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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44 Comments

  1. I so wish I could attend your seminar this weekend. I am in Raleigh. However, I will be teaching at the same time as your seminar. Please come back to NC and share your knowledge with us. I learn something from every email you send out. This one focusing on the word “emerging” couldn’t be more perfect.
    Thank you!

  2. Your take on the expression is more generous than mine. For me, the term has always evoked sorts of insect life. I envision gazillions of caterpillars or gypsy moths.

    I’m glad you’re discouraging artists from using it.

  3. Thank you, Jason, for saving me a rant on the subject … I’ve been emerging for fifty years.

    It reminds me of jazz clarinetist, Pete Fountain. He had a huge hit in the 60s with “A Closer Walk With Thee” and ended up on the Tonight Show. He complained to Carson about sudden fame after releasing 42 albums …. 🙂

    Emerging means different things to different people and has fallen into the “not famous yet” realm when most of us won’t be. I prefer the term working artist which pretty much covers the bases.

    1. Great comment, Jackie. Working artist should just about cover it all. It’s a term we can all use without wincing with shame.

  4. Thank you Jason. This was a good read for today. I woke up frustrated by lack of sales mostly but also with others saying anything they can think of to sell. I feel motivated to sell but I don’t want to hang bells and whistles next to my name. If I’m emerging, I’ve been emerging for 25 years…

    If course I am the worst salesman of my own art (ask my wife😋)

  5. Jason, Your comments are excellent and worth considering. “Emerging” sounds so tentative and demeaning when you think about it, as in “you haven’t arrived anywhere yet”. Confidence is hard to come by when thinking about the work you do every day, but something to strive for, and yes, important to project it.
    As you stated it is hard when an artist’s work is on the line and on a wall to be judged by others especially a gallery owner who is thinking primarily about his/her bottom line. One needs to focus only on the work and the idea to create it in the artist’s own way and not worry about selling. That is the next step.

  6. WAY TO GO Jason! Thank you for everything you do to help all of us artists.

    I agree with Aletha, the term makes me think of a cockroach “EMERGING” from under a rock. EEEEEKKKKK!

    Absolutely “Fake it ’til you make it!” Every artist I’ve ever known strives to get better, each time they step up to their easel. I’ve been painting since 1990, am in several galleries and have an established collector base. BUT, I feel I still have tons to learn about painting and marketing. We are all learning. My husband, Jack White, painted a portrait of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds. He told Jack, “”Always remember this….if you are green, you’re growing. When you get ripe you start to rot! KEEP LEARNING!”
    FORGET Emerging. Learn to be the best you can be, brushstroke by brushstroke. Present your best face when you market yourself and your art.

  7. Jason,
    As always you are spot on. It always amuses me when I look at a gallery website and they proudly announce that ‘emerging’ artists are represented. Emerging to me brings to mind a groundhog on Groundhog Day, poking its head up out of the ground trying to figure out what’s going on. ‘Emerging’ artist has become more of a crutch for that artist than just a poorly conceived marketing ploy by a gallery. What ever happened to people simply paying their dues, jumping through the same hoops we all had to do to get to where we are? It’s almost like galleries feel they owe it to jumpstart a person’s career even if their work hasn’t matured to the professional standard. Do they feel like they will become famous for ‘discovering’ the next great artist force? Stop with the emerging artist label. It will be the best thing to happen for all of us – the young artist, the gallery, the professional,seasoned artists, and yes, even the buyers.

  8. Thanks! I’m new in the “professional art” field and appreciate your comments on this. I’ve heard this term and have contemplated using it but haven’t gotten to that point.

  9. .I feel emerging is not even close to what I am having been making and trying to sell art my whole adult life. (I am almost 66). I though have never sought gallery representation because i have so many experimental ideas and work in a plethora of media (mediums?). Now I am rather liking the idea of getting into a gallery or 2 and am making steps towards that (thank you Jason for all your info on that endeavor) ..in the meantime I feel lost when I am asked about my galleries…when I have none! I do not call my self emerging to avoid the fact of no gallery representation. I try to fake it while I make it by saying I currently represent myself but that seems inadequate. until and if I do get into a gallery, other than handing out my business card with my relevant website and social media platforms, how can I say where I am without sounding pitifully emergent?open to suggestions!

    1. Deflect the question, for example:

      I have been creating work for my own enjoyment while focusing on refining my skills and artistic voice. I believe the work I produce now is worth sharing with the wider world. I am taking the necessary steps to secure representation with a gallery. Allow me to show you my portfolio. 🙂

  10. Yikes, this is so timely! I just started to put myself out there and was planning to use the term “emerging artist.” Thank you Jason for this great explanation why not to do so!

