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Amateurs vs. Pros

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

Amateur bashing is back in season.

Shane Parrish:

“Amateurs are scared — scared to be vulnerable and honest with themselves. Professionals feel like they are capable of handling almost anything.”
“What’s holding you back? Are you hanging around people who are amateurs when you should be hanging around professionals?”

I like a lot of what Shane Parrish publishes, but this is just nonsense. The points made do not stand up to scrutiny. Yet, another favorite of mine, Paul Jarvis, piled on this week with:

“While amateurs complain, make excuses and blame others when their work doesn’t work out the way they want it to, pros accept situations, take responsibility and own every situation that arises, good or bad.”

This a terrible way to look at amateurs. I'm not even sure "amateur" is the word Paul is looking for there.

Most professional artists I know would rather have remained amateurs and independent. They lost their love for art by turning it into their job. Now, they’re pros and they do what they’re told, not what they want.

There’s a lot to be said for professionalism in some jobs, of course. I don't want my doctor to be an amateur. But, don’t ever think that means being an amateur (even in some professions) is a bad thing. As an artist, I believe it's something to aspire to, and most careers involve some level of artistry (in the Seth Godin definition of artistry: "This might not work.").

As I’ve stated in the past:

“For a professional photographer, the photograph is a product. For an amateur photographer, the photograph is a byproduct of a life well lived.”

As others have said better than I could:

“It's about time we started to take photography seriously and treat it as a hobby.” - Elliot Erwitt via Andy Adams
"Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly." - Hugh MacLeod in Ignore Everybody
“We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs, but in fact, today it is the amateur - the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love (in French, the word means ‘lover’), regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career - who often has the advantage over the professional.” - Austin Kleon in Show Your Work
“That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.” - Charlie Chaplin via Austin Kleon in Show Your Work

I don’t have anything against pros. I do have a problem with bashing amateurs. They deserve far more respect than they’re getting. They tend to generate more interesting art, if less technically proficient. And what art-based industry could survive without them?

The real difference between amateurs and pros in art tends to be the difference between independence and dependence. I'm more excited for the art created by the independent.

Neither side needs bashing.