PRO vs Amateur: Reflecting on the War of Art

The War of Art is one of the best books I have ever read which dispenses with the cliches and gives a much more honest view of what it takes to be a Professional Artist,  Writer of to be creative in any endeavor.

PRO vs Amateur List: I’ll give myself a 1-10 score, and talk about what I could do in areas that need improvement.

The PRO shows up every day: Uh, I’ll say a 4. I shift channels a lot, but I work on creative projects virtually every day.The PRO stays on the job all day.

The PRO is committed over the long haul:

I give myself an 8, I slough off, but since I was 13 (50 years ago) I have a consistent thread of making, painting, writing, and innovating in what I do.

For the PRO, stakes are high and real: 6, I think. I have sometimes been guilty of a value judgment I can’t stand in other people. Arts matter a lot, but sometimes you have to put relationships, or simply putting food on the table ahead of that. Being in my 60’s the stakes are getting more real. Life is more precarious. A Productivity Expert was once asked, “Tell me something that will really increase my productivity.” To which he responded, “You are going to DIE.

The PRO is patient: 7. I will take an eternity on fiddly details in a painted surface or a piece of wood, but lately it’s come to my attention that if I want to place my furniture in a gallery like Twentieth, I have to be twice as good in the execution of detail, the quality of materials, and the clarity of concept. If I need to spend $800 out of pocket for a few pieces of bronze hardware, so be it. Same goes for hiring someone for an element that they can handle better than me.

The PRO seeks order: 3, because I’m not even clear what the author means. A tidy studio? Bins for every material. Or is it a Steve Jobs type laser focus? Where the same garb every day, so I don’t have to waste a nanosecond picking out a shirt.

The PRO demystifies: 9. I know this one well. I bring it up in my classes. I have a couple dozen tactics, which if you just do one, you will probably take a fresh view, and release that control freak tension, that is plaguing you, creative soul. As one wise soul said, “If I had one line of advice for people struggling with increasing their creative output, I would say NEVER work when you are in the mood. (reference a list of writers rituals). I would say with writing, I have been more disciplined. I go to a set place (a library with a view). I employ Deep Work principles and work in intensely concentrated 90-minute sessions.

The PRO acts in face of fear: 8. I know fear, and worrying about what others think is the enemy. I learned in my twenties to not overthink the first brush stroke of a painting. DIVE IN! As Frank Lloyd Wright said, I am not doing work at this level because I am a genius. Faced with a challenging project, I have embedded that habit of diving in immediately and feel free to fill up a big trash can with much of what happens.

The PRO accepts no excuses: 7. I did this just as I started this post. Couldn’t find a text copy of the Pro vs Amateur list, and could have wasted ten times what it took to just GO, and type in each item from a PDF. This evasion is the essence of resistance, and I’ve gotten pretty good at nodding when I am ‘medicating’ myself with these sorts of evasions.

The PRO is prepared: 8. I can relate to this when I’m building furniture. I set up every tool, make sure they are set properly, and I have a cut list, detail drawings, and proceed in a linear fashion.

The PRO does not show off: 9. Having been envied so much in my youth for pyrotechnic creativity, I learned that being brazen drew out the vampires who didn’t want to deal with their own creative beasts. It was easier to rub shoulders with someone like me, and catch a little bit of the glow. They could even use me as a sort of it will never come so easy for me, so why bother talisman. I don’t create in order to communicate. That idea is to me a big myth. So in a balanced state of mind, I’m pretty calm about praise, or criticism. Indifference is harder to deal with.

The PRO dedicates himself to mastering technique: 9/5. In painting or furniture making I’m on autopilot with improving my craft, and getting new tools or materials if I need them. In writing… well, discipline there is newer to me. And I have a reasonable concern about not learning so much about story structure, that the scaffolding kills off some of my expression.

The PRO does not hesitate to ask for help: 8. Getting much better at this. I don’t know everything, and there are plenty of things I should not attempt to learn in depth. I don’t need to be the best in the world at Fusion 360 (3d printing design software) to make incredible sculptural chandeliers. There are expert young people to help me with that at a cost I can afford.

The PRO does not take failure or success personally:

I give myself a 9. I get this. Much of time I expect failures, I mean this in the sense of I experiment a lot in art and business and even if only 10% works out, I can be a highly expressive millionaire or a stable genius. To not risk, is like making a salad with stale vegetables—not much chance of SOARING. Success, in the worldly sense, would mean more to me if I didn’t have so much inner frame a reference. Intrinsic motivation is a mountain in me.

The PRO does not identify with his or her instrument: 5. Because I’m not quite sure what this means. Perhaps it’s the sense that I am a ‘natural’ when it comes to playing/innovating with materials and tools. That isn’t exactly god-given, but I didn’t work at make that happen.

The PRO endures adversity: 9. I might whine a lot, but I’m tough. In art school I became some people dabbled with their making. From outside, it looked like they were trying to dress like, talk like, and pose as an artist, but lacked soul, lacked inspiring messages pouring into them from unknown places.

The PRO self-validates:

I give myself a 10 on this one. When you have a vision as soon as consciousness emerges, and those surrounding you, and supposedly nurturing you kick you down the stairs in envy due to their bug-like self-esteem, you can be crushed, or you can grow armor. Flashed into my mind: brainy people due better in therapy. They survive trauma better. Probably because they can zoom up and above for an aerial perspective on their lives, and see other Edenic places across the horizon, over the walls.

My favorite movie: Le Quatre Cent Coups (the 400 Blows by Truffaut).

The PRO reinvents herself: 10. Of course, we do. Sometimes so much that we shed skins to quickly. It also causes us to sometimes dissolve connections that don’t get us. Like my xBF Brant, a guy who developed a crush on me because in my sports coat with a roll of blueprints under my arm, I fit some inner picture he had of a successful architect that would take care of him. Two months later, in my apartment, he said why did you buy all these weird paintings. Um, those, I make them. They are the real me. I’m not this guy in the tie. It’s just a game I play.

The PRO is recognized by other professionals: 6. I like this when it happens. On some level, other pros can admire my work without falling into an envy trap. And we can talk about our process and emotions, which is the part that really matters. For outsiders that can be a glimmering distraction from looking at pretty paintings that they can’t imagine making.

Inspiring and challenging ideas from a book that continues to guide me.

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