Actually, I think you're exactly ON topic.

One important distinction, I think, is that there's a difference between shooting for money and shooting for a living. If you shoot for a living, you're necessarily (with possible exceptions) going to be working for the client rather than yourself and, by definition, you're going to temper your "artistic vision" according to what the client wants. Sure, you'll seek out clients that agree with your vision. And, if you're particularly successful, you'll be able to turn away clients that don't. However, at the base of it all you're still working for hire and as such not entirely at liberty to follow your own whims--the compulsion to eat and live indoors is strong among humans and difficult to ignore.

Shooting for money (as opposed to for a living) allows you much greater freedom, but even so, one will (either conciously or not) consider the client's wishes when making an image.

Exactly at what point one becomes able to both generate income from an artistic pursuit and pursue it entirely at one's own liberty is a very unclear point indeed. It's a point that certainly exists, though. My point on restrictive contests, though, is that they put you in neither group by default.