Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Critical Mass Part IV

Introduction to Part IV

Hello again! This is Critical Mass, an appeal for the initiation of NonPro space in our showing system. In Part I, we looked at the factors that created the problem in the first place. In Part II, we learned how targeted manipulations work against the NonPro. In Part III, we went further to examine those systemic biases that also compromise the NonPro concept. In this Part IV then, we’re going to explore what a NonPro is and isn’t. This clarity helps us to see the issues with greater precision and that let’s us formulate better targeted strategies. Indeed, we’ll finally get to defining NonPro!


It’s understandable how NonPro was so impossible to launch if we look back at how previous interpretations tried to frame it. At the time, formality was a pretty big deal, largely in part because NAMHSA had just formed and people were all puffed up on rules, regulations, and structure. We prided ourselves that we were finally taking ourselves seriously and so that Sam The Eagle attitude swept onto everything else. It was also because that latent fear had already taken root, however, and so perhaps it was thought the only way to sell NonPro was through a net of governance. Predictably though, this very same net helped to kill the concept simply because it was too cumbersome.

But the real culprit was how to define a NonPro. For example, it seemed that too many wanted to “imprint” and “pigeon hole” it, or fell into that “purity syndrome” and “creative hierarchy” trap (discussed in Part III). Or people were panicked over getting a perfect definition that filtered out any possibility of deceiving the system no matter how impractical or convoluted. Or the definitions always seemed to insinuate that NonPro was the B-team, constantly being based on quality and totally missing the point. In the end, people just couldn’t agree and shrugged, letting it all drop with a thud. And so the concept died, crushed under its own weight.

But if we’re going to get anywhere with this again, we need a new vision that incorporates two critical concepts. First, there’s no perfect definition nor will there ever be. Just like with AO definitions, there will always be people who don’t quite fit. But we can still design something that catches most folks and be practical. Once we get the concept underway then, we can always tweak as we go, even on a per case basis. We don’t have to carve things into stone. In many ways actually, it’s better to start loose and tighten later. Second, we need a more accurate idea of what a NonPro actually is because clearly there was confusion in the past. And it really shouldn’t be that difficult because if other competitive activities can make distinctions so can we. Indeed, we cannot make the distinction needlessly complicated! It’s better to keep it on the loose side to scoop up more potentials.

So to lay the groundwork for a better understanding, let’s first look at the nature of a Pro for a baseline. A Pro is someone who makes models for a living—they do this 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Their resources—time, money, travel, focus—are devoted to making more and better models as well as to their business operations such as sales, promotion, and arts or business education. So while art may be their passion, it’s also their job and they treat it as one. For example, they’ve formulated sales policies and FAQs, and they often have fancy newsletters to keep collectors up to date on developments and sales. They have bookkeeping to keep track of business expenses, often have separate personal and business accounts, they pay their bills with the money they earn, they pay taxes on their earnings, have a tax or corporate number as a sole proprietorship or LLC, get a 1099 from Paypal on their earnings, have a business license, and even paid assistants. People pay money to buy their work or services though commissions, cart systems, payment plans, subscription clubs, or any number of financed options. Pros enter into business contracts and can do work for manufacturing companies or catalogues. More still, many Pros don’t show their own work since they don’t want to compete against their collectors. In short, this isn’t a hobby to them—it’s a profession. It’s what they do in order to make a living and how they make a living facilitates what they do. Being so, their focus is inordinately intense—absolutely fixated on creating the very best work they can crank out partly because it’s in their nature but also because their living depends on it. Indeed, they’ll sacrifice other aspects of their life to get the job done. One could say there’s a level fo obsessive compulsion here, which this art form does tend to attract though here we find it in the extreme. Put another way, these guys play Wimbledon. They’re the certified pastry chefs.

