The buyer’s choice
In a recent conversation following my comments on another art website, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the artist was an amateur just like myself. To me their work is better than many efforts done by ‘professionals’. It begs the question of what do we mean by a ‘professional artist?’
When I was working in the theatre the distinction between amateur and professional productions was not always obvious. I could name quite a few professional shows that weren’t worth the ticket price and conversely many amateur productions that should have charged double their price. The same is true of any art form. Yet despite this being true, many buyers of artworks stubbornly insist that professionals are the only people to have any skill. It flies in the face of history to hold such a view as many artists throughout history have been either anonymous, were never professionals or were never famous artists during their lifetime. Van Gogh, Vermeer, El Greco and Claude Monet were not big hits while alive.
Many famous people have been artists without being famous for their artworks including Janis Joplin, Ronnie Wood, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp and Joni Mitchell. ‘Amateur’ means doing it for the love of it. Even staunch members of the ‘only professional artworks club’ will succumb to permitting an amateur work by a celebrity as being worthy of their attention. So, whether you’re amateur or professional, do you have to be famous for your work to have merit?
Until the 20th century very few female artists were ever professionals yet most ladies were encouraged to take up painting as a pastime by the mid 18th century with the result that some extraordinarily accomplished works were produced by female amateurs. When we think of famous artists from the past a lot of them failed as professionals while alive. Today, many artists consciously choose never to sell their work. So why is there such snobbery about professionals? Is it the case that professionalism is what we really want or is it the kudos of buying a work by a professional artist or famous person that is behind this?
All artists start out as amateurs, and for the avid collector a purchase of an artwork by an unknown emerging artist is a worthwhile investment. Who though is likely to enjoy public attention other than professional artists and what determines who is likely to be the next emerging artist? The simple answer is art critics, dealers and agents. Trends come and go in all creative mediums and it’s a marketing trick to start a new trend these days whereas a century ago the fickle tastes of art buyers used to only change when new art movements emerged from artists themselves, usually in reaction to something that had happened or against a previous art genre.
I was once told by an Arts Council member that to make it as an artist’s you just have to bang on doors long enough for someone to take you on regardless of your abilities and skills. If that is the case then, being ‘talented’ does not figure in the distinction between the amateur and professional. What I believe should always be the case for the buyer, is that they purchase an artwork only if the love it. Sadly the snobbery is bound to continue but I hope if you’re reading this you’re of the same mind as me. Art is a universal language meant to be all inclusive these days.
Taste shouldn’t be down to what is promoted and foisted upon you. You retain the right to choose your likes and dislikes but, as I began this article, I recommend looking at amateur works as much as professional pieces. In my opinion, art is not about money, profits and investment as most artists don’t think of such things when creating their masterpieces.