Professionals or Hobbyists, Creators or Dabblers in Art?

Beethoven

Beethoven, in a pensive mood

Today I am outraged.
Outraged at what the tax man told me.
That unless I was signed to a traditional publisher and had received a healthy advance I could not claim for any expenses connected with my writing that are higher than my earnings from writing.
That in fact UNTIL I was signed to a traditional publisher and had received said substantial advance my writing was to be considered a hobby.
That unless I was on to ’the next best thing’ and had proper, professional backing I was writing for my own pleasure and that of my few readers and friends only.
The tax man didn’t exactly say all that.
I’m just carrying on the trail of thought.

This of course means, that unless an activity makes good money we are just dabbling at it. We are not serious. We are just pursuing a hobby. It can’t be considered work, because it’s not making (enough) money (yet).

What about the 20.000 or so hours spent practising your cumbersome instrument BEFORE you’re good enough to get a job? Just a hobby?
And the 50.000+ hours spent practising and rehearsing since you started playing, the 1000+ hours you spend as an orchestra rehearsing and performing every year?
The countless drafts of your latest novel?
All those canvasses you destroyed because your work just wasn’t good enough yet to put out there?
Exactly how many scores did Beethoven tear up before he was satisfied with his work?
Was composing just a ’hobby’ for Ludwig until he suddenly got noticed?
Or worse, for us, after all this time, is our music-making, our creative process, just a job?
‘Isn’t it so nice to make your hobby your job? What’s your day job? You get PAID for playing in an orchestra??’ Yes, these really are frequent questions we are being asked as professional musicians.

At which point do you decide a hobby becomes a job?
What drives you forward? Surely it’s not the money. Millions of impoverished musicians, actors and authors vouch for it.
What is it then? 0.001% chance of illustrious fame? What makes you decide? Do you yourself decide at all?
When your creativity becomes a vocation the decision seems to have been made for you elsewhere. You’ve just got to do this. You are not complete without it. And however much you struggle with the notes, or financially, or mentally and, as a bass player, physically, you do have the urgent drive to carry on.

Because what you do does something else, somewhere.
So it’s just a hobby after all then. You’d be doing it anyway. It doesn’t really matter if you get paid nix or next to nix, you’d still turn up because you love it so much, wouldn’t you. Why?
Because what you do needs to be done and said. It needs to be out there.
And because much more relevant than your own pleasure (and pain) is the experience you bring to your audience. You’re not doing it to be famous.
You are an entertainer, a maker of dreams.
You owe it to your audience.
You owe it to yourself and to your dedication.
And most of all you owe it to your talent which has been given to you by a ‘force’ bigger than yourself.

Yes, it’s down to masses of practise, nerves and failures.
To the will to get up, go and do it again, even better than before.
And to education.
And to good teachers.
And to insistent parents.
But don’t forget, it’s YOU who has done the hard work.
YOU had to be willing, disciplined and in control.
Don’t be modest, you did it all.
You are the creator.
You have achieved stuff.
Whether the world knows about it or not (yet).
Whether you are a world class international classical soloist or the archetypal impoverished (and unpublished) author.
You’ve done the practise and honed your skill.
You have written that yet to be published blockbuster that your friends adore.
You didn’t just try. Because trying is never good enough. Trying is never 100%. Trying always reserves a tiny slot for failure. A get-out-clause.
You just went and did it. Properly. You most probably still do it, every day. Despite your Self. And you occasionally rack your brains and struggle with overwhelm and self-doubt.
Heck, you probably struggle frequently.
I do.
Every day.

So I won’t claim editor’s expenses this year. After all, my PROPER job of operating the double bass for a living (never ’just’ a hobby) will now pay for a new hobby, writing, and for my writer’s expenses, I am lucky that way.
Many are not, their creativity quashed by student loan and instrument debt repayments. Many ’creatives’ do jobs that have nothing to do with their hobby-job-vocation, exclusively in order to pay the bills; their vocation as an artist/creative/actor/musician eventually zapped dead by fatigue, self-doubt and, let’s face it, lack of opportunity for doing it, their hobby-job-vocation.

So what’s there to do? In a country where the creative arts are so much part of the makeup and identity of society (yet so little importance is placed on them by the wallets of those in power) it’s a shame that the drive to get most art out there is placed squarely on the shoulders of enthusiasts; people who consider it their duty and that work their backsides off to get concerts, plays, exhibitions, book clubs, youth orchestras, choirs and so on off the ground, often without adequate pay or funding – and call this their job. And yes, I do include artistic managements, who do sterling work to keep art and music alive against the tide of ever decreasing artistic funding, at a fraction of the pay that executives of ’money-making’ organisations enjoy.

And so the enthusiasts continue to jump in with both feet and stick at it. Because that’s the only way to keep our artistic heritage alive, apparently, these days. And we as professional, tax-paying artists must continue to deliver to the highest standard possible, using our own quality control system, installed during 50k+ hours of ’doing it properly’.
And you never know, we might be dabbling with ’the next best thing’; we just won’t know until we’ve done it.

And I will put my writing expenses back into the drawer for another tax year.

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