Dabbler, Hobbyist, Amateur or Pro – Repost

Dabble - Sketch by Trent P McDonald(OK, this is the third time this showed up.  Still one of my favorites!)

I’ve participated in many of the arts and have had formal instruction in a few.  I’ll admit that I’ve discovered a problem with trying to be a Jack of All Artistic Trades: it’s very easy to fall into the trap of being a Master at None.

I can usually only concentrate on one thing at a time.  I’m speaking a long term “at a time” here.  If I’m practicing my trumpet and improving I can’t practice the piano; if I’m practicing the piano I’m not composing music; if I’m composing I’m not painting; if I’m painting I’m not writing; and if I’m writing I’m not practicing the trumpet.  Of course if I’m concentrating in one area nothing keeps me from dabbling in another.  For instance, although I’m in a writing phase now I still play the piano every day and draw silly sketches for my blog, like the one at the top of this page.

I think every artist should dabble in at least one art that’s not their primary means of expression.  I understand to be a professional means you have to concentrate all of your efforts into your media of choice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t unwind by playing around with something else.  A writer can strum a guitar.  A visual artist might write about her art.  A musician can sketch and draw.  It’s very healthy to have another outlet.

A hobbyist is someone who’s very into their art as a pastime. He’ll go deeper into it than just participating on occasion.  A hobbyist might read the trade magazines, lust after equipment and follow forums.  She may rearrange her life around her hobby but it’ll never become the one focus of her life.  A professional in one art can be a hobbyist in another, but it is a commitment of time and effort.

Today most people think of the term “amateur” as a put down.  “He made an amateur mistake.”  There is an older use of the word, a lover of an activity, that implied the practitioner was at a professional level but happened to do something else to put food on the table.  I like this definition.  It makes the art much more than a pastime.  It’s a passion.   Of course most artists are monogamous and their art demands to be their one true love.  There are artists that can cross over easily into other areas.

A professional might walk onto the stage to discover the President of the US, the Queen of England and the reincarnation of Franz Liszt are in the audience.  Even if the incompetent lighting crew continue to drop things on the stage the entire concert the professional plays every note perfectly and with great feeling.  Maybe a slight exaggeration, but this is the key difference between a pro and a good amateur – the amateur can shine in perfect conditions but the pro can shine in all conditions, including the worst.

I’ll admit that I typically dabble in my “off” arts, the ones I’m not currently concentrating on.  I’ve had enough experience in a few of them that I can shine things back to a pretty good level, but I can typically only keep one ball in the air at a time.  For the past few years I’ve been concentrating on writing so I dabble in the others, sometimes raising to the level of hobby.  I would never completely drop any of them – they keep me sane.

How about you?  Do you dabble in anything?  Do you try to take things to a higher level?  Can you concentrate on more than one thing at a time?  Do you need your art?

Here is to all of the dabblers out there.  The dabblers and the hobbyists.  May we long practice our secondary arts…

17 thoughts on “Dabbler, Hobbyist, Amateur or Pro – Repost

  1. Pingback: If We Were Having Coffee – 4/17/2015 | Trent's World (the Blog)

  2. rebkin

    I dabbled in creating graphics in Photoshop. Did that for about three years. Then the digital camera came into play. That’s been more than four years since now, but I feel the dabbling goes in cycles.
    Once, I managed to do a pencil drawing of a Lynx. Now I don’t have Photoshop anymore, so there’s no going back there. I have another graphics editor, but so far, I haven’t managed to master it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      That’s a good reason – I did it myself. Often for me, though, it’s the doing more than the end product that makes it. When I’m being creative i get into a Zen-like zone, almost like meditation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy Reese

    I like what you say about professionals being able to shine under any conditions, and agree we should broaden our interests. This can only enrich the main area of focus. Great post, Trent. I dabble to the point of distraction!


    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks Amy! I think I dabble to distraction. If only i could quit my day job and spend all of my time dabbling maybe I’d become good enough in one area to shine under any condition;)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. prior

        well I am honored! truly. and that is how I feel about your music – and some of your other stuff here – but to be honest – I am still getting a feel for your gift mix – and I also want to reread this post – especially the part about the pros – just worded in a way where I can chew on it a bit more – and I just saw a special on this piano teacher/pro from charlottesville and so this has been on my mind a bit – hm

        Liked by 1 person

        1. trentpmcd Post author

          Thanks! I’ve always felt I just dabble at things. So one day I had the idea for this post and tried to think what those words mean to me personally. There are no true dividing lines, but these are the ones I created – the pro can perform at a high level at all times, sickness health, good weather and bad, etc.

          Liked by 1 person


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