“There is no such thing as an amateur artist as different from a professional artist,” wrote Paul Cezanne, “There is only good art and bad art.” And so a better question might be, “How can I make my work more professional?” Besides the game changers of working every day, using quality materials and being vigilantly unafraid to trash stuff that doesn’t measure up, professionalism emerges through refinement and intimacy developed over the course of a thousand conversations with your process. You might even say that when it comes, you’ll recognize it immediately.
Professional work emits a kind of ineffable ease, technical deftness, an understanding of materials and attention to detail, a certain élan in shapes and brushwork. A professional makes toil all but invisible. Truthful communication comes from a commitment to what’s uniquely yours, but it can’t be achieved through polish alone. I recently went to a local theatre to hear one of my all-time favourite bands. Lauded old pros, they strolled onto the stage and delivered beyond proficient musicianship and decades of refrains and poetry, which the audience sang back at them like a revival. When it came time to play their oldest, most beloved hit — a crooner torch song about a thoughtless lover — something funny happened. The band zoomed through the thing I loved with a kind of betraying boredom. All the truth, the beats and pauses, the blue notes and the heartbreak had been sapped and replaced with a detached and robotic facsimile. It was as if their professionalism had, for that song at least, robbed them of their artistry.
Instead of “Am I professional?” A better question might be, “Am I interested?” or “Am I in love?” What about, “Am I connecting?” or “Am I being artistic?” Try, for starters, “Am I committed?” In 1923, Georgia O’Keeffe wrote, “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing — and keeping the unknown always beyond you.”
PS: “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)
“All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.” (Aristotle)
Esoterica: Are you a professional? The simple answer is yes, if you’re being paid for your ideas. Unlike dentistry and tax law, though, a life in the arts may at times include a murky limbo between passionate striving and professional touchpoints. Labels help others and are valuable as inspiration to endeavour towards achievement, independence, confidence, identity and conformity. “A professional writer,” wrote Richard Bach, “is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
Robert Genn and Sara Genn: Like Father, Like Daughter — 20 Years Later opens April 22nd, 2017 at Canada House Gallery in Banff, Alberta and is on view until April 30th.
“I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’ ” (Maya Angelou)