What is a Creative Professional?

What does the combination of the words “Creative Professional” mean to you? What is the synthesis of creativity and professional? First thought typically—a professional is someone who makes money from her work. So, the immediate question is . . . well, how much money? Am I a professional if I earn $5,000 for a literary novel? $100,000 for a best seller? Two copies of a printed poetry journal for a poem? Money is one of the bottom lines of value in our culture.

However, some writers who win National Book Awards, especially in poetry, never make much money at all from their work. They certainly don’t earn their living from it, but likely from adjunct teaching or speaking. Perhaps then there’s a link between being a creative professional and reputation/credibility?

Is, as my colleague Joni Sensel suggested, seriousness a more useful word? Emily Dickinson was certainly serious about the poems she threw in a drawer, but she certainly didn't earn money from them. Does professional imply seriousness about making your work? One of the original uses of the word professional was for religious people who “professed” their vows. (I don’t think they do that for money!) A professional religious person, then, is a nun or monk. Perhaps creative professional might turn more toward ideas of commitment, dedication, or even consecration? 

Ultimately, I think all creative professionals will benefit from thinking through their own definition of this. My bottom line for calling myself a creative professional is not money or reputation. You can be a “serious artist” without making a cent or having any reputation at all. Dedication and consecration are more operative words for me. But, ultimately being a creative professional means somehow sharing my art—whether a book, sculpture, or poem—with the world. 

Dia Calhoun