Going pro


Dear Artist,

Steve Koch of Clackamas, Oregon wrote, “Wondering if you might write on what it takes to go from being an amateur to being a professional. My dad was an independent businessman — if he didn’t get going, it wouldn’t get done. How to break the glass ceiling from one level to another? I know it’s not just “hard work” — ‘cause I have been doing that all my life. I was just introduced to Steven Pressfield’s book, “Turning Pro,” but I believe it was written for writers. How about some advice for painters?”


“Tribute 21: Retroactive I”
1963 collage, oil & silkscreen ink
by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)

Thanks, Steve. In his 2012 manual, Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield offers a jump-start list:

“Habits and qualities that the professional possesses that the amateur doesn’t:

“The professional shows up every day.
The professional stays on the job all day.
The professional is committed over the long haul.
For the professional, the stakes are high and real.”


“Statue of Liberty”
1983 lithograph collage on silkscreen
by Robert Rauschenberg

Here are a few additions for the painter:

The professional is on a first-name basis with his materials.
The professional moves toward mastery through work and earned experience.
The professional’s painting is recognizable as his own.
The professional grits his way through difficulty, self-doubt, rejection and reinvention.
The professional self-validates privately through good work.
The professional finishes, titles, signs and shows.
The professional is honest in his unique vision.
The professional neither complains nor explains.
The professional surrounds himself with other professionals with complementary skills.
The professional understands that failure and success are the ebb and flow of a life committed to art.


“Bicycle, National Gallery”
1992 foil print limited edition
“You can’t make either life or art, you have to work in the hole in between, which is undefined. That’s what makes the adventure of painting.” (Robert Rauschenberg)



PS: “Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must re-commit every day.” (Steven Pressfield)

Esoterica: In the story arc of all transformations, something must die in order for something else to be born — your transformation involves a similar sacrifice. Begin with understanding the death or deaths that must occur — security, title, distraction, the expectations of others or fear — and let them go. Commit to a year with no other income — save up for it, if necessary. As for moving between glass ceilings, explore the routes of those whose trajectories you admire. Crystallize the specific stages of your desired professional path. Plan and work your tailor-made moves with creative truth as your goal. A daily — an hourly — commitment to making better work is the burning centre. Memorize your route to streamline inappropriate tangents, troublesome working relationships or repeated, unpleasant lessons. “The hero wanders. The hero suffers. The hero returns. You are that hero.” (Steven Pressfield)


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“The professional does not wait for inspiration; he acts in anticipation of it. (Steven Pressfield)

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