  11. Excellent, excellent article Jason!!
    Sincere thanks for your enlightened and thoughtful POV on this subject.
    I have used this terminology, but over the past couple years have found myself beginning to “wince” every time I see, or hear this reference. As you mentioned, (and I agree) it’s terminology has lost relevance, and I wholeheartedly agree that more often than not it simply is a catch phrase for “art at a bargain”.
    Wow, …..thanks again for another timely article and pep talk!!! Onward!!!

  12. I will share a different opinion, though I have to say I enjoyed everyone’s comments, and certainly understand your point of view.

    When I heard the term “emerging artist” I never thought the work would be less than the best, nor did I ever think “inexperience.”

    I guess I fell for the ploy; to me it denotes excitement about an unknown artist who’s work is fantastic, a must see, destined for fortune and fame, etc.

    What came to mind for me is the unknown singer who turns up at an open mic night and sings something that blows everyone away. The wheels start turning, the agents poor in, and the next day the person is the star. Does that show my naivete’? LOL. I guess it does.

    I believe you all, however, and happily go along with avoiding that term. It will never look the same to me again after reading this article.

  13. It’s an interesting term. I was in Susanne Vielmetter Gallery in Los Angels a while back for an artist talk. They used the term Emerging to indicate a specific level of the actual market — meaning that the artist in question was selling in the below $50k per piece. And then when it comes to certain grants funding it is used to indicate the amount of time an artist has been actively working. Potaytos, potahtos.

  14. Hi Jason,
    Love your definitions and the underlining meaning of the term “emerging artist”. I did use it for a time but it did not coincide with my age.:)) Recently I attended a workshop where I discovered the term applies to those who have less than five years experience after studies. It still does not work. In the meantime this working artist will keep emerging as best she can.

  15. Thank you for the pep talk. I stopped calling myself an emerging artist after my first gallery show in 1977. I agree with the comment that it invokes a kind of insect like image. Not what I’m striving for!

  16. Thanks Jason!
    I agree wholeheatedly. As an artist I have great distain for its use and I frequently encounter “emerging” is on the websites of galleries describing the artists they represent.
    The term “emerging artist” needs to be examined, as you do so here, and in my opinion deleted from the art market. Will this happen with a word replacement? Or can we just stop using it?
    Thank you Jason for giving those newer to the art profession a bit of education.
    Cheers, Betty Jo

  17. Thank you for your sensible and compassionate advice. I appreciate your straight-forward approach. And I always love when someone in the art world uses English rather than jargon!

  18. Thank Heavens I am long past the ’emerging’ title with my 30+ year career. I never used the term and have only referred to myself as Professional- which in itself likely has a certain connotation which could also be discussed. Emerging as an art term is used for grant applications and has a set time length. After the 5 year time- you are well past emerging.

  19. I, too, hate the term “emerging artist,” The board of an art guild to which I belong created a new category of “emerging artist.” From the ages of the ones accepted to the guild under this rubric, I infer that the guild means “young.” Because emerging does connote “not there yet” or other terms implying a difference between an “emerging” artist and an “artist,” I think this is actually an insult. If the artists chosen are good enough to be members of the guild (these individuals are), they should be recognized as “artists.” Period! If they are not, then they should not be admitted to membership.

  20. Omg thank you for this article. I can’t express how much I loathe this term describing Artists. What does it even mean? I was fortunate a number of years ago to have a feature article written about my work in a major magazine and without me knowing the first words in the title were “Emerging Artist” like it somehow is apologizing or excusing my lack of notoriety. At this point I’d been through art school and worked many years at my discipline and been showing and selling work. I see this term used a lot and it always ruffles my feathers. Thanks again for sharing.

  21. Thanks Jason, your comparison to an emerging brain surgeon gave me a chuckle. Emerging sometimes is a definition term for grant processes here in Canada and I struggle with it knowing that although I have had years of experience I would perhaps would only qualify for an emerging artist grant according to the Ontario Arts Council. I was fortunate to receive an established artist award this past year but if I were to apply for one of these grants, I was told I would have better luck with an application for the emerging grant. It comes down to the amount of money you have made as an artist, measured in a dollar value. I am 62 years old and I can not say that my art has made me wealthy, but it has made me happy and I am confident in my abilities!
    There is another phrase that I wince when I hear and that is “self-taught”. I know many would say that it is different but for me, it is right up there with “emerging artist” as far as saying that an artist is in the early phase of their career. I think that if you are active in your field for long enough, you are going to learn from others even if it is from observation only. Some may not have a formal paid education, but any any dedicated artist studies work in styles or techniques that they like and learns through exposure.

    1. “Self taught” irks me as well. I use “community taught” as I have learnt from so many people, but not attended formal training.

