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This month's topic: Amateurism


This article shares its title with that of the book on which I’m working. In fact, this article isthe book. The rest will be digressions.

The article also brings to a close our collaboration with Cesare Pietroiusti, Melina Berkenwald, Glòria Guso, Gemma Gallardo and Pablo España, who in this series of essays describe the angst of the community of artists chasing a carrot they don’t know where to find or perhaps don’t know whether it actually exists.

In this essay I suggest that art should be conceived as an amateur activity, for several reasons I shall expose, from more to less controversial.

  1. Being professional isn’t synonymous with receiving professional fees, nor is being amateur synonymous with waiving fees.

Sectoral claims, traditionally concerned with solving the issue of how artists make a living, have created inconsistent demands and produced exiguous results. In a temporal sense, the first of these is the demand for a system to teach students how to consume art, i.e., to generate an audience. Of course, supporting the idea that artistic training is needed to increase the number of people interested in contemplating art is tantamount to considering that the subject of physical education should serve the purpose of generating subscribers to a soccer pay-TV streaming service. It also means exploiting the object rather than the artist’s activity as the basis of the business model.

  1. The subject is the artist and the artwork is the object.

First we should cease to identify the artist as a professional. A profession necessarily requires technical preparation and somehow binds its practitioners together. Amateurism, on the other hand, is ultra-inclusive and makes no value judgement about the preparation needed to become an artist or about artistic results in order to establish appropriateness. In any case, amateurism encourages the notion of the idiosyncratic artist who maintains his singularity and, by extension, his condition as a subject.

Thanks perhaps to the contentment involved in assigning the responsibility of giving the art object content, the artist allows and often actually encourages a dissolving of authorship that necessarily ends up attributing qualities that belonged to the subject to the artwork. As a result, the art product has effectively become a product as subject, leading to peculiar forms of exploitation that impose the implementation of a non-normalised market — a market whose rules having nothing in common with the rules governing other production or trading environments, tax rates, administrative funding or intellectual property rights.

  1. The work of art in the public domain.

There is a tradition of thimblerigging according to which the artist’s irrepressible productive drive and insatiable craving for attention are understood as weaknesses that will eventually be considered, by the art system, as suitable conditions for favouring the exhibition format and, consequently, investing in presentation and display systems. Having accepted that the monetisation of artistic activity is only possible through the exploitation – either the sale or transfer – of artworks, the artistic community considers such investments as sectoral achievements when, in point of fact, it is the strategy used by the art system to distinguish its products and transform them into goods susceptible of being introduced in a speculative market. Let’s radicalise the idea of public presentation. Let’s imagine an artistic production not subject to the conditions established by the law of intellectual property. Everything copyable and modifiable. Everything public domain.

(Highlighted image: copied from a drawing by Christoph Niemann)

This month's topic

Antonio Ortega is an artist and professor. On one occasion he was asked how it was that he liked to write and yet he did not like to read, to which he replied that for the same reason he liked to talk rather than to listen. Perhaps that is the reason why, whenever possible, he derives his artistic practice into lecture format.

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"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)