The difference between a professional and a non-professional artist – A Postscript

The other big difference for WBOS is that they are enacting a production created by others – by professionals. They do not have to invent how to stage a scene, or how to make the show come together. They know it works, because others have done it before. Amateurs are not usually looking for originality – itself a Romantic ideal – but for quality, which defined art before the Enlightenment. It’s a critical difference.

Where We Dream , West Bromwich Operatic Society and the Fine Art of Musical Theatre, François Matarasso, 2012

The recent posts about the difference between professional and non-professional artists have drawn a lot of attention, and some interesting comments: my thanks to everyone who troubles to read them. One of the questions that often comes up when I use the term non-professional is ‘why not speak of amateurs’?

The problem is that amateur is as loaded a term as professional (which is one reason why, when an organisation was formed in the early 1990s to support this work, it chose the name ‘Voluntary Arts’ (now rebranded as Creative Lives). I have huge and appreciation for the work of amateur artists, in itself and as a vital aspect of social life. But I think what they do is different – in intention, again – to what non-professional artists do. The boundaries are fluid, of course, and people cross from one kind of activity to another, but the two activities are different. In ‘A Restless Art’, I explained why I don’t consider amateur artists to be involved in participatory art (pp. 57-9).

But if you want a longer account of what amateur art is, and why it matters, please download my short book about West Bromwich Operatic Society, Where We Dream. It follows their production of Mel Brooks’ The Producers in 2011, and includes on pages 73-81 a chapter on the evolving idea and status of the amateur.

Download Where We Dream (PDF)

(Photo by Kate Jackson from Where We Dream )