Now let’s look at a NonPro in comparison. A NonPro is pretty much the opposite of a Pro. They don’t create models for money, but mostly for the sheer joy of it, the personal satisfaction. They often have 9 to 5 jobs, are full time students, or are parents and so their time is a very limited resource. As such, they can only work on their art in short intervals sporadically over the week rather than the utterly focused, round-the-clock ability of a Pro. Their budgets are typically limited, too, which is partly the reason why they create their own models in the first place. Now they may sell or trade a few models here and there, but that’s to make room on their limited shelf space plus the sales tend to fund more model supplies or show fees. In other words, the money tends to go back into their hobby involvement not into paying business or living expenses. Really, sales are incidental rather than premeditated. Being so, they don’t have the sales situations Pros do or licenses, tax or corporate numbers, policies, contract work, taxation, bookkeeping, assistants, quarterly tax forms, 1099s, or other professional accouterments. What they do is a true hobby, a casual pastime done for fun, relaxation and enjoyment, not because they have to in order to make a living. And they like it that way—they have no desire to do this as anything more than that. The desire for the extreme intensity of the Pro just isn’t there either partly because that’s just their nature and partly because that’s not their motivation in the first place. And while some may be more competitive and intense than their peers, that’s to be expected in such a diverse group. Overall then, these guys just want to play tennis. They just want to bake cookies.

