Bedford Hub Report: What Is A Professional Artist?

So we kicked off Bedford’s second Sputnik Hub a few weeks ago and had a great time. A passionate group that included actors, visual artists and poets spent a good few hours debating the issue of ‘professional’ work.

Now I love a good debate and I’ll talk about what came out of that discussion in a minute but what I love more than anything is the passion, excitement and drive that came through from everyone that sat in my living room on a sun drenched Saturday afternoon.  We talk about coming alive when we do what we love, finding our purpose… you know the kind of discourse I’m talking about.  And it’s true, when I’m writing or performing I come alive… I somehow feel a little more complete; however, I also feel that when I simply get in a room full of creative artists and people. It feels like I’ve come home to a place where I belong, fit in and can thrive again.

So with Jonny Mellor having tackled the minor topic of ‘What is Art?’ in our previous gathering, Harri and I shared a little bit of our journey into the arts- how we started our company and where we are headed with it as business entrepreneurs and freelance actors. Within that we talked about our journey in identifying ourselves as artists, not least because we hadn’t undertaken traditional drama school training. What followed was a fascinating discussion on what makes someone a professional artist as opposed to an amateur hobbyist.

The line was clearly different for everyone – for some it was about quality of work, for others it was about whether they were paid or not, yet for another it was about training, time served or skill level.  I recently got embroiled in a discussion on an actors’ network over the issue of pay.  Innumerable actors, like other artists I assume, get highly militant over pay, and rightly so considering the assumptions often made in this area. There are many people who seem to think that you can either knock up a painting for them in a couple of hours or write, learn, rehearse and perform a short piece in just a matter of a day or two so see no reason to furnish you with a fee! I’m being facetious, I know, but I’ve yet to come across an artist that hasn’t experienced this to some degree.  Anyway, the point is, the discussion centred on the fact that one point of view was that if you didn’t get paid it was amateur.

My rebuttal was that we have been involved in collaborations where neither us nor anyone involved has got a fee but that doesn’t mean the work isn’t professional and high quality.  I know that, for me, it took a long while to call myself an actor or a writer because I didn’t have the traditional education that accompanied that. This made me wonder whether I could really call myself those things, even though by this time I was making a career out of it.  It would seem that the boundaries of ‘professional work’ are unclear but it certainly seems to incorporate values of skill, quality, pay and training with the weight of importance on each of these shifting depending on your perspective.  I have no doubt the debate will continue.

In the mean time, if you are an artist, working professionally, creating work and you’re around the area, we’d love to have you along.  Keep a lookout on the various Sputnik channels or get in touch and we’ll let you know when we are meeting up again.

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