Being an artist is first and foremost about creating things; if you aren’t actually making artwork of some variety, calling yourself an artist is tough. But artistic endeavor isn’t just about creating your work and stashing it away somewhere without showing it to anyone. If you’re an artist, you need feedback. You need to see what works. You need to make sure your message is getting through to your audience.
More than once, I’ve told someone that I’m a writer and I hear back that they’re working on a novel — something that has never seen the light of day. I don’t exactly get enthusiastic about talking to such writers about what they’re creating. Since they’re working in a vacuum, I don’t really expect the project to ever reach an end point. It’s not a question of quality, by the way: though I believe it’s impossible to improve your craft without discussing your projects with a larger audience, everybody does have to start somewhere with artistic work.
Asking what a given artist has sold can be taken as a crass question that is, perhaps, none of the business of anyone not in that person’s immediate family. However, doing so offers a fast way to gauge whether that artist is putting her work out into the world in such a way that she can get feedback. Money, or the absence thereof, is a very clear indicator of what an audience thinks of a particular artist’s work, after all.