The Professionals

‘Everyone can draw and paint’ was a title for a class I saw recently. I’d say ‘everyone can draw and paint up to a point’ would be much more accurate, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t sell classes so well.

It’s interesting how controversial it can be for a professional artist (and by professional I mean somebody who makes a living as an artist) to come out and suggest that ‘art’ isn’t universally achievable. To tell people at large that their efforts, however delightful, do not make them artists is often seen as nasty elitist insecurity on our part. I cook, I take photos, I sew and I garden. I’m pretty good at all of those and I enjoy them immensely. What I don’t expect is to be considered a chef, photographer, tailor or professional gardener. I’m not hurt by this and nor do I feel that these various professions are somehow being elitist by excluding me from their ranks. After all, and here’s the point, they spend years learning, studying, practicing, perfecting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I teach and that most of my students are total beginners. I know that my classes bring them pleasure and nobody, and my students will agree, is more excited than me by their marvelous prints. But to actually make a living, earn an annual income year in and year out, large enough to fix the plumbing and pay the mortgage, is not a matter of the odd class and enthusiasm. It’s down to hard won skills and talent developed over years of training and effort. So let’s not confuse art being for everyone (which it certainly is) and everyone being an artist (which they certainly aren’t).

7 thoughts on “The Professionals”

  1. I disagree, not being able to make a living at it does not make someone ‘not an artist’. Some people are wonderful artists and make no money at it. Some people might be ‘bad artists’, whatever that may be, but it doesn’t make them not an artist.

    1. Hi Nina
      Thanks for your post – I can see that someone who doesn’t make a living at art could have the skills and experience that would qualify them as an artist, but I’m not sure that you could call yourself an artist (in the sense of the word in my blog’s context – ie. a working profession like chef, tailor, etc) if you are unable to make a living with your skills? I would also wonder about someone who is a ‘wonderful’ artist and then doesn’t make it their means to a living. I think to be truly wonderful at something, you have to be passionate about it and, if that’s the case, why would you not want to spend most of your time doing it? Unless we’re supported in other ways, we all spend our adult life working. That being the case, why wouldn’t you want to work as an artist and, being a wonderful one, why wouldn’t you succeed? Earning a living as an artist is tough: it’s not a question of just making art, it’s running the business too. Not everyone who makes fabulous art is good at marketing, organising, presenting, being reliable, delivering within budget, planning etc and that, just like being a chef or tailor, is part of being a professional. So can I call myself a chef, because I am a good and creative cook? I wouldn’t last five minutes in a professional kitchen and there’s the point: I would have to train, gain experience, work my way up and that’s my point in this blog…
      Thank you again for your comments – it’s given me really great food for thought and, though I don’t agree with you, I am very pleased to discuss this!

    2. There is a perception that being an artist is not a proper job. I don’t suppose there are many professional artists who haven’t heard the line “Isn’t it wonderful that you can make money from your hobby”, and just as many who have had the “What do you do the rest of the time” line. Selling at art and craft fairs is great and some of the work is, I’m sure, excellent, but if all you are doing is covering your costs and your actual income is coming from the day job in an office, can you call yourself an Artist? What about the many who have come through art colleges and now find themselves working in a coffee shop to pay off their student loans and just survive, they have a qualification and at least four years training, are they Artists?

      I think the fundamental thing you have to ask yourself when deciding if you are an Artist is “can I make a living doing this”. A majority of those who “do art” would probably consider this an absurd question and say “that’s not why we do it”, but doing art for the sake of art will not pay the household bills.

      Yes, anybody can do art, but doing art does not make you an Artist.

  2. From the Oxford Dictionary:
    Artist: “a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby”, from the early 16th century (denoting a master of the liberal arts)

    So, I think it is possible to be an artist without being a professional, but perhaps the key attribute of an artist is being a master of your art.

    Everyone else (like me!) is just a dauber…!
    Dauber: “painting executed without much skill”: late Middle English: from Old French dauber, from Latin dealbare ‘whiten, whitewash’, based on albus ‘white’.

    1. It is unfortunate there isn’t a word to distinguish professional artists from hobbyists. Someone who plays music for fun would probably not describe themselves as a musician, when you hear someone referred to as a musician there is an assumption they are professional.

      The context is important, to say “I am an artist” at a business meeting will probably leave a different impression to that left when you say it at an art fair, but to the general public “artist” does mean everyone from the weekend dauber to Picasso which can make getting yourself taken seriously quite difficult.

    1. Van Gogh wasn’t considered to be an artist in his own lifetime was he? Theo financed him and his work was notoriously unsuccessful. Hindsight is a wonderful thing…

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