On Being an Amateur

One of the biggest challenges for the amateur artist is the stigma of the word “amateur.” After all, the second definition of that very word from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “one lacking in experience and competence…” I as well as many of my friends and family have this same stigma about professional vs amateur.

When I started my undergraduate studies in violin, I was so excited to learn from teachers with such good resumes and to attend a school with a reputable name. Excited to become a professional, excited to be known as a “good” violinist.
To put it simply, I thought I made it in the classical music world. I’ve survived three years entrenched in computer science, violin performance, and photography so far, and have seen professionals and amateurs alike from all. Perhaps the most consistent thing I’ve discovered across the board is that being an amateur in no way means that you’re less skilled.

handheld image taken on a Graflex 4x5 camera

I struggled with this bias over the past year, especially when fortune offered me a way into the gallery world of photography right when I was hit hard with the downsides of the professional music scene. I had the chance to forge a path in photography that I never imagined when I started. However, I decided to forgo this opportunity, because I came to terms with the fact that becoming a professional isn’t what makes someone good at an art.


In fact, from my experiences so far in the professional music world versus the amateur photography world, I often find myself envious and appreciative of the freedoms that amateurs can enjoy. After all, being a professional isn’t about being good, it’s about getting paid. Getting gigs or gallery spots doesn’t mean being the best, it means being good enough and having the right connections and opportunities.
In amateur photography, there’s no competition for jobs, there are no restrictions placed on your style, nor are there limits on the type of work you can do. Especially with the advancement of the internet, you can find resources and take your education at your own pace. You can make it as rigorous or casual as you’d like. You can focus on the art as oppose to how to focus on using the art to remain financially stable. Quite simply, amateurs don’t have to answer to anyone.

Final word

So, as a final word for all the amateurs in the art world from someone who’s had to walk in both professional and amateur art worlds, know that artistic work is equally valuable whether it’s done for money or for fun. It doesn’t have to be paid for to be good, and even if it’s done just for yourself, if it’s done out of the love of the art and the love to learn, then it’s never for nothing.

-Patrick McBride

Comments, observations and feedback are always welcome. As usual, treat others in the way you would want to be treated and be respectful.