You might say the same about architecture. Most of the professionals in that field build things like tract homes, strip malls, gas stations, office blocks, industrial parks, and the headquarters for the Los Angeles Unified School District, an edifice that my wife and I affectionately refer to as The Humidifier whenever we pass it in downtown L.A.
Of course, some professional architects do create works of art:
By Sxenko, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3171223
And architecture is a collaborative artform just as filmmaking is. Not every great architect is an ace at wielding a hammer and wiring a lightswitch and routing plumbing that doesn’t back up.
It occurs to me that even though I don’t consider myself a professional screenwriter as such (though, boy, wouldn’t it be great to make a good living at it?), I have in fact written a screenplay that got produced, and for which I was paid one whole fat dollar bill… so at some point in my “artistic” career (such as it is), I did in fact cross that particular Rubicon and became an actual Professional Screenwriter. (Note to self: get some business cards printed up!) But yeah… as Rubicon-crossings go, it was kinda like tripping over the rock on the right side and splashing my way over to the left.
(Yeah, that’s the actual Rubicon.)
I still think it’s a meaningless distinction. A screenplay is a medium, like a sonnet or an oil portrait or a bronze bust or a cathedral or a donut shop. You can write countless craptastic ones for money, or you can spend your whole life agonizing over perfecting one that’s destined to be seen by nobody at all. Great time-travel stories exist, and tired, mindless, derivative ones do too.
This isn’t mine (it was awarded to my wife’s grandfather), but it lives in my living room:
It was awarded to a guy who certainly wrote his share of cowboy flicks and gorilla pictures purely for the money. A couple years ago they made a movie about just how much crap and B-movie filler he had to write to keep his family fed while he was blacklisted.
He also won two of these statuettes while under that same blacklist. Did he think his job was a profession rather than a fine art? Sure. He wrote as well and as quickly as he could, but I don’t believe he ever deliberately wrote Oscar bait. He was tickled pink that he could get paid pretty well (pre-blacklist) for a talent that came as naturally as breathing to him.
I never knew him, so I can’t speak to whether he considered his work an artform, fine or otherwise.
But that scratched-up bowling trophy (and its somewhat better-looking sibling) attests to the fact that the Academy thought his work was pretty high art… even when he was considered too politically dangerous to be allowed to be paid for it.