone we take a workshop from, anyone who has a good idea we try out for ourselves. Art school may be a way to shortcut this process, if we’re very lucky and have really good teachers. It may also delay this process by sending us down unproductive alleys, or teaching us some bias that limits our vision and our willingness to experiment. I recommend just leaving out any mention of how we learned… our work speaks for itself. If it isn’t very skilled yet, that will show. If we’ve become good at what we do, that will show too. Just carry on doing what you do and put your work out there. If the work is good, not that many people really care whether you went to art school or not.

    1. I agree. I don’t think anyone is really self taught. They’ve read books, watched YouTube, been to museums and taken workshops. We’ve all absorbed the pertinent information the same way. It’s just that the setting is different. I went to a professional art school and majored in enameling with a minor in silver smithing. But my education as a painter has come from books and workshops.

    2. I agree, self taught indicates that you think something is lacking in your development because you didn’t attend any accredited art school. I do not see the purpose of mentioning either self taught or art education.
      An artist can attend an Art school and do exactly what is expected of them but never have any individual artistic ability. When an artist starts off their introduction by bragging about their art education, I tend to tune them out completely. Just my opinion.

  9. Right on! On the other hand, I’ve been “emerging” as an artist, a scientist, an educator, and a human being for nearly 80 years and I’m still a work in progress. The fact that we’re all works in progress, including my clients, is part of what I’m selling. It’s part of what we’re all selling, and the online critiques so far have underlined that fact in spades. (Great job on those critiques, Jason!)

  10. Thank you Jason for this very timely reasoning why the “emerging artist” label needs to be dispensed with. I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.

  11. Thank you, Jason! I agree with Lee Gass (previous reply, above). Within the context of some art professionals and competition categories, I am an “emerging artist,” which sounds, humorously, like I’m a “professional student.” In my website bio, I describe my art and myself as Works in Progress. I’ve not pursued national nor international competitions and have a modest exhibition experience. I am a working artist who raised a family of independent and loving children who are now integrating what I taught them about art to heal, to teach, to empower, and to lead. That’s my “magnum opus.” Hopefully, we are all emerging from various stages of creativity. I for one, am, and I’m 71and have transcended all that nonsense, staying safe and painting from my desert hermitage. Stay well!

  12. I couldn’t agree more. While I do not go out of my way to discuss “how long have you been painting. I don’t avoid it either. AS you say – emphasize your successes. Juried shows, Signature Status and about a great workshop – how someone influenced your work.

    Thank you for all you do!

  13. Fascinating article and discussion!

    I have academic degrees up the wazoo, none of which have anything to do with art. In other words, my educational background would add nothing to my art resume. To explain my background, I usually offer a short bio, in which I highlight the role of art in my personal and professional life.

    Thank you for clarifying the meaning of the term “emerging artist.” I have used these words to describe myself, meaning that although you may not have heard of me, I’m worth watching. I had no idea they telegraphed inexperience.

    Since I’m on a scholarship committee, I would love to hear your suggestions for replacement terminology. I recently suggested my organization offer a scholarship for “emerging women artists.” Now that I’m aware of how this sounds, I’ll want to edit my proposal.

    Again–thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  14. Thanks for the interesting article. It does make one think about the way they present themselves as an artist and what message they are hoping to project.

  15. Jason, you are simply the best! Love your spot on insights of the art world. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said about the emerging artist term. I feel we just love to have categories and labels for people which most of the time, are just wrong and sometimes even demeaning. I hadn’t painted in years, and one day, about 12 years ago, I picked up a paint brush and painted a painting without reference- just a visual I had in my head. I told a fine art friend of mine that it had been so long, that I didn’t know what I was doing, and maybe I should take lessons. She told me the painting looked great, and to just paint. Simply, just paint. “Paint the way YOU want.”
    I then picked up pastels for the first time, started painting with them, and sold all 10 of my pastels to someone who found me on the net. I realize that lessons are about learning the tricks on the mediums that you can learn from experimenting with them yourself, and seeing another artist work, for me personally, limits my own creativity.

    Find your inner voice, create from your own heart and visions, and paint the way you want. There is no right or wrong way. Art is subjective. If your work resonates with people, you will sell your work no matter what your path has been or how long you’ve been creating. It’s as simple as that.

  16. In the gardening world, an “emerging plant” is better known as a sprout. A step up is a “budding plant” (or budding artist for this discussion). Once it can produce a beautiful flower or a luscious piece of fruit it becomes (in the art world lexicon) an artist. I think the best term, if one is necessary, would be “undiscovered artist”. It creates that feeling of tension or anticipation, as in “Buy it now because this artist is a rising star!” The bottom line, though, is do you want to label yourself as anything but an artist? Let the work speak for itself and leave the labels for Avery!

  17. I agree with Jason Horejs, we artists have to think higher and positive. Think you are a professional artists and give yourself some professional treats, like the best oil painting, the best brush, if you can afford of course. The term emerging artist is lowering your self steam, your ambitions.

  18. In life we all seek to have things, some people seek fame and fortune, whether its among your familiy or a bigger local stage or perhaps even at a world class level, whatever the level, we all seek to HAVE something in or from life.

    So what do we need to do to get there, learn the skills, practice, network and there are many more things we need to DO.

    Now where does “emerging” fit into that sequence…….it doesn’t….
    The best example I can think of is a famous Ice Hockey player….wait i know he wasnt a painter but the lesson holds true for us all. Bobby would always practice skating and shooting the puck long after the official team practice ….”doing”….. He would up early for the 6am practice sessions at the local rink, he’d lug hit huge bag of hockey kit over his shoulder and walk with the swagger of his heros. When people asked what he was going to DO with his life the answer was always the same, “Im going to play in the National Hockey league” (the very top flight of all Hockey worldwide).
    However there were two big “buts” in Bobby’s life as a 10 year old. First he was a severe child diabetic and every adult in his life told him not to bother with Hockey, you cannot make that kind of success with your diabetic condition..the message was constant, the other BUT was that Bobby was already BEING a national hockey star and that’s what he did.

    Why is art any different, never mind emerging,…….
    just BE the great artist within you right from the start………………………….. First you must BE, then DO and HAVE comes along as result.

    Reality is we are all being something, the question is are you being what you really want to BE.

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