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“I AM NOT AN ARTIST, I MAKE ART”: AMATEURISH ARTISTS IN ISRAEL AND THE SENSE OF CREATIVITY

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  • zefat academic college

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This study deals with self-taught visual artists who are considered “amateurish” by the establishment of the Memorial Center in Kiryat Tiv’on, Israel, where they have exhibit their artwork. We will try to figure out both the explicit and implicit characteristics of “amateurish” artists, and challenge the supposed linkage between amateurism and lack of creativity. The methodology applied combines a sociological point of view, drawing on in-depth interviews with the artists, along with a visual analysis of the artwork produced. The theory of “modest” artists, by Marie Buscatto, and the theory of serious leisure perspective by Robert A. Stebbins, will contribute supportive classifications and categories for the analysis. We claim that the artists of our study are located on an axis between “amateurish” and “professional” within a fluid area of “serious leisure”. They are regarded as “amateurish” due to their lack of academic background in the arts, their relatively old age, having encountered lack of official recognition, having come across various obstacles in displaying their art and having received low remunerations. Aside from their marginal position in the art field, we were able to detect a few characteristics that distinguish their artwork from that of “professionals”. Our findings prove them to constitute an in-between category of “modest” or “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists, which blurs the dichotomy between “amateurish” and “professional” artists imposed by the establishment. We found these “modest” artists’ experiences to be creative, as well as some of their artwork; nevertheless, this kind of creativity seems to be disregarded by the establishment which perceives creativity as innovation.
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“I AM NOT AN ARTIST, I MAKE ART”: AMATEURISH ARTISTS IN
ISRAEL AND THE SENSE OF CREATIVITY
Shahar MARNIN-DISTELFELD1*, Uri DORCHIN2
1Zefat Academic College, Department of Literature, Art and Music 11 Jerusalem str.,
Safed, Israel 13206611
2University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies,
10367 Bunche Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095
Received 8 April 2019; accepted 8 December 2019
Abstract. is study deals with self-taught visual artists who are considered “amateurish” by the
establishment of the Memorial Center in Kiryat Tiv’on, Israel, where they have exhibit their artwork.
We will try to gure out both the explicit and implicit characteristics of “amateurish” artists, and
challenge the supposed linkage between amateurism and lack of creativity. e methodology applied
combines a sociological point of view, drawing on in-depth interviews with the artists, along with
a visual analysis of the artwork produced. e theory of “modest” artists, by Marie Buscatto, and
the theory of serious leisure perspective by Robert A. Stebbins, will contribute supportive classica-
tions and categories for the analysis. We claim that the artists of our study are located on an axis
between “amateurish” and “professional” within a uid area of “serious leisure”. ey are regarded
as “amateurish” due to their lack of academic background in the arts, their relatively old age, having
encountered lack of ocial recognition, having come across various obstacles in displaying their
art and having received low remunerations. Aside from their marginal position in the art eld, we
were able to detect a few characteristics that distinguish their artwork from that of “professionals”.
Our ndings prove them to constitute an in-between category of “modest” or “serious-leisure-ama-
teurish” artists, which blurs the dichotomy between “amateurish” and “professional” artists imposed
by the establishment. We found these “modest” artists’ experiences to be creative, as well as some
of their artwork; nevertheless, this kind of creativity seems to be disregarded by the establishment
which perceives creativity as innovation.
Keywords: amateurish art, amateurish artist, art eld, creativity, professional artist, visual art,
serious leisure.
Introduction
is study deals with self-taught visual artists who are considered “amateurish” by the es-
tablishment of the Memorial Center (MC) in Kiryat Tiv’on, where they have exhibit their
artwork over the past eight years. A central interest of our study focuses on the denitions
of artists and the boundaries of the eld of visual art. As Howard S. Becker explains, this has
*Corresponding author. E-mail: smarnin@gmail.com
Creativity studies
ISSN 2345-0479 / eISSN 2345-0487
2020 Volume 13 Issue 1: 64–86
https://doi.org/10.3846/cs.2020.9907
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 65
been a crucial issue in Western culture since the Renaissance (1982, p. 15). We will try to
gure out both the explicit and implicit characteristics of “amateurish” artists, as well as nd-
ing out whether “amateurish” artists make “amateurish” art and whether these denitions are
related to the essence of creativity. e methodology applied by us combines a sociological
point of view, drawing on in-depth interviews with the artists, along with a visual analysis of
their artwork. e theory of “modest” artists, by Buscatto (2017), and the theory of serious
leisure perspective (SLP) by Stebbins (2015), will contribute supportive classications and
categories for the analysis. We would like to claim that the artists of our study are located on
the axis between “amateurish” and “professional” within a uid area of “serious leisure”. ey
are regarded as “amateurish” due to their lack of academic background in the arts, having
reached their artistic occupation late in their lives, having encountered lack of ocial recog-
nition, having come across various obstacles in displaying their art and having received low
remunerations as productive artists. Aside from their marginal position in the art eld, we
were able to detect a few characteristics that distinguish their artwork from that of “profes-
sionals” although we were able to trace other characteristics, denitely placing them close to
professionals. Our ndings prove them to constitute an in-between category of “modest” or
“serious-leisure-amateurish” artists, which blurs the dichotomy between “amateurish” and
“professional” artists imposed by the establishment.
e occurrence of “amateurish” art is noticeable in the visual arts everywhere in the coun-
try (and in other countries) with local, usually peripheral galleries exhibiting art in similar
conditions to those discussed in our article. Nevertheless, there have been no studies inves-
tigating this kind of artists, nor their art. is is the rst academic attempt to explore such a
subject matter in the Israeli art world. e only related subject studied recently was outsider
art in Israel, an exhibition followed by a catalog collecting dierent kinds of outsider artists
and their art (Direktor, 2013). While this endeavor contributed to the discourse probing the
boundaries of the artistic establishment, it did not deal profoundly with the phenomenon of
“amateurish” artists.
