Amateur: On Personal Creativity

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Yet, with grandiosity held in check, technical limitations acknowledged, and a commitment to the hard work of the creative process, the amateur shares with the professional the goal of producing work that elicits a vibrant connection between artist and audience. When amateur creation works – whether it’s a musical performance, a film or play, a dance recital, an art or photography exhibit, a poetry reading, a book chapter, a well-crafted blog – the quality of the work has the potential to more than justify the attention it receives. The creative artists, whether amateur or professional, reach beyond themselves to touch another person’s experience. Bridging the gap between the creative impulse and its communication is what all artists, whether talented amateurs or consummate professionals, strive to achieve.

At its best, amateur work conveys an intimacy that is more difficult to achieve at the professional level. The artist’s struggle to create often reveals the process of learning that is cloaked in professional work. The amateur’s efforts are more overtly works-in-progress — the climber groping for one more finger hold higher up the cliff, slipping sometimes, holding on, grasping the safety rope for dear life. Rather than impressing an audience with virtuosity, the amateur invites the audience to share in the experience of learning to create. The richness, immediacy, and accessibility of this experience, the communication between artist and audience may be mutually exciting and enlightening. When this happens, it becomes irrelevant whether the work is amateur or professional. What matters is the shared emotional reality, the shared experience. There’s even the potential to feel part of the infinitely broader creative community, to feel membership in groups ranging from those of one’s closest compatriots, to amateur and professional artists who work in similar media or, at its ultimate extreme, to the community of humanity struggling to bring forth new dimensions of creativity.

A dedicated amateur is a person whose creative juices are so stirred by what the masters of an artistic endeavor are able to communicate to want to go beyond passive enjoyment to more active participation. This evokes the original meaning of amateur: a lover of an art form. Not a professional manqué, but person whose love for an art form impels active engagement. This intense affection for an art form, this excitement, this desire to embrace it fully and vibrantly, drives amateurs to enrich their relationship to art by observing intensely and by trying to create with their own hands, to engage with the art form in way that allows experiencing both the frustrations and exhilarations of the creative process. This commitment to the art stimulates a vivid awareness, a deeper appreciation, and a richer connection to the creative spirit that unites all artists and artisans.

Many psychologists (Erich Fromm, Erik Erikson, Rollo May, and Carl Jung come immediately to mind), see being creative as a fundamental human need. Even Freud’s vision of human nature can be seen in this light: the struggle between drives toward life and creation, on the one hand; and death and destruction, on the other. These authors understand a basic dichotomy in human life: Are we on this earth to create or to stagnate, fester, and destroy? Since we all face this crisis, this ultimate test, how can we reserve creativity only to those who achieve the pinnacle of success as our culture defines it? Creativity isn’t about genius or fame but about the human need to create something more out of something less, to transform reality, to touch each other emotionally, to enliven, to challenge our perceptions. Creativity is about communication that is not possible by conventional means alone, communication in which both artist and audience reach beyond themselves, for something deeper, higher, more meaningful, more fulfilling, more real.


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Essays on creativity, community, social change, and the search for meaning