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Professional artist versus amateur

Recently there has been a flap on SAQA yahoo list regarding professional versus amateurs and decrying the valueless competition offered for a fabric line design. Some have weighed in on their definition of professional while others felt that SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Association) did not have a clear idea or clear focus on their intentions.

Professionalism is more than working to be paid for efforts. That is commercialism and work is tailored according to what might sell. I once heard Jean Ray Laury speak about her design work–she showed a hooded jacket done in commercially acceptable colors and then one done in the extravaganza of color she preferred. I don’t know that those who call themselves professional quilt artists have two lines–one the experimental and the other destined for sale.

Practically everyone knows about poor Vincent van Gogh who sold only one painting while alive–the rest were heavily marketed by his sister-in-law in large part to make some repayment for the upkeep of Vincent over the years. And then there’s Leonardo da Vinci who had to scrounge around to find work after his patron in Italy chose another artist and he ended up making designs for war machines. I could go on but I don’t think anyone would dispute their dedication to their work or relentless effort to improve.

And perhaps that is the real core to professionalism. It is not just more money (although that is nice). It is about a concerted dedication to improvement, to always study, to look, and wonder what if? in terms of new materials, new styles, new colorways—but not with an eye to selling. Selling becomes the icing on the cake.

As far as SAQA is concerned, I’ve been a member since the newsletter was four pages stapled together. Now it contains artist interviews, color photography. Membership has grown in size and now the Portfolio is produced annually instead of whenever someone thinks enough new work has been made.

Maintaining my Professional Artist Membership has not been an easy choice financially. And sometimes I choose to do something not very arty, not very original, but somehow it always has my mark on it. The process is what I enjoy–not the final product.

Now it is time for me to gather together what I am going to take to a Bee meeting today–it will be putting a binding on a quilt that will be destined to be put aside for a wedding gift for one of my many nieces and nephews.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. What an excellent commentary on professionalism, Sylvia! Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    March 9, 2013
  2. (Hi Syl, that comment above was from me … Linda Teddlie Minton … I had forgotten that WordPress uses my “user name” and avatar instead of my real-life info!)

    March 9, 2013
  3. SAQA is starting to sound too much like “Quilt Police”.
    I used to belong, but I haven’t lately.
    Maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t? who knows?
    I certainly do my work in a professional way and produce some great work – if I do say so myself.
    I have to make ART as it is a need within me – without that what is there to life?????

    March 9, 2013
    • Not really the quilt police, and there isn’t a lot of value on many days–but then there might be an exhibit or an on-line museum offering or technical advice–today’s was about using holographic thread. I’ve been a member for a long time and have seen it grow immensely. Criticizing it because it hasn’t matured into a stable organization seems as fair as criticizing a five year old for odd clothing choices.The squabble with die down–I’ve gotten rather accustomed to them–and rather than reply immediately to anyone’s post I felt was snarky, I write a position statement and leave it. Wish some of the others could do the same–but then some worry things to death.

      March 10, 2013
  4. Thank you for this insightful post; SAQA is for me an organization comprised of a diverse population of textile artists who create works because that is what they do…and I appreciate the diversity in style, focus and completed work. The whole concept of discussing what makes one a professional or amateur always has me deleting most of the comments – save a few from folks I know or folks whose art I enjoy….and I do not take the whole kerfuffle to heart, ever. That bit of snarkyness that comes from some posts holds no interest for me. SAQA provides a platform for artquilters and artquilts and I appreciate their sponsored exhibits, their publication, and the folks who comprise the PAM. So, dipping their toes into the creation of some fabrics is potentially a way to generate support financially for an organization that pleases me. Always good to read your blog and to see your work.

    March 9, 2013
    • Kristin, thanks for your response. I think some people respond before they think through all the ramifications of what they are saying. And those who complain are frequently the ones not participating. I’ve met some of these people and they are the same as they appear on the list. Too bad–but then if everyone was smiles and roses, there would be no clarification of the boundaries.

      March 10, 2013

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