Dilettante? Amateur? OK By Me

I feel a bit guilty — now that we are getting new prompts in the Daily Prompt and I’m not writing them, well, I am, but not much and/or well. I’ve been feeling the press of life, I guess (and a migraine).

I’ve been thinking a lot about “being” an artist as opposed to just making art or painting. This summer I’ve been in a show and dealt with the co-op and the upshot was that I didn’t like it much. I was excited about it all at the beginning, but no longer. I’m looking forward to a couple of shows I could be hanging my work in, organizations I could belong to (or remain a member of) and, as they say, I’m just not “feeling it.” A friend of mine — well a couple of friends — are professional artists and they spend all their time painting. They are pressured to produce and they produce. I like their work, but I also see that they paint one painting over and over again.

I can’t see how it would be otherwise.

Then I thought of Leonardo.

The guy was not exactly prolific and he had a hard time finishing things. He didn’t win competitions for work and, it seems to me, that he painted but doesn’t seem to self-identified as a painter.

That would be the end of the comparison between me and Leonardo except I have been in Milan.

When you paint and show your work to others you come up against comments like, “You need to learn to use color,” and that from a person who chose to paint in bold bands of pastels and tints and lay contrasting colors side-by-side.

Often it means, “You need to learn to paint the way I want to paint.”


He actually wrote a little treatise on the words “amateur” and “dilettante.” I wish I could find it. Somewhere during his Italian journey, he decided that — as far as visual art was concerned — he was a dilettante. One who delights.

I don’t know what paintings or drawings he did after his return to Italy; I suspect none, or nothing more than sketches for stage sets and costumes, but I really do not know.

But I have also realized that, as a painter, I don’t want to be a business woman or a career artist. I don’t know if I have the talent or skill, but I know that I don’t have the interest in making what has so far in my life been a joy into work.

12 thoughts on “Dilettante? Amateur? OK By Me

  1. Just paint, Martha, and enjoy the process. I gave up worrying about the rest of it. It takes all the juice out of creation. Unless you really need the money to pay for art materials, run your own world the way you want to. If you want to sell, set up your own open studio next summer and price it low enough so it will sell. Sometimes we need to be told this. Next time you’ll be telling it to me. Ha.

    • That’s funny — I was thinking of setting up my own studio at some point. Godnose there are enough vacant storefronts in this town and it would be a place to work away from home. Even a trailer would be cool for that! I’ve learned that I don’t like being around other “artists.” In conversations with a friend yesterday we agreed that she’s a nurse and I’m a teacher and it hit me that when I was 24 I made EXACTLY that choice. I taught a guy to read, it made me blissfully, joyfully happy and that was it. I like your idea of running my own world the way I want to. 🙂

      • Why do we all keep having to give each other permission to do this? Perhaps not permission, but a reminder. It wasn’t too long ago that I needed to be told this same thing. Do what you want to. That is what retirement is about. We retire our obligations . Our only obligation is to investigate what we really want. That can be a hard thing to do at times. I’ll come see your studio the next time I’m in Colorado!

      • I think in my case it’s not so much permission as it is a discovery. I thought I always wanted to be an artist but now I know I am an artist and I’m going to set my terms for my own self and my work. You’re right that our only obligation is to investigate what we really want. Well, right now my studio is an 8 x 8 room shared with a stationary bike but I’d love a visit!

  2. This sounds like discussions I have heard of job vs career. Career sounds so demanding and serious and…..grown up. I can’t work like that. With a job, I can still work but I have fun. That’s the way I look at it and it works for me. When the fun stops and it becomes work…I’m outta here. Joy is so hard to find, Martha. Glad that trumps work for you.

  3. I admire you for having ventured in and giving it a fair shot, Martha. It probably could have been a good experience with a different group of people. I know painters have a reputation for being kind of solitary, but at one time around here there was a weekly open drop-in studio at the art supply store where painters with different styles and skill levels painted together. It was really a good experience, made moreso because there were older people who were more experienced and generous with their support and feedback. It really was a fun time with a beginning (setting up), middle (mostly silence as people were absorbed in their work), and ending when people would wander around and admire each other’s progress (seems it’s not unusual at all for people to wish for each others’ styles and abilities). Sometimes people brought cheese and wine or something to share to eat that they’d cooked. It was a good way to feel connected with others who shared that interest – just to know there were others out there doing it helped. And the focus wasn’t on anything but painting, which probably eliminated some negative potential.

    • That sounds wonderful. There was a similar thing in Denver years ago, not as cool, but still great — a model in a small theater $5 to draw for three hours, all kinds of people working together. It was wonderful. Maybe I’ll find that at some point after all (the door is open).

      • Here’s a funny (and true) story. I was taking a life drawing class in college and the teacher was having a difficult time getting models (nude). He finally found a great one, but one of the classmembers (who himself was an extroardinarily gifted photographer) ran into the model on campus one day and said to her “Oh Hi, Melinda. I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on”. We were once again without a model.

  4. Everything seems to have its rules set in concrete. Yet who made these rules and why can they never be relaxed or changed? The Impressionists and Post Impressionists were derided for their daubs, the Fauves were called wild animals because they did their own thing. Maybe for art, music, literature to progress, move on like technology, we need to let go some of these rules and do what we feel is right, not what others have decreed.

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