  22. The term “emerging artist” has distressed me as well. It seems to start first and foremost with financial considerations. If you start following and collect the work of an emerging artist then later on the artist may make it big in the art world and the works you bought initially at low prices will have greatly increased in value. It is like grabbing some “emerging stock” on the stock market that analyst’s are predicting will skyrocket. But just like with the stock market only time will tell and in many if not most cases these emerging artists will appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. And it does not mean that these artists have started creating inferior works, it is just that the attention they initially get comes and goes to other new emerging artists.

    Also the emerging artist label seems to be applied these days frequently to new MFA’s that get attention about the time they are graduating from an graduate art program, attention that then can wane once they leave school. Often these young artists then find that sales of their art is in no way predictable and don’t match what they were led to believe. They then realize they must look for and secure jobs, not necessarily in the art world, that offer a regular monthly living wage to be able to pay their bills.

    As a former art educator I think this can be devastating for a young graduate artist to get sudden huge attention and then followed by suddenly being forgotten as other new hot young “emerging artists” appear to take their place. And this only seems to happen because some people in the commercial art world have found that advertising “emerging artists” has an appeal to buyers and helps sales, supposedly offering getting in on the ground floor of an artists evolving career. This seems like a unconscionable practice that should be stopped. I applaud Jason for taking a position against it.

  23. Thank you for saving me from myself. I was a puppeteer and fiber artist for 10 years, then an illustrator for 35 years, and now, I have finally returned to focusing on art for art’s sake and just painting and exhibiting my work. I wasn’t sure–did that make me an emerging artist? But how could that be after a 45 year career of professionally making art? Good riddance to that term!

  24. Of course there are “emerging” pilots–they’re the short-haul, connecting-flight pilots as opposed to the major-carrier jumbo-jet pilots. “Emerging authors” don’t get contracts as big as “best-selling authors” (unless they’re either celebrities or have a really hot subject). “Apprentice” work is always discounted relative to “journeyman” work. It’s common practice in pretty much every craft or industry for newcomers to slightly under-price their offerings in exchange for the exposure. Why should at be any different?

    And back in the days of itinerant portrait painters, the same artist might charge different prices, depending on how much detail the client could afford to pay for. Why shouldn’t an artist offer paintings in multiple grades for multiple budgets? And yet today, we have artists arguing that paintings should be priced solely on a size formula, with no regard for how much effort went into “Painting A” vs. “Painting B.”

  25. Agree, it evokes some negative, apologetic, impressions . It’s been appropriated by so many people it’s now meaningless compared to what it may have originally meant. Popular buzz words and phrases usually end up that way. In a creative field, especially, people should be more original.

    Another term with the same problem now is ‘self taught.’ With all the workshops, videos, etc, even someone without a formal degree can have quite a bit of instruction. Truly self taught artists are rare. Like “emerging,” it seems people try to use it to ask viewers to give them a break.

    We are all still learning and emerging our whole lives. Even those in the “already made it” group would stagnate if they didn’t continue.

  26. The terms “emerging” and “self-taught” don’t bother me that much, even though I agree with what you and everyone has written about “emerging”.

    (Guess I’m one of those rare “self-taughts” and not ashamed of it one bit, thanks, but that’s a whole ‘nother essay.)

    The term that drives me nuts is “creative” used as a noun instead of the adjective it actually is in the English language.

    I am an artist.

    I am not a creative.

    Yeah, I’d get slammed for being so persnickety but somehow the term used thus just grates on my nerves.

  27. Your review works, or should, for every artist, no matter how long he/she has been at it.
    Emerging brain surgeon…. good one!! THAT brings it home!

  28. Thank you Jason for another great article. I had not thought about that term from your point of view but after reading your comments I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with you. I do not have confidence as an artist and therefore find your articles very helpful in that respect.

  29. AMEN! Thank you, Jason, for identifying another tired catchphrase. I’m 50 years old, and I’ve been an artist since I was born. Emerging has come and gone! That said, I still have to give myself pep talks when it comes to accepting commissions, or not. I am not putting a price on the value of the work, exactly. I’m putting a price on my time, including any research or deep thought required to work. The commission has been offered because the buyer appreciates my work and it’s not my business what he or she will get from it. Yeah? It’s what I’m going with this week.

  30. I don’t know about these other Artist but I have been emerging since the 70s. For years I thought it was just that I wasn’t good enough .I even took off for 13 years to rethink Art and my art. What I found out was most everyone I showed my Art loves it , a lot. BUT my sales are anemic so much so I am being evected. I try not to wine about this but I have lived with this for a very long time and at 73 my health is leaving me. I have hundreds of paintings like a mill stone around my neck and I’m about to be home less. Selling on line is difficult with my level of computer skills and Galleries are a lost cause for me. HELP

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