I studied and trained, auditioned and auditioned, and performed and had some good audiences and great reviews in a few newspapers. I even got paid some of the time. But I never joined a union and I neither garnered a reputation nor maintained a consistent working career. At the age of 30, I had to literally look in the mirror and question myself. I began with all the good intentions of actor as artist, but I was no longer living as an artist. Was I really doing everything and anything to pursue my art? Was I living and breathing it, making the sacrifices it required or just floating through it a little more than fifty percent of the time, but never one hundred percent? Was I an actor or just playing actor?
Two years later, I finally answered those questions and walked away. It was a very difficult decision because my identity was so tightly wound around the persona "actor" that I didn't give myself much room to consider anything else. Though somehow I knew it was a false persona. I wandered through my day to day life not feeling completely satisfied with the shows I was doing. Whenever someone asked me what I did for a living, I cringed when I uttered the commonplace words of an L.A. actress, "I'm an actor and I wait tables, but I'm auditioning, I'm taking so-and-so's class, I've got this small part in such-and-such at blah, blah, blah."
It was a very difficult decision to walk away, especially since I had a tremendous amount of support from family and friends that all believed my talents, along with tenacity, would surely make me succeed. But that was the thing that I was lacking... tenacity, a persistent drive for the prize. I had talent and I studied my craft and I loved the art form, but did not have a love for the pursuit of it.
An artist, as defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a person who is skilled in a fine art, a skilled performer or one who professes and practices an imaginative art. On the other hand, a dilettante is an admirer or lover of the arts, a person having a superficial interest in an art, an amateur or a dabbler.
How does one tell the difference between the artist and the dilettante?
I tend to define the difference to be between a person who treats their art form as a full-time life pursuit (a professional) and a person who treats it more as a hobby that sits on the side of their life (an amateur).
So who are the professionals and who are the amateurs? For example if an actor is in one of the major unions such as SAG or Actor's Equity and works somewhat frequently in low level theatrical productions or small film or TV bits, but doesn't make a consistent living and never gets beyond a certain point, is he or she a real artist or a dabbler living a fool's dream? If an actor attends classes and auditions for years, but barely ever works, is he truly in a position to call himself an actor?
Of course financial success is not the only measure of success. Not all artists are successful and not all successful performers or creators are great artists, but can a person use the moniker "artist" if they aren't a professional or they are not creating or producing anything?
Maybe the word professional must be defined. Once again, my friend Merriam-Webster says a professional is someone participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs or a person having a particular profession as a permanent career.
This solidifies the definition that the professional is the artist and the amateur is the dilettante.
And according to the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006, professional "actors, producers, and directors held about 163,000 jobs, primarily in motion picture and video, performing arts, and broadcast industries. Because many others were between jobs, the total number of actors, producers, and directors available for work was higher." This statistic doesn't include visual artists, dancers, singers and musicians. This statistic doesn't include the thousands more (or maybe millions) who claim to be pursuing a particular art form, but do very little more than talk about it.
When you live in Los Angeles, as I do, it seems that every other person in this town is pursuing a career in the Arts. You may have heard the cliché that everybody in this town is an actor/screenwriter/director/singer/artist. But when you press most of them to define what they are doing to go after that career, the play acting begins. The amateur dreams of fame and fortune so clearly favored over real full-time hard work and diligence.
There will always be community theaters and talent shows and no-budget projects. The world is a diverse and multi-tiered playground that has room for creative outlets for everyone. And while everyone may have a need to express themselves in some creative way, not everyone can live with the lack of stability and uncertainty of work that comes with many artistic endeavors. Not everyone can bring their private thoughts and deepest emotions to the surface for all to bear witness. Not everyone can live it every single day of their lives.
So when friends ask me why I no longer act, the answer is quite simple. I am an artist. I cannot pursue acting half-assed or just for the weekend fun of it. It has to be all or nothing. So I am an artist who is a writer. I write most everyday. I get paid for the "not-so-great" work which allows me to work on the things I hope one day will be great and I love it. I still have a lot more to do in my journey as an artist, but I am an artist, I am not a dilettante. And I intend to keep it that way.