First a definition or two! A web dictionary says that amateur is “A person who engages in an art, science, study, or athletic activity as a pastime rather than as a profession”. This is a good start! A second definition nails down the rest of the picture: “One lacking the skill of a professional, as in an art”. Hmmm... so the two things that separate the amateurs from the pros are (1) making a living and (2) having a complete skill set. Where does this leave the amateur? While the professionals hold the high ground in purpose and skills, there are areas that amateurs shine. I'm going to cover these, and at the same time, share some personal experiences.
A little known fact... today I am am a “professional” tarot reader. I could do it for a living if I REALLY wanted to, and I've got a complete skill set in the divination technique. This comes from doing it off and on for almost twenty years. That is now. Back in 1994 I was rank beginner, and I shined. My first teacher was a wonderful lady named Peggy. She was excited to teach me because I brought two things to the table, and these two things are aspects that only amateurs truly have. The first was a passion to learn new things. The second was that I came in with fresh eyes. Peggy walked me through the cards and asked me what I saw in each card. She wanted to know what my first impressions were. I did not have preconceived impressions of the cards. I did not know the textbook meanings. I still remember Peggy's giddiness as I took my beginning steps.
My story illustrates the dichotomies between amateur and professional. These are Passion vs. Skill and Freshness vs. Convention. Amateurs typically have more than their share of passion. They aren't doing art for the money. A passion for the creative effort is the alternative driver. Additionally, the amateur can go to really interesting places because they are not tied to convention, habit, or a customer's wishes. In a nutshell, amateurs are not “on the job, and their output is motivated by a desire to create while they learn.
I have another example picked straight from today's news. Fashion trendspotting is the activity of identifying “hot” fashion trends. A trendspotter finds the next big thing and then communicates the trend to the professional designers. The neat twist is that the targets of trendspotters are not fashion professionals. Trendspotters are instead looking for the passionate or original fashion amateurs. Why? It has been recognized that the professional fashion designer is a victim of their own success. They are a slave to habit or convention. The amateur has no habits and cares little for convention. The trendspotter is looking for the funky fresh amateur.
Does this mean that the professional is a helpless victim of their own success? The good news is that everyone was an amateur at one time. Nobody was born a professional. The creativity and passion lay somewhere underneath the professional vernier. Moreover, everyone is a perpetual amateur if there is a desire to learn and grow in their craft. A return to the beginner roots is necessary for advancement of art. The fashion trendspotter is a witness to this. Professional derision of amateurs comes at a price too high to pay if art is more than just a job that you're good at. Returning to amateur roots spawns creativity and freedom, and I believe that amateurs should relish these as they strive to join their professional brethren.