Mary Cassatt: Becoming a Professional Artist (Part 2)

14 Feb
Woman bathing at sink - my copy of Mary Cassatt painting.
My watercolor rendition of Mary Cassatt’s oil painting “Woman Bathing”.

Continuing deeper into my Mary Cassatt book, I discovered that she spent about four years in Europe transitioning from an art student to a professional artist.  I think this is REALLY quick.  Apparently this change happened when her painting “The Mandolin Player” was accepted into the Paris Salon.

 “The Mandolin Player”

The Salon was the famous art gallery in Paris, the center of the art world.  The Salon Art Show was the annual event the world watched and anyone who was anything would be there!  She was proud of her accomplishment but her father and her family were not so impressed.  Her brother even wrote the following letter to his fiancée:

              “Mary is in high spirits as her picture has been accepted for the annual exhibition in Paris.  You must understand that this is a great honor for a young artist and not only has it been accepted but it has been “hung on the line.”  I don’t know what that means but I suppose it means it has been hung in a favorable position.  Mary’s art name is “Mary Stevenson” under which name I suppose she expects to become famous, poor child.”

Cassatt did use her middle name “Stevenson” in her Salon submissions thinking it sounded more American than Cassatt and that it might help her acceptance.  To be “hung on the Line” meant your work was hung at eye level when many artworks were hung all up and down the wall, Salon style.  It was an honor to be hung at eye level.

I’ve often thought about the transition from art student to professional artist.  What makes the difference?  Is it being accepted into a prestigious show? Is it selling a piece of art?  Is it when you’ve completed your University degree?  Or is it more than that?  I like to think of it as an attitude and how you approach your creative calling.   There is a definite commitment – of time, of resources, of energy – and it involves passion and determination.   It’s also when you pursue your passion despite naysayers or roadblocks.  I’m finding Cassatt’s story very inspiring.

I’d love to hear others ideas on turning professional or overcoming negatives to pursue their calling!  Please share with me.

Here is another interesting article on becoming a professional artist.

On becoming a professional writer.

On becoming a professional musician.


3 Responses to “Mary Cassatt: Becoming a Professional Artist (Part 2)”

  1. Dr. Carol-Lois Haywood February 14, 2021 at 10:07 pm #

    For me professional artist as an identity was one I fought for decades. The momentous arrival of the year 2000 was a major spiritual turning point. I had been toying with art-making for all that time! But reading ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron marked my change of heart, and of mind. And the beginning of a serious art practice, which the book showed me how to build. Part of my way to art involved reading through the life of Mary Cassatt and several others from the impressionist era. I still find that reading artists’ biographies show me so much about the puzzles in my new life, and sometimes ways to solve them!

    • Katie Turner February 14, 2021 at 10:16 pm #

      That is so exciting to hear! I’m glad to hear positive things came out of difficult times. Thanks for reminding me about that book – haven’t read it in ages, but maybe a good one to revisit again soon. Thanks for sharing your insights.

      • Dr. Carol-Lois Haywood February 14, 2021 at 10:26 pm #

        You are welcome! I do give some early family expectations that were my particular challenge in my Artist Statement page on my WP art blog, for anyone’s further exploration.

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