So with a lock on a comparison between them, let’s look at what NonPro isn’t about because once we do, NonPro will make a lot more sense. So…
  • NonPro isn’t the B-team. They’re absolutely not the realm of second-rate work. Instead, the only difference between a Pro and NonPro are their different realities, affecting everything from time usage to resource allocation. So quality cannot be used as a defining criterion.
  • NonPro isn’t a nursery for new artists. They aren’t a glorified novices. That’s the realm of the Novice or Youth divisions (which should be instituted as well, but that’s another discussion). Granted, developing new skills plays a part in NonPro—but it does in Pro, too. And it may provide a safer zone for doing so, but that’s incidental. NonPro isn’t about targeting a developmental stage—it is developed. So a boom in the arts with NonPro is more a byproduct of the new space just like how resin boomed with its new space.
  • NonPros don’t have significant regional differences. Their core similarities remain consistent. And even if regional quirks did occur, they can be addressed with workarounds.
  • NonPro isn’t about age. That’s the domain of the Youth division. Instead, someone can remain in NonPro as long as they meet the criteria, just like a real AO, which can mean lifetime eligibility.
  • NonPro isn’t about ribbon greed but about creating an equitable playing field for its very different reality.
  • NonPros aren’t a minority. Instead, their numbers are potentially huge. Just look at the bulk of participants in NaMoPaiMo this year.
  • NonPro aren’t failed, second-rate showers who aren’t serious about showing. NonPros take their creativity very seriously, it’s very important to them. We all participate in model horse showing for our own reasons. There’s no such thing as a “real shower.” 
  • NonPro doesn’t deserve to be sidelined. Collecting may be important, but the real engine behind our social and economic systems is showing. We have to recognize that whatever is showable is what gets validated and prospers. Want to make your new doodad popular? Sponsor classes for it. Overnight others will start making doodads, too. So when we say NonPros should be happy creating their models on the sidelines what we’re really telling them is that they should be happy being marginalized and invisible. Yet their interests, arts, and motivations are no less deserving and their challenges and triumphs are no less fascinating. They’re artists, too! And they’re our fellows, colleagues, and friends.
  • NonPro won’t be best served by a graduation clause. In the beginning, it was thought that forcing people to graduate from NonPro was the way to go for fairness. Some people gave a time limit, or an age limit, and still some based it on the number of championships won, even the number of judges they won under, or other permutations of a disqualification clause. But this confuses NonPro with Novice or Youth. NonPro is neither. It’s the equivalent of AO in the real horse world meaning that as long as someone meets the criteria they can stay a NonPro no matter how good they get or how old they are. In fact, enforcing a graduation clause sends the wrong message by telling people that NonPro is about quality since someone “too good” has to be jettisoned. No wonder there was so much confusion—people had NonPro mixed up with Novice and Youth!
  • NonPros are not about the money. The whole paid thing was a big hang-up in the past. People just got ruffled at the thought of NonPros selling some work—but why? So what? It just funded their involvement. No big whoop. They didn’t make a living from it. And really, there’s nothing wrong with some wiggle room here because we're really targeting motivations, not incidentals. Indeed, when sales mostly fund their NonPro participation that's a very different scenario from a Pro. And—hey—everyone has limited shelf space. What are they supposed to do? Throw them out? Give them away? So a NonPro selling a couple of pieces a year to make room for more just isn’t a big deal. But if NonPros want to institute a yearly cap, maybe of two to three, so be it. That’s not necessarily a bad idea. But there’s no need to get worked up over this—the looser and easier we keep things, the better it’ll be for everyone in the long run.
  • NonPro doesn’t need a Big Brother bureaucracy. In the beginning, it was thought a policing agency or governing body was necessary to ensure kosher involvement. A certification program was brandied about, even with fees and affidavits. Some believed there needed to be a master list of eligible NonPros and some entity to maintain that database perhaps with showholders keeping track of all this. But after all was said and done, the result was really imposing. So it’s probably better that NonPro is served by fluidity, informality, and honor system self-policing just like we do elsewhere. And with a clear, easy definition of NonPro—which we’ll get to in a moment—everyone can be on the same page. Indeed, this community is small and insular, and people are vigilant, and the fact is most people are honorable. Plus, the resources just don’t exist for a bureaucracy so to demand one is to essentially kill the concept outright—which some expressly use for this purpose. It’s probably not a good idea to require fees or certification either as it’s an unnecessary burden for little gain. And if some issue came up, we can leave the decision to the showholder on a per case basis. Or maybe the NonPros can elect an impromptu representative at any given show to make a decision. Who knows. Let NonPros decide. But there’s no need to get fired up here because—yes—there will be bumpy parts as we get things ironed out. That’s inevitable. But it doesn’t invalidate the concept or discredit the effort. Be patient, forgiving, and kind, and trust that things will smooth out as we all get the hang of it just like all the other things we’ve initiated. Above all, we cannot let a few bad apples kill the entire idea and ruin it for everyone—we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater again. This insistence on inherent dishonesty conveniently stops the concept from even starting. So let’s not pander to our fear in knee-jerk reactions. We can deal with situations as they happen on a per case basis and learn from them. We got this.
  • NonPro won’t drain resources from other divisions, a fear mongering tactic. With planning it can co-exist just fine. And the fact is we can support more interests. There is room. Indeed, maybe all a show needs are some NonPro classes here and there which can increase or even become whole divisions later if warranted. Remember how modest the resin classes were when they first started and how quickly they grew? And when NonPros pay for they entry, they’re paying for their classes, right? And there’s no real worry here—there will always be an active, competitive Open division with plenty of room for those interests.
  • NonPro won’t diminish the value of a ribbon earned in other divisions or classes. A model winning a ribbon in the Arabian class doesn’t affect the value of a model winning its ribbon in the Sporthorse class, right? The value of a ribbon doesn’t transfer, does it? It applies only to that specific situation, yes? Well, the same applies between NonPro and Pro. The idea that NonPros will deceitfully play their ribbons off as Pro wins is just fearful thinking. Most people are honest and upstanding, and will be proud of their NonPro win. Being so, they’ll be on the lookout for anyone who tries to bend reality, too. Just because they have less intensity doesn’t mean they have less ethics.
Clearly, there’s been a lot of misconceptions about NonPro. People basically confuse it with Novice or Youth, or get way too hung up on regulation. But once we ratchet down the intensity—ironically—we come to a more workable solution. And that’s okay. We don’t need to be draconian or fretful over this. The truth is NonPro will become self-regulatory and even the rare party-pooper will be ferreted out in short order. The tremendous positive benefits of NonPro are well worth any “risk.” Honestly, if we got hung up on every possible cheating scenario someone could pull, we’d have no shows at all, would we? So if we’re willing to tolerate some risk with our shows, we can tolerate it with NonPro. Otherwise we’re just being arbitrary, aren’t we?

So how do we define a NonPro? Happily, it’s not that onerous if we flip things around. The thing is a NonPro is a lot of things, many of which are situationally variable, and each is a unique constellation of them. And who can make practical sense of all that? So the real breakthrough occurred when someone—Lesli Kathman, to be specific—thought to define NonPro by what they weren’t. In other words, rather than focus on what makes someone eligible instead focus on what makes them ineligible. Truly, that criteria is much more straightforward and consistent. In fact, this approach is so simplified that literally anyone can figure it out quickly and easily. 

