February 2, 2012

A certain spirit of amateurism


I've been thinking about the difference between an amateur and an professional. I know I prefer the amateur, that, at the very least, I prefer a certain spirit of amateurism. One very obvious difference concerns money. A professional does work for money. An amateur will keep doing what he or she loves whether or not there is money to do it or not. In our culture, if you are not independently wealthy, and you are doing something mainly because you want to, without giving too much thought to how you might profit from it, it is likely you will need to make money doing something else. Therefore, the amateur leads a kind of double life: one job for money, the other job for love.

Some artists are able to make enough money from their work to live but most are not. Therefore, every artist, if only when they are young and starting out, knows something about amateurism. However, this is almost like a dirty secret, since, as an artist, if you want to make money at it in the future, you must claim to be as professional as possible. Your aura of professionalism mingles with your aura of talent towards the goal of getting paid, whether it be through government funding or private sources. In reality, if necessary, you might be willing to keep making art for free, but if you put that in your grant proposal it will not be very successful. A professional is someone who claims to be good enough at what they do that they deserve to be paid for it.

The double life of the amateur - one part reserved for what they want to do, the other for what they can get paid for - can give a certain freedom to their creative output. In this sense Kafka was an amateur, to give just one example. But it can also generate bitterness. Why do the cynical professionals get all the attention when the work I make is so much more honest and genuine? To be amateur is a choice that very rarely feels like a true choice. Most often it feels like a lack of opportunity.

I am improvising here. These are realities as I experience them in my head. They may or may not be realities experienced by other people. But in much of the work that is most dear to me, there is a certain spirit of amateurism, of leaving the edges rough, of not wanting things to be too polished, of focusing on what is essential and letting the rest take care of itself. In a sense, this spirit of amateurism also leads to a double life. There is the part that is essential, the heart of the matter, the thing that drives you to keep making work even when the world says there's no point, and then there is the form, the technical aspects, the surface. For this amateur spirit I am dreaming of there is no question which side of the equation is most important. If what is essential is present, maybe the rest can gradually take care of itself.

Of course, putting things this way is a bit ridiculous: there is no meaning without form, no communication without clarity. But what I'm trying to say is that the amateur spirit desires to focus on what it finds most essential, whatever that may be. Often it is a question of intuition and instinct. When I am making, I know what I'm doing and don't know what I'm doing at the same time. I see myself on the side of 'not knowing', that's my team, but also fear this 'not knowing' is only a cover for knowing all too well. I've been doing this for a long time now. I'm full of tricks and the trick is most often on me. I know from experience that my most honest work is not necessarily my most popular. People often say it looks amateur. Yes, I want to explain, why can't you see that this is also beautiful. And then we are in a battle of values. I value that which is fragile and unsure, while perhaps they value something more strong, effective or powerful. In my way, I also want to be effective. (But, I suppose, only in my way.) I admire people who are stubborn. I also admire people who are open. How to be both at the exact same time?


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