What's the difference between amateur and professional artists?

I have been following a discussion on Linked In about the diifference between amateur artists and professionals. I was surprised at how much heat the discussion produced. Thought I'd share my own ideas.

To describe an artist as a professional or as an amateur is not necessarily making a judgement about the quality of their art.


By definition, a professional is a person engaged in a specified activity as their main paid occupation, rather than as a pastime. Professional artists are in the business of producing art to make an income.


Amateurs may sell work and derive income from their art, but that is not the primary motivation. For them art may be a passion, a hobby or a recreational pastime, but it does not matter if their work doesn’t sell. They are not in business.


Many professional artists began their careers as amateurs, and many amateurs are as skilled as professionals.


This is where confusion can arise, when the word professional is used to describe skill. To say someone has the skills appropriate to a professional indicates they work at a high standard, but it does not make them a professional.


If you are an artist the labels won't change the quality of the art you produce.


Wearing the label ‘professional’ may confer credibility with art buyers and seeing yourself as a professional will make a difference to how you approach the making and marketing of your art.


The amateur enjoys other privileges. They are in the wonderful position of being free to follow their passion or whims wherever they like, without concern for how the buying public will respond. They can develop their artistic skills to any level they choose. They are free to experiment with radical ideas, paint in different styles and produce work of inconsistent quality without fear of consequences.


Professional artists can of course do all this too, but the reality is these things have consequences for a business. They impact on how the work is perceived and received by collectors. If you are trying to build a career as a professional this is a real constraint.


Bottom line. If you are an amateur, don’t be offended by being described as such. Enjoy your freedom and be the best artist you can be. If you are a professional, I hope your business gives you a great income and that you never lose the joy and passion of creating art.


What do you think?

 originally posed at http://www.richardrogers.com.au/acrylicartblog

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Comment by Stuart J. Gourlay on July 10, 2013 at 15:47
Although it is in the eye of the beholder, art is also in the mind of the artist who creates it; when the two connect, it is magical; you as the beholder are gazing into the mind of the artist. I agree on the quality of the contributions here and really appreciate seeing the divergence and convergence of opinions of artists on this site. Stu
Comment by Stuart J. Gourlay on July 10, 2013 at 14:12
Good words Jon and Silvana. I teach medical students and firmly believe that the greatest thing you can do is to teach someone else a skill that you have mastered and that they want to acquire. I enjoy the journey of operating on broken people to make them whole again, teaching medical students what surgery is all about, and teaching myself to be a better artist with the help of all of the artists on this site. This is a lot of journey to enjoy. Stu
Comment by Jon Main on July 10, 2013 at 6:59

Richjard makes a good point - "enjoy the journey". Gotta remeber - the voyage IS the destination

Comment by Jon Main on July 10, 2013 at 6:57

Stu makes a good point - a fair number of part-time artists are either very shy (fair enough) or have a lot of self-belief (never exposed themselves to crits and maybe don't intend to!). To learn, you must get out there and ask for opinions - and evaluate them objectively. I guess self expression (one's deepest being) is hard to expose to comment - but there are very very few people who are unconstructuve and unfeeling in their crits on all the sites I've been on - anyone who's truly tried knows how hard it is. I would rather say thanks to all the people who comment on my stuff and try to help me. I don't think I would particuraly want to do this to earn money - I sure would and could work full-time on it. Maybe I could get a state subsidiary ;D

Comment by Silvana M Albano on July 10, 2013 at 3:42

I just love all these discussions! I am really surprised on how many times many like talking instead of doing! Being a teacher, I hear all around  how children and adolescents should be taught, but the ones who talk, are very seldom IN a classroom... not really knowing that theory is  quite far from reality.

I also consider professionals to be masters and able to tackle whatever challenge they have to face, and when doing so, they can do it in an excellent way. If they wish, they are always able to sell their work... ! And I think that the summit of a really good professional is to be so sure and to master so well everything  that is related to their subject, that they would never be afraid of sharing everything they know.

I love being an amateur! I love painting, I love learning, I enjoy the painting and if whoever likes any of my paintings, I also love giving them away! But I am also really conscious that I have a veeerrrryyyyy lonnnng way to go in this learning process... far, but very far from whichever definition of 'professional' whoever would like to give!

Comment by Stuart J. Gourlay on July 9, 2013 at 23:58
Unless you push yourself to improve your art, you never will. Unless you take to heart critiques from knowledgeable artists and work on eliminating faults in your work, you will keep all those faults. What amazes me is that out of over 500 members in this monthly workshops of Richard's on this site, only about 50 submit paintings each month and even less than that number comment on each others and their own work. The rest appear to be either voyeurs or closet artists. The others, I guess, would be the "amateurs" in a pejorative sense; these are the superficial, unskilled artists or the dabblers. They just like to appreciate art, but are afraid to create it themselves, I suppose. Thanks for putting this blog up; this is an important issue. Stu
Comment by Richard Rogers on July 9, 2013 at 20:18

Jon, Ian And Stuart.Thanks for your comments.

I agree Stuart, it is the different meaning given to to the words that causes the heat. One way around it may be to think in terms of full time and part time. But then again, I'm not sure that solves the issue some people seem to have. While time is an incredibly important factor in developing skill, knowing how often someone paints still doesn't indicate how good they are.  I'm was just surprised in the discussion I was following how people seemed to get so upset by definitions, when they could just focus on the art and enjoy the journey, no matter what their perceived status or aspirations may be. 

Comment by Stuart J. Gourlay on July 9, 2013 at 17:59
Richard, I agree with all you say. I believe that the problem causing "heat" lies with the definitions of the word "amateur". Although the primary meaning of the word is: "a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons", another definition of the word is: "an superficial or unskillful worker; dabbler". These definitions are from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. The first definition is clearly correct and not too controversial, but most "amateur" artists would find the second definition to be insulting of their efforts. As a surgeon, I certainly understand the attributes of a professional. Yet my part time art begun in childhood, will stand comparison to that of many professional artists. I know many excellent professional and amateur artists who are self taught and I can find little difference in their technical skills. In earlier times many surgeons were self taught; today a residency program (really an apprenticeship) is mandatory, as in many trades. I believe that you will see less controversy by using the terms Richard uses on this site of "full time" and "part time". Stu
Comment by Jon Main on July 9, 2013 at 8:20

What you say seems very valid to me, but I do feel that a professional is someone who is certain they can do a job properly because they have an extremly high level of mastery - normlly because they have spent so much time doing it. An amateur plumber may be professional level, they might not. If I call in a professional plumber, I'm sure they can do it. Certain. The problem is, modern art/art appreciation has become very subjective. Skill/mastery is maybe not so subjective as they would have us believe?!


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