Creative Career Stages
Artists, craftspeople and designers are often categorised into stages of career progression: early, mid-career and established. The distinctions between categories are generally based on years of professional experience, success and notoriety, all of which are open to interpretation.
NAVA does not intend to define these three categories further as creative careers are unique and continually evolving. It is NAVA’s goal to offer a reference guide for creative professionals to use when negotiating and benchmarking payments. As with all careers, artists, craftspeople and designers should be rewarded with higher fees for their time and skills as their careers advance.
How to Use Career Stages
In developing the recommended fees provided in the Payment Standards section, NAVA has taken creative career stages into consideration. Below are some guidelines to help artists determine which career stage they may fit.
These guidelines set out the generalised attributes and achievements of early, mid-career and established artists, craftspeople and designers. Consider them as a guide only – they are purposefully non-specific and there will be exceptions and overlap. Please use the descriptions and case studies provided as a loose template to compare with your own art career. Where there are gaps or variations in your own experience and skill level, please use your own judgment to align yourself with the categories.
Things to consider:
Training: Study, training and certifications may contribute to career advancement, but formal education alone does not generally indicate a change in career stage. Mentorship, informal learning, residencies and studio intensives all contribute to the development of an artist's practice. Low-to-high fee variations are included within career stages in the Fees section where skills improvement can be taken into account.
Age: Age is not referenced as a factor in this guide. Creative careers often start later in life, while dedicated full-time years of practice may often accelerate a young person's career progress.
Career breaks: Artists may experience career breaks due to parenthood, health, natural disasters, loss of artwork, other jobs or unforeseen events. Artists who disengage completely from their practice for a time will likely remain at the same career stage as when they left. Others may have continued at a slower pace or worked on a different aspect of their practice.
An early-career artist, craftsperson or designer is in the initial stage of their professional career. Generally, they have reached a point beyond hobby activities, they may be undertaking, or have recently completed, specialised training or study and are actively committed to professional practice. This may mean they are pursuing new and varied opportunities, dedicating time to making and developing work, showing or performing in exhibitions and at events, increasing public and industry awareness of their practice and reputation, seeking representation and beginning to develop networks and collaborate creatively.
Paid work, such as commissions, project grants, performances, sales and exhibitions, is unlikely to be equivalent to full-time or continuous income.
Ren is in their Honours year of Fine Arts at university working in sculpture. They have shown work in multiple group exhibitions and one solo show at the local student gallery. Last month they were part of a high-profile fundraising event organised by an artist-run initiative. After graduation, they will be showing with one other artist at a small commercial gallery. Ren has just been named a finalist in a state-level prize for emerging artists and will be undertaking a mentorship program next year. They are working on developing their social media presence so they can take on commission work.
A mid-career artist, craftsperson or designer has been developing an independent body of work and practice over a number of years, gaining recognition at a state and national level. This type of recognition can be achieved through public presentation of work, publication in magazines, online commentary such as essays and broad industry acknowledgement.
Their income may come solely from creative work, or it may be supplemented by teaching and other forms of income that complement artistic practice.
This stage of a creative career will generally not follow a typical upward trajectory. There may be times of intensive and overlapping work periods followed by stretches of little to no project work. A variety of professional development activities and experimentation may take place as an artist navigates this time in their career.
Frankie designs and handcrafts bespoke lighting and furniture. They have received numerous regional and national grants and prizes from both private and government bodies. Last year they travelled internationally to exhibit at a design festival and in the same trip took up a role as a Guest Teaching Fellow for a local college. Since this time Frankie has focused more on commercial aspects of their practice, looking to hire assistants and focus on widening the scope of their small business.
An established artist, craftsperson or designer has reached a high level of achievement in their career, having created a substantial body of work and gained national and international acclaim for their contribution to their discipline and sector.
The market value of an established artist’s work is generally very high and may enable them to work at a slower pace and be more selective about what work they do and don’t undertake. Their practice and output are likely to be very recognisable and contribute to their prominence in the field.
Jess’s practice involves multiple disciplines that have been experimented with and developed over two decades of prolific making. In recent years they have become a household name due to their practice, have high-profile relationships with philanthropic organisations, and regular media mentions and appearances. They have won many art prizes and were recently awarded a major commission at a national institution. Much of their work is held in national and international public collections. Next year Jess will travel overseas for an extended residency.
This category does not fit here specifically as amateur artists are not pursuing a creative career. However, NAVA's consultation for this recent revision found that some galleries are looking to pay amateur artists for the showing of their work in a non-selling exhibition.
Amateur artists may be highly skilled and may exhibit, sell work and derive income from their art, but do not consider themselves 'in business as a professional artist' as per the ATO's definition. They may have been making art for a short period of time, or for many years. It is likely something they do in their spare time.