Joy of Amateurism


Dear Artist,

If you feel yourself at times an amateur — do not despair. Some of the great amateurs are the ones who show the way. Think of Cezanne fidgeting with more than fifty views of Mt. St Victoire — never quite able to find the form of that difficult and amorphous mountain. Think of his migration to his bathers period at the end of his life-those crude, thick-legged and faceless hermaphrodites. From a hundred years perspective they tell us that he too attempted to make great and classical art. Like all of us he was limited in his capabilities, frustrated by his inadequacy. But his bathers showed the way for cubism, for Picasso with Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and the many faceted and fractured since. Cezanne says to the future of art, “Try what you wish — it’s okay.”

John Singer Sargent and Norman Rockwell are, by contrast, professionals. I mention them because we are now seeing a reassessment of the work of these two who scorned modernism in their own day and have been traditionally and generally scorned by the modern establishment. Both of these painters brought intelligence, high levels of concentration and a hard-won craft to their easels. These days there is a new awakening in the world of art–we have the marvelous and pervasive idea that all is fair and all is art. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be amateur. It’s okay to be conservative. It’s even okay to be professional. The sectarian violence of a few years ago seems to have settled down. Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan in New York warmly tells us that all is well in all schools.


“Sugaring Off” 1943
by Grandma Moses

Robert Henri, author of The Art Spirit, said, “Every professional was once an amateur.” In the great diversity of art, I’m trying to make a case that it’s okay for some of us to stay that way.

Best regards,


PS: “A primitive artist is an amateur whose work sells.”
“If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.” (both Grandma Moses, 1947)



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