Updated: Sep 19, 2021
In case you weren’t aware, we are living in the era of the “professional.” Anyone who isn’t making a six-figure salary doing what they love is often considered a failure by our side-hustle loving world. But why do we, as a society, think we’re only succeeding if we do something “professionally”? Why do we have to make money to feel like we’re the real deal? And why is there such a negative connotation around the word amateur, such that it’s used as an insult? Today we’re diving into why being an amateur isn’t a bad thing, and why more people should embrace the label.
A Brief Etymology
Like most English words, amateur has Latin roots. It originally came from the Latin root word, “amare”, which simply means, “to love”. It later developed into “amator” or “lover”. The Italians and French adopted the word, and it eventually morphed into amateur. And what exactly does amateur mean? It means, “lover of”. In the 1800s, amateur was associated with one who practiced something out of love instead of with the goal to gain as a result of the practice. Essentially, an amateur was a person who did something because it was fun.
An Equally Brief History
So how did we get from such a romantic connotation to a negative one? Well, it actually started within the sciences. Believe it or not, being an amateur scientist was highly respected and regarded throughout history. There was a shift, however, in the late 1800s where some practicing scientists requested a salary and supported the idea that anyone who wasn’t making a living involving their passion shouldn’t be taken seriously. This notion stuck like a noodle on the fridge, and we’ve been in the age of professionalism ever since.
Note: there are obviously some benefits to having professional requirements in certain fields, like science and medicine. Not to mention, it allowed people who weren’t rubbing elbows with wealthy donors to finally be able to get into a field they were interested in. But we’re just talking about the word itself today, and why it shouldn’t be such an insult.
Take Away and Personal Thoughts
What do we do with all of this information? Well, I think we would do well to get over the idea that we have to turn every single thing we do into a lucrative business. Not everything has to make money or be productive to be worth doing. It’s incredibly healthy for us to have hobbies just for fun! Additionally, we don’t have to be doing something as our full-time job to be successful at it.
I’m not telling people to give their work away for free or to completely abandon their passion because nothing will ever come of it. I’m just saying that it’s okay to make art just because you like to. Or to keep it as a small business on the side. Or to only spend an hour a week on your hobby. Family and friends are often well-meaning when they encourage us to sell our work. But I think that the pressure of trying to turn something we love into a super successful business can transform something fun into something stressful. And, as an artist, I know that stress and pressure aren’t exactly the most enjoyable conditions to work under.
Most importantly, let’s stop shaming people who enjoy working on something for the pure enjoyment of the process. Success doesn’t mean you’re making money from something. Success can mean that you consistently dedicate 3 hours every weekend to working on a painting or an illustration. Success can mean that you keep and enjoy your non-art job while selling a painting here and there. Not every person can or should try to make their passion or hobby their full-time pursuit. But if you are taking that path, I beg you to hold on to the reason you started in the first place. It wasn’t for money; it was because you loved holding a pencil in your hand. And, please, let's stop equating those who enjoy their work purely as a hobby with “less than”. (That might include how you talk to yourself, by the way.)
Another important thing to note is that amateur does not equate to having no skill. I've actually met a few amateur artists who are incredibly skilled and could easily turn their hobby into a job. But they prefer to just keep it to themselves as a way to relax, unwind, and find joy in life. All amateur equates to is someone who wants to do something for fun without pursuit of payment.
In conclusion, the word amateur shouldn’t be uttered with such stinging thoughtlessness. There is much to admire in someone who maintains a practice just for the joy of doing it. When I meet someone who has such passion surrounding their hobby, it’s a great reminder that the point of life is to enjoy it. It isn’t to win a trophy for selling the most paintings or being the greatest artist ever or working the hardest. So let’s all slow down, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves, “do I really have to make money from my art to feel like it’s worth doing?”
Well, that’s it for today. I’m a very introspective, philosophical person in real life who enjoys thinking about and discussing topics just like this. I don’t know if this will resonate with anyone else, but I hope that it gets us thinking and questioning our motives at the very least.
Quick note: this post's intent is not to shame anyone who is pursuing an artistic career. This post is meant to uplift those who might be feeling unsure about selling their work or who don't want to have art as anything more than a hobby. I feel those people (or anyone with a hobby they feel guilty about because it doesn't make money) never really get pep talks like this. And I wanted to change that.
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Thanks for reading and happy creating!