It’s an ambiguous term that generally means an artist who’s just beginning his or her career.
When I see descriptions of galleries, they usually indicate the types of artists they represent (landscape, abstract, Russian, African-American, etc.) and also what career stage (emerging, mid-career, or established). At this point, I would never submit my work to a gallery that only represented mid-career and/or established artists.
So here’s what “emerging artist” means to me:
No longer a student.
Had a few solo shows and/or asked to be in some invitational shows.
Serious about his or her art - may not be a full-time artist but considers him or herself an artist and actively creates and markets the work.
Hasn’t had a museum show.
Isn’t necessarily in a lot of public or private collections.
But I have no idea how long you have to work as an “emerging artist” in order to go on to the next stage. Maybe after you’ve been working for 20 years you can consider yourself mid-career? Or after you have your first museum show? Or when Art Forum writes an article about you?
Do you consider yourself “emerging?” Why? If not, why not?