If everyone is an artist….?

December 15, 2011

There are several points of discussion ,’Making is Connecting’, brings up for me. The first one is:

if anyone can make and sell their work on (and off) line, is everyone, then an artist?

If everyone is an artist, then, of course, no one is.
Not in the same sense I’ve been brought up to believe; that an artist is someone with a calling who devotes his or her life to learning to express themselves in their chosen craft/discipline. This almost always involves a rigorous path of education and then the required 10,000 hours of practice before one can even begin to make work of stature and relevance.

I think, though, that the ways to discern people devoted to excellence in their calling from the dabbler have been blurred. James Krenov acknowledged this in the last century and suggested that keeping  professionalism and amateurs strictly separate was the best way to honour the artist and leave the hobbyist to putter in their own domain. I apologise for sounding harsh, but for many years this is how I felt about hobbyists, even though in some fields, I am one myself.


Things are radically changing, though. In his book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson cites the rise of the so-called ‘Pro-Ams’.  (partially  paraphrased)

This is a kind of amateur who works at increasingly high standards…the Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. The Pro-Am uses his leisure not for passive consumerism but is active and participatory involving knowledge built up over a long period of practice.

While no professional in any field enjoys being undercut by people offering lesser quality work at cheaper prices, I actually welcome this democratisation of art and creativity because it frees us all from some very confining boxes.  Creative people are finding channels, not previously available to non-professionals, for sharing their work.  And professionals,too, get a chance to let down their hair and try out some other areas without the constraints of having to be perfect first.

Real Artists

I think there will always be a place for excellence and authenticity. There are simply artists who either reach such high levels of their craft that it communicates to whoever is receptive to it. Or they touch a nerve which the whole society is poised to express but hasn’t yet realized. And  in so doing give it a voice and a face.

And reluctantly I must admit, that maybe the distinction of the Real Artist might be passé.  Or it is expanding to include various degrees of commitment and expertise.

There is to my eye definitely a distinction between the talented crafter who at this moment is flooding Etsy with (extremely popular) owls, birds and vintage. And the artist drawing from their own experience to give wings to a vision.

More about art vs craft another time.

7 Responses to “If everyone is an artist….?”

  1. decorartuk Says:

    I accidentally came across your blog and found this very interesting subject that has been bugging me for years. I’d represent the so called amateurs – enjoying taking photographs and then trying to sell my photo prints online. I must admit I’m an amateur with a strong consciousness as I always question myself if I am good enough… I guess we should admit that sometimes there are people who don’t need to be educated and just reach for the spring of inspiration and talent within themselves, yet I am sure that it is always possible to distinguish between poor quality artwork and artwork that deserves to be praised!

    • szoutewelle Says:

      This is a great comment, thank you. I’m afraid the stance of professional vs amateur is always going to step on someone’s toes. But I do think everyone has the right to pursue their creativity in whatever way they want. You are right, there are some people who are naturals, education isn’t a prerequisite. And I agree that it is always possible to distinguish.

      That said, people tend to go for the cheaper and easier to understand. But that is a whole other discussion. good luck with your site and online exhibitions. I admire your entrepreneurship.

  2. Very interesting little conundrum. Enjoyed the read!

  3. As a craft artist I think this is particularly relevant. I have a BFA and I have been working for years to hone my craft. While I’m still not a master, I think I have reached a point where I’m no longer an amateur. It is hard to see other people calling themselves artists or craftsmen when they are basically just stringing beads or making things from a kit. Making something from scratch and being creative are two different things (both with their pluses and minuses.)

    I do think that the availability of platforms such as Etsy have made it easier for anyone to get thier work on the market. I’d like to think that if someone were looking for “art” they’d be able to tell the difference between amateur and professional. Of course when people use technical terms to describe their work that are misleading, they create a false sense of professionalism.

    Then there are all the people who think that Instagram and other photo apps make them instant professionals… but that’s another topic as well ;^)

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Wendy, thanks for your thoughtful post. I’ve visited your site and am impressed with your work and how you present yourself as the professional you are.

      I really appreciate your thoughts on this issue. As an advocate of creativity on all levels, I find it hard to pinpoint what it is about the explosion of creativity on the net that is sometimes so irritating to veteran artists. I think you nailed it.

      I agree that people mostly have the ability to discern quality work from the instant no-brainer stuff. But there are also a lot of instances where that isn’t so. (I remember standing at a garden fair with professional work and watching people pass by and make a beeline for the sale on rhubarb leaves cast out of cement).

      Personally what I do is re focus on to the internals that give my art and life meaning. If I’m meeting my own creative goals, and keeping excited about my work, then other people with a better business sense selling cranked out commercial stuff like hotcakes doesn’t bother me. Very much. 🙂

      • That’s a good way to think about it. If your work is at a different level, then you aren’t really in competition with those people. I like the idea of focusing instead on honing your craft, but it is hard sometimes when you do see those beelines to cheap rather than quality.

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