Amateur vs. Professional Artist

ThummThe discussion group for my art marketing class, Choosing the Right Career Path, is having an interesting conversation on “amateur vs. professional artist” and what both monikers mean. Karen Thumm chimed in with a thoughtful assessment, which she has agreed to let me share here:

Just because a dictionary says that a person who is an amateur isn’t as competent or experienced as a professional, doesn’t make it so, especially in the art world. We probably all know really talented artists who do not promote themselves or their work by going to art fairs, entering shows or all the rest of what makes some of us "professionals". Whether you sell your work or not has nothing to do with your competence and natural talent. It has to do with what you want to do with your art once it’s created.

So, perhaps we can all agree on some new definitions that apply only in the artworld.

A professional artist is one who chooses to market his/her artwork on a regular basis in a businesslike manner whether or not  he/she has achieved a high level of competence.

An amateur artist is one who prefers to create solely for the joy of doing so with no expectation of financial gain or an artist who is in an early stage of  learning the craft of art. Competency can be at any level from high to low.

Keep in mind, that marketing doesn’t necessarily mean financial gain or sales. Many artists who market their work (professionally) do so more for recognition than for sales. They’re interested in capturing the eyes of curators, museums, and critics.

What do you think? Is "promoting" a better word to use?

Image: Karen Thumm, Tall, Dark, and Handsome.

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5 comments to Amateur vs. Professional Artist

  • Claire Taylor

    Don’t forget the semi-professional-those of us who still must hold a “regular” job while working towards the goal of earning a living exclusively from our art. Of course, skill level varies in this category, too!

  • phillippa lack

    So true, Claire. And doing a JOB and trying to be an artist is not an easy thing to do. It is a constant balancing act. I’ve always felt that if I could just have the TIME to really get focused solely on my painting, it would mae such a diffrence.

  • Pam Tremble

    I disagree with the “semi-professional” comment. If you are an artist who is a business owner (i.e. professional artist), you’re a professional no matter what else you do in other areas of your life. Even if you only work your art business on a “part-time” basis, you’re still a business owner full-time. I think this is a trap that many small business owners fall into … thinking that their business is just something they do on the side. Until we begin to recognize our art business as a full-fledged part of who we are, I think we are in danger of letting our business become stagnant. I like Karen Thumm’s assessment of professional vs. amateur and it hits the mark fairly well. ~Pam

  • Tammy Vitale

    I like “emerging” much better than I like “amateur.” As for professional, I heard, back in the 70s when I was still emerging (which wasn’t used then), that if you sell, had sold or were trying to sell your art, then you are professional. And although I was only selling from behind my secretarial desk at that point in time, I still considered myself a professional. Saying out loud that I am an artist took quite a few more years. I heartily agree with Pam Tremble that until we name are art as having both a business and a creative side and claim space for both, we will sell ourselves short. Tammy Vitale

  • I would have to disagree a bit on this opinion. My definition of a professional artist is one who takes great care with his or work and presents them in as professional manner as possible at all times. I would label the professional you describe simply a full time promoted artist – quote: “whether or not he/she has achieved a high level of competence. ” unquote I would also put an “emerging professional artist” in the same class as an “established professional” if they are both competent and dedicated. These artists both warrant resect and admiration for their professionalism and dedication regardless of their popularity or audience quota.