Amateur artists have gotten a bad rap.
There seems to be a growing rift in the creative world between “professional” and “amateur” artists, writers, musicians, etc… and I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t made things any better by writing articles with ominous titles such as “The 9 Warning Signs of an Amateur Artists” as if being labeled an amateur was some type of scarlet letter that would inevitably expose us as the fraud we are.
Even though the article was intended to be about the importance of taking yourself and your creative work seriously, I can see now (as several readers have pointed out in the comment section) how this type of post could be considered somewhat offensive.
The implication was that professional artists take their work seriously while amateur artists (insert condescending sneer here) were little more than dabblers and hobbyists who did nothing but dilute the talent pool and besmirch the reputation of “real” artists.
Bashing amateur artists was certainly never my intent.
Let me just say up front that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being an amateur, which is a good thing because I happen to be one myself.
Sure I would love it if someone offered me a big sack of cash to write long rambling blog posts on art and creativity, but so far that hasn’t been the case. I do it anyway, however, because it’s what I love to do.
So this leads me back to the question….
What’s the big deal? I mean, why do we even care what other people are saying about us?
Once I took a closer look, however, I realized that there are some common fears and perceptions about being considered an amateur artist in our society.
Being an artist or writer is hard enough dealing with our own fears and self-doubts without constantly having to worry about what our friends and family may think or us.
This is probably part of the reason we push our “professionalism” so far. We want to be taken seriously as a creative artist so we do the things that we think a professional should do. We set impossibly lofty goals for ourselves and then we beat ourselves up after we fail to live up to our own unrealistic expectations.
So we push, and we push, and we push until we end up making ourselves completely miserable and ready to give up.
Poser. Pretender. Fraud. Wannabe . . . . . Amateur
I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture. ~Vincent van Gogh
It seems there are two types of creative artists in the world, those who can and those who are just fooling themselves.
Part of the problem with being a creative artist is that there are no auditions or tryouts. Being a visual artist or a writer is not like trying out for the Olympic team where you either make the cut or you don’t. Instead there is always a lingering sense of uncertainty. A period or learning, experimenting, and uncomfortable waiting. During this time you find yourself constantly stumbling and not living up to your own expectations of what being a “real” artist should be like.
Capitalism assures us that those who are good enough will make a lot of money, therefore if you’re not being paid enough, it must mean that you’re simply not good enough.
So the theory (or fear) tells us that if our work is not currently selling, we should probably just hang up our smocks now and start crocheting sweaters for our cats (not that there is anything wrong with that) because we are clearly wasting our time.
It’s the art world equivalent of natural selection. It’s survival of the fittest, which means that if your work sucks, you’ll starve. Then since you’ll be dead, you won’t be able to mate and pass along your untalented genes on to the next generation thereby proving that the system works.
Except of course when it doesn’t.
If you’re a language arts nerd like me, you may have heard somewhere that the word “amateur” actually comes from the root word “amāre” which means “to love”.
This is important because it has nothing to do with your level of talent or your “seriousness” about your chosen art form. It simply means that you create your art because it’s what you love to do and not because it pays the bills.
Think about this for a moment. Why do you think so many adults show up every weekend to play in softball and basketball leagues with their friends. Why would they waste their time when they have to realize they are never going to get signed to a major league contract and get paid for their efforts.
They do it because they love playing the game.
And it’s the same reason the writer continues to write, the painter continues to paint, and the musician continues to play. We do it because we enjoy doing it. We love the act of creation, even if it’s only for ourselves.
Most people forget that Emily Dickinson wrote over 1,800 poems, but had less than a dozen published during her lifetime. J.K. Rowling had her first book about a boy wizard named Harry Potter rejected by 12 different publishers before it was finally accepted for a token print run of 1,000 copies. Vincent van Gogh is perhaps poster boy of an “amateur” artist having created over 2,100 hundred different artworks during his life, but was only able to sell one.
These are three famous examples, but there are millions more of us out there who continue to create our art simply because it’s what we love to do.
It’s not about the money, the fame, or how many followers you have on Twitter — it’s about choosing to live the life you were meant to live.
The good news is that there is a great deal of freedom that comes from being an amateur. There is also a lot of happiness to be found when we decide to create our art because it fulfills us, and not because it pays the bills.
Many people have discovered that creating for themselves can ease the pressure and free the creative imagination. In other words, you have a lot more freedom to explore and experiment creatively when the mortgage payment isn’t relying upon the final product.
Amateur artists can be just as dedicated to their craft as any professional artist while not having to deal with the pressures of audience expectations and deadlines constantly looming over their heads.
In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter it you consider yourself to be a professional or an amateur artist. One is not necessarily any better than the other, they are simply different paths and each one has its place.
What really matters is that you find a way to create your art.
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.