So what would make someone ineligible for NonPro? Easy—an artist is disqualified from NonPro if they’ve engaged in clearly professional activities like:
  1. Sculpting, or designing patterns or colorways for mass production (any manufacturer, any medium).
  2. Sculpting a limited edition release (resin or ceramic).
  3. Working as a guest artist or consultant for a manufacturer (any medium).
Ta-da—that’s it! How easy is that? And "clearly professional activities” leaves it open to per case tweaking. Because remember, we can amend as we go and even make per case adjustments. There’s no need to freak out or in-fight over this. Indeed, this criteria does a good job of siphoning Pros right out of the beaker leaving NonPros in a nutrient-rich solution. If a NonPro engages in any one of those criteria then, they’re automatically bumped into Pro. And because they’ve already engaged in one of those criteria, they can’t downgrade because what’s done is done, right? We can’t undo a resin edition or a Breyer colorway. That’s the beauty of this approach—it’s straightforward, easily applied, and adaptable. It basically takes care of itself. And whether we want to start qualification now or at some previous start date is something the NonPros can decide.

By the same token, too, this makes a Pro really obvious. In fact, we can even make a list of them with their criteria so clear and their numbers lower. Then showholders could use that list for kosher entry if they wish. But even so, with such easy criteria, people will be able to spot them in practice anyway. And once we all get the hang of this, it’ll largely take care of itself.

The Hose Down

So once someone is a NonPro, what could they expect? It would be great to really maximize their experience since they represent the majority of creatives—it’s just sheer numbers. So the happier this large segment of people, the more those NonPro benefits increase (which we’ll explore in Part V). So why not take this chance to crank up that dial? Then break the knob off!

Just as varied in scope as Pro, NonPros can create everything under the sun from repaints to customs to original sculptures. So when it comes to actual showing opportunities NonPro is about their input on the model. Understand this and it’s easier to see the sense of the potential NonPro perks. Don’t get in the way of their creativity—fuel it. Don’t stifle their opportunities—expand them. Don’t dictate how they can show—let them engage it on their own terms. So in that spirit, it would be great if NonPros could:
  • Paint or customize any OF and any artist resin they want (provided they honor reserved rights) and let them create their original sculptures. There should be no restrictions and all this can be separated in a classlist anyway. It’s their fun—let them have it.
  • Show their own models in NonPro and their Pro models in Pro at the same time.
  • Show their own models in Pro if they wish to dip their toes into that challenge periodically if they wish (and if the class schedule allows it). Why not? It happens in many real horse shows! And those worried about this—why? It’s happening right now. No big whoop. Isn’t Pro all about competition? And why worry about some sort of “unfair” imbalance of opportunity? After all these years of deprivation? And they do represent the majority of creatives so the more opportunities they have, the better all the benefits they generate and that’s good for all of us. And Pro showers have just as much opportunity to qualify and show in NonPro.
  • Expand into a full, standardized division over time, potentially on par with the Open division.
  • Have their own NonPro show circuit and perhaps even their own NonPro Nationals.
  • Have their own social settings like NonPro forums and social media outlets.
  • Get educational resources directed at their needs and interests.
Intravenous Infusion

There’s one critical thing we must understand when we institute NonPro: it needs time to develop. Probably a good three years. So if we just spontaneously offer NonPro, there’s probably going to be low attendance. Models take time to create and people need time to get used to an idea before they jump in. So we cannot allow these anemic numbers to dictate our dedication. We have to give it time to take off! So what may be a good tactic is to announce a NonPro opportunity two years in advance then use the interim to educate, advocate, and encourage. If we aren’t patient, persistent, supportive, and diligent, our negligence will kill it again and that would be an needless disaster for all of us.

In this sense, showholders could be the vanguard, the trailblazers who help carry the torch of change. But they need enthusiastic, committed, engaged support, a grassroots movement supporting their risk. They cannot meet with crickets! We’ll explore this further in Part V.

Conclusion to Part IV

NonPro isn't so improbable to implement or so impossible to define. Just looking at things from a slightly different perspective with an open mind is actually pretty easy. It also hints at the big numbers of potentials out there, doesn’t it? Think about how their ranks could pack shows and how that speaks to this venue’s sustainability. 

That being the case, in Part V then we’ll explore this cascade of positives NonPro could produce, and in ways that could change everything across the board for the better. Because we can do better than this. We’re so much better together than apart!

“Almost any event will put on a new face when received with cheerful acceptance.”

~Henry S. Haskins

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