9 Warning Signs of an Amateur Artist

Are you a “Professional” Artist?

I’m not talking about if you have a corporate sponsorship or whether or not you are earning the big bucks.  I’m not even talking about quitting your day job, if you have one, and living on ramen noodles and Starbucks (because even if you’re poor you still need your Cafe Mocha) What I’m talking about is changing your attitude and the way you think about your art.  What you’ll discover is that more often than not people will take your art about as seriously as you do.

So what are some of the warning signs of an Amateur Artist?

1) Amateur Artists wait for Inspiration

While a professional artist will make a point sit down and work on their art every day, an amateur only works on their art when the “mood” is right.

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ~Jack London

Professional artists/writers/musicians know that you can’t just work on your art when inspiration strikes them or when the moon is in the seventh house of Aquarius, the true creative professional shows up and does something every single day.  It may not turn out to be that great and it might eventually find its way to the dumpster or recycling bin, but a professional shows up and works no matter what.


2.) Amateur Artists work until something else comes up

A  professional artist does not simply sit down for an hour and write half a chapter or paint a few strokes on the canvas and call it a day because their favorite television show is starting in ten minutes.  A professional artist/writer/musician continues to work until their muse has used up every last bit of creative energy in their body and then keeps on working just to make sure that nothing is forgotten or left behind.  A professional knows that the first hour or two of work is simply a warm-up exercise until their fickle muse finds them worthy of her attention.


3.) Amateur Artists are constantly changing their focus

A professional artist knows that it takes years if not decades of experimentation and practice to perfect their craft.  While an amateur tends to change their style or medium as the mood strikes them, a professional artist knows that a “jack-of-all-trades is a master of none”.  Even though professional artists have been known to change their focus as their work and skills evolve, they do this only sparingly and often only within their chose medium.  In other words, painters continue to paint, writers continue to write, and musicians continue to play.  Of course there have been professional painters and musicians who are also very good writers and vice versa, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of us would be far better off focusing our time and energy practicing and honing our chosen craft rather than risk diluting our creative power.


4.) Amateur Artists believe that if they build it, you will come

A professional knows that there is more to being an artist then simply creating art.  They know that there is only so much macaroni and cheese and spaghetti their family will eat before they will be dragged down to the employment office to get a “real” job.  Professional artists never get too attached to their artwork because they know that someday they will have to sell it in order to have the opportunity to create more art.

Professional artists understand that they not only need to know how to create their art, but they also have to know how to market and sell their work as well.  They make a point to find out who their potential customers are and where they hang out. They also know that they need to develop a relationship with these potential customers before they ask them to pull out their wallets.  Professional artists understand that in the 21st century they will need to create and build their reputation as an artist online as well as in the real world.


5.) Amateur Artists believe that success will happen quickly

While an amateur artist believes that it will only take a year or two to create their reputation and have their career take off, a professional artists knows that this process will often take much longer than they imagine so they understand the importance of getting started immediately.

For a professional artist, art is not a hobby or a pastime, it’s a business which is why they insist on treating it like one. They not only show up everyday and work at their job, but they also know that they will need to work their way up from the bottom just like they would in any other profession.  They are in it for the long-haul and are willing to work on all aspects of their business (creating, networking, marketing, consuming) a little bit each day because they understand that true success will arrive in years not weeks.


6.) Amateur Artists believe they don’t need schedules or organization

While the amateur artist embraces the idea of the artist as a hippie free-spirit who doesn’t need to follow society’s rules, the professional artist knows that one has to be organized and disciplined in their life in order to be reckless in their work.

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. ~Gustave Flaubert

A professional artist knows that it’s  important to honor their creative productivity time and save routine time-sucking tasks like answering e-mail and updating their Twitter and Facebook accounts to a later time. They know the importance of scheduling their activities, organizing their work space, and avoiding distractions can have on their creative  productivity.


7.) Amateur Artists never finish their work

An amateur artist is always busy editing, revising, reformatting, redoing, and re-recording their work to ever consider it finished.  This not only keeps them from moving on and working on the next piece or art, but it also keeps them from having to release it to the world.  They tell themselves that they are simply “perfectionists” and with just a little more time, they could get it right.

“The seed of your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections are your guides–valuable, objective, non-judgmental guides to matters you need to reconsider or develop further.” ~David Bayles

Professional artists have learned that their art is a process and nothing they create will be perfect.  They have learned to accept this and they continue to put their work out there anyway knowing that some people will criticize and not understand it.  They understand that the sooner they finish one piece the sooner they will be able to begin work on the next piece.  Each work therefore becomes not a destination but simply a stepping stone on their journey.  They don’t make the mistake of overly identifying with a piece of art or making it part of their identity as an artist.  They simply let it go, knowing that the experience will have taught them what they needed to know.


8.) Amateur Artists are too busy learning to do anything

Amateur artists are often so busy reading books and attending workshops that they rarely have any time to create art. Professional artists know that there will always be more to learn but that does not stop them from making the mistakes and learning as they go along.  They know that the best teacher is almost always experience, and the faster they make these mistakes, the sooner they will learn what they need to know.

Books, classes, and workshops are great as long as they don’t prevent you from actually creating your art.  A professional doesn’t worry about knowing every technique in the book and doesn’t get bogged down by the “what-ifs”.  They simply learn the basics and then get to work discovering what they need to know as they go along.


9.) Amateur Artists isolate themselves from the artist community

As artists/writers/musicians etc.. we are not only creators but we are also consumers. We must surround ourselves not only with the work of others artists in our field but also the artists themselves.  

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  ~Stephen King

If we are writers, we need to read other people’s work.  If we are musicians, we need to listen to other people’s music. If we are visual artists, we need to look at other people’s art and photography. We don’t do this in order to become envious or to start another round of pity and self-loathing.  We do this because we need to get outside of our own heads and see the world from a new perspective.

We also need to connect with other artists and the larger arts community.  Far too often amateur artists tend to isolate themselves from other artists because they either feel envious of their success or unworthy of their attention.  We have talked extensively on this site about the power of artist peer groups and about the importance of going out there and connecting with your artist tribe.  Specific strategies on how to connect and build valuable relationships with other artists is a topic that we have covered in detail throughout our latest Skinny Art School Series “How the @#$%! Do I Get More Traffic to My Website?!” as well.


Being a Professional Artist means. . .

Being a professional artist means, above all, taking your art seriously.  If you want to become a professional artist, writer, photographer, musician, or any other type of creative genius; you need to do what the professionals in these fields do.  Being a professional is not about having fancy business cards or making lots of money (although that’s pretty cool too!).  Being a professional simply means that you have decided to take this creative obsession of yours and make it into your career.  Let’s face it, we create our art because we want and need to.  We don’t do it for the money, but we also have to realize that without the money, we won’t have the time or energy to create our art.

Strive to learn from those who have gone before you, do what you have to do, and always Live Your Art!

What do you think it means to be a “professional” artist?

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About the Author


Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. He can often be found wandering about online, drinking lukewarm coffee, and avoiding any type of productive activity.

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