We’re all emerging artists

It’s not really a question of labels, but of who can work his way through the shifting sands of market change.
More work than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas
Recently I had the opportunity for a nice chin-wag with a friend. I don’t remember what the subject was, but she told me, “I’m just an emerging artist.”
This is a term that’s annoyed me since it was first coined. Until we’re dead, we’d better be emerging, as part of a process of constant growth. We must restlessly seek better galleries, bigger shows, and more important venues, just as we improve our skills.
But what does that mean to gallerists, who sometimes want to show ‘emerging artists’ and sometimes want to show ‘mid-career’—another meaningless term until we’re dead—or ‘established’ artists? These are terms that are hardening into acceptance, so it behooves us to think about what the people who bandy them around are trying to say.
The terms have nothing to do with age, and everything to do with experience. You may be 15 or fifty, but if you’re just starting out, you’re an emerging artist. You’re working, you’re probably selling, but you haven’t got an inventory of paintings or a settled, consistent practice.
Dinghies, Fish Beach, Monhegan, by Carol L. Douglas
The mid-career artist is someone who’s been doing art for several years, created a body of work, and shown and been recognized. He has had a significant number of solo shows at recognized venues, and been written about in publications. His following is not regional, but national or even global.
A mature artist is one who’s been commodified. His work sells in the secondary market and he has a sales record that supports rising prices.  He is represented in public collections, and by excellent galleries in major metropolitan areas. In short, he is at the pinnacle of career. Sadly, this often means someone with one foot in the grave, as well.
Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas
The problem with these descriptions is that they’re about success, rather than experience. There are factors involved in success that have nothing to do with skill. Just compare the public recognition of Alex Katz and Lois Dodd. Similar pedigrees, similar experiences, similar skills, and yet he’s far more widely recognized than she. And misogyny is justs one factor that comes to play in determining who’s going to be a star.
The art market is just too vast for anyone to categorize painters in this way. Even the greatest landscape painter on the Maine coast or in Santa Fe may mean nothing to a Manhattan dealer who hunts relentlessly for the next enfant terrible to promote. Would he, for example, have a clue who the quiet, reflective Scottish painter James Morrisonis?

Ask the Manhattanite who’s emerging and who’s established, and you’re going to get a far different answer than if you ask in, say, Houston. Meanwhile, regional landscape art—including plein air—sells like mad.

Spring, by Carol L. Douglas
Anyone who’s been selling paintings for a while also recognizes that the whole marketplace is changing rapidly. What happens in the art markets of New York and London is almost completely irrelevant in the decentralized world of painting sales elsewhere, including on the internet. It’s not really a question of who’s emerging or established, and I’d make no business decisions based on what label you think applies to you. Rather, it’s a question of who can work his way through the shifting sands of the current art market.