Amateur vs. Pro

The words “professional” and “amateur” have two distinct meanings, at least in the arts. Probably the same meanings apply in the world of sports.

First, an amateur is someone who engages in an activity strictly for the joy of doing it. A professional is someone who is paid to do it.

Second, a work is “professional” when it has been produced with a high degree of expert craftsmanship. A work is “amateur” or “amateurish” when it is poorly produced and shows a lack of skill.

Although I’ve never made a living as an artist, I’ve made a certain amount of money over the years playing music and writing fiction. I like getting paid. I’ve also played many concerts for free, in community orchestras and whatnot. But I do like getting paid.

Recently I signed up for an email workshop run by Eric Maisel. Eric is a kind of guru of the creative arts community. This workshop is mainly about how we artists market our work. And I’m finding myself oddly resistant.

An earlier post, “Gigs Suck,” may help explain my resistance, but there’s more to it than that. Currently my two main artistic activities are playing the piano and composing weird electronic music in Csound. Both of these are completely amateur activities, in the sense that there is no way either of them would ever earn me a nickel. They are totally not worth marketing or promoting to the public. I’m doing them strictly because I enjoy them.

That’s not to say that I’ll never want to put some Csound compositions up on my website. That might happen, somewhere down the road. I’m not opposed to sharing what I’m doing. But sharing with other people is completely irrelevant to the process. The process is entirely personal, entirely interior. And very satisfying.

And my standards for my own work are still as high as it’s practical for them to be. I will never be a good pianist in the way the world measures such things, but I can choose pieces that are easy enough for me to master, and work tirelessly at mastering them.

So today I resent the implication that “amateur” means “shoddy.” I would like to be able to say, “Yes, I’m an amateur,” with pride, not with the nagging feeling that it’s an admission of weakness or makes me a second-class citizen.


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