-by Jared Adamson-
I’ve always understood the distinction between “professional” and “amateur” art to be dollar signs. If you are paid for your creation/performance, then you are a professional. Which is why when I was about 6 years old and my grandmother gave me a dollar so I could send coloring pages to fill her refrigerator, I knew I was a professional artist.
So with that clarification, the labels of “professional” and “amateur” tend to imply a standard of quality. We anticipate a better creation/performance because a “professional” did it. Professional sports, professional grade, professional services and professional development all sound impressive. Amateur night seems like your mom will be in the audience simply because she loves you. But does monetary value alone speak to artistic value?
In the world of the arts, the environments and expectations are more likely indicators of professional and amateur. In a professional arts environment, regardless of pay grade, everyone is treated as a professional and expected to act, respond and perform at that level. In amateur realms, unprofessionalism runs rampant. Sure, there are folks who blur the lines here—divas with tantrums, but also unpaid interns who go above & beyond.
I’ve noticed recently many professional artists doing crossovers. Singers cast as actors, actors painting, and celebrity chefs starting talk shows. One wonders if this new medium should maintain their distinction as “professional” since they are not to the same standard of achievement in the new field. Maybe that’s irrelevant. Celebrity names certainly create recognition and endorsement.
Where does that leave me? I’m the guy that works professionally in some arts, but dabbles amateurishly in others. What environment should I work in? How should my work be labeled? What company should I keep, the upper crust or the white bread?
Here are my thoughts on it. Maybe you can see yourself here as well.
- To those I work with: regardless of whether we are paid or not, if you treat me like a professional, I will rise to the occasion. I will give you my best and I will allow our collaboration to stretch me into new expressions I never knew were possible for me.
- Contrarily, if you treat me like an amateur my attitude will reflect that. Mediocrity will be the banner I raise…except that I probably won’t put enough effort into finding or making a banner, and I’m pretty sure I won’t get off the couch to find a banner pole.
- If you can generate income from your art, go for it! Working artists are not rare, though neither are they necessarily renowned (and likely not full-time employed in their art). Do it anyway. Create and perform; sing and dance and sculpt and paint and write and more. Concentrate your passion, focus your creativity and live artistically.
- And if you can’t generate income from your art, do it anyway. Scrimp and save and live beneath your means so that you are able to secure supplies or training or performance opportunities. Live and breathe your art. Let the beauty define who you are. To paraphrase a story I once heard, “I’m a full time artist, daily crafting beauty and stories for all to see, hear and experience…carefully disguised as the everyday checkout lady at the grocery store.”
- If you are ever termed a professional, don’t let it go to your head. It may be a benchmark or bucket-list, but it does not make you superior. Humility goes a long way. And likewise, don’t stop striving for better. Climb higher. George Lucas and Steven Sondheim have both indicated that no idea is every fully realized. Make more and better art.
- And if you never reach professional recognition, that’s ok. Be yourself. Don’t let a lack of income from art detract from your art. Maybe you’ll be recognized posthumously, or maybe you’ll never be recognized at all. Do it anyway. Let your soul speak and make art. Even if for only an audience of one (YOURSELF), enjoy the process and the product. It is worth much more than the dollar signs attached to it.
Jared Adamson 9/13/2017
Jared Adamson is the Minister of Worship and Creative Arts at Centerville Christian Church in Centerville, IN. Studying voice, composition, organ and improv, he has a Bachelor of Music in Church Music with a double major in Bible and piano from Cincinnati Christian University where he later served as an adjunct professor in the music and worship department.