1. A theoretical framework
Our study embraces a sociological perspective perceiving the artwork not as a product of the
artist’s genius but rather as an outcome of a web of interactions, woven between various agents:
art dealers, curators, galleries, critics, research, rewards, etc. (Bourdieu, 2005, pp. 193–194;
Trajtenberg, 2002, p. 9; Becker, 1982, pp. 34–36). We accept Pierre Bourdieu’s perception of the
eld of art as preserving an essential capital, constituting its unique authority (2005, pp. 113–
114). Bourdieu claims that each eld has its own rules and regulations within which groups
of interests, individuals and institutions are constantly competing over a common object of
struggle. ose who rule over the eld possess the power to turn a specic object, in our case
an artwork, into a valuable one (Bourdieu, 2005, p. 184) and will also act suspiciously towards
new players in the eld who might jeopardize the status of their snug establishment.
e artists we examine are considered “unprofessional” or “amateurish” by the establish-
ment since they are missing three main characteristics of professionalism in regards to visual
arts: they lack an academic degree in the arts, they have not contributed signicantly to the
66 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
art world of Israel and they do not make a living out of their art. Moreover, professional gate-
keepers oen control artistic legitimacy, artistic taste and cultural trends, which eectively
draws the line between “professional” and “amateurish” domains (Deener, 2009, p. 171).
However, we feel uncomfortable to simply dene them as “amateurish” since they dedicate
most of their time to art, are committed to an everyday schedule centralized in artistic activi-
ties, are highly motivated to make art and to exhibit their art, perceive themselves as more
than amateurish and in fact, their artwork many times reaches the level of what is considered
good “or “professional” art. In his philosophical theory on aesthetics, Hans-Georg Gadamer
focuses on the essence of an artwork. He claims for the sovereignty of the image over its
creator, and the potential of an image to capture the observer as “good” art:
Artistic creating itself is not something that one does […] and the process of creating
will also not be the thing that is repeated again later in one’s experiencing of the work.
‘It comes forth’ and ‘it is something in the work’. But what came forth and how it
came forth cannot be said in words” (Gadamer, 2006, p. 75).
Gadamer’s theory is important to our study since we claim that oen “amateurish” artists
will be precluded from showing their artwork, even if it is “good” art. In this study we would
try to challenge the denition of “good” art by analyzing the art of the so-called “amateurish
artists, a concept hardly studied so far (Schor, 2001).
Our research study relies on two theoretical frameworks, challenging them while at the same
time posing a critical approach; the rst one is “modesty” taken from Buscatto, but only partially
(2017, p. 2). e artists we examine t her denition in their age (“getting old as an artist”), in
the objective diculties they are facing while looking for opportunities to exhibit their art, and
in the way they lack professional recognition. In contrast to Buscatto’s “modest” artists who en-
counter diculties in making a living out of art as the dominant element of their lives, the artists
we examine do not expect to make a living from their art. Moreover, they can usually aord
to spend money on the process of making art, while sometimes view it as an expensive hobby.
Buscatto’s “modest” artists imply a certain degree of professionalism that we embrace in
researching our “amateurish” artists through their experiences and through the analysis of
their artwork. Aside from the concept of “modesty”, we examine both the artists and the
phenomenon in focus through the SLP, already identied in the eld of sociology as a for-
mally grounded theory (Stebbins, 2015, p. xi). While this theory includes three sub-categories
(serious, casual and project-based leisure), we only refer to serious leisure as our framework
in this study. Stebbins denes serious leisure as
“the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer core activity, suciently
interesting and fullling in nature for the participant to nd a career there, acquiring
and expressing a combination of its special skills, knowledge and experience” (2015,
p. xx).
In our study, we detect the characteristics of our participants within the SLP, focusing
both on their perceptions and on our observations. ese amateurish artists, taken from the
SLP, will be termed by our study as both “modest” and “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists.
We ask whether there is a connection between our artists and the “romantic order” term,
suggested by Hans Abbing, to explain artists’ motivation to create art in spite of under-
compensated circumstances (2004, pp. 2–3). We pay attention to such principles as free
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 67
time and commitment (Stebbins, 2015, p. 2), motivation, fulllment and disappointment
(Stebbins, 2015, p. 13), personal/social rewarding (Stebbins, 2015, p. 14) and the professional-
amateur-public triangle which constructs the social meaning of serious leisure, again with
the replacement of “amateurish” with “serious-leisure-amateurish” (Stebbins, 2015, pp. 6–7).
Regarding the eld of art, which is public-centered, the professional-amateur-public model
seems to oer the most valid explanation for the related social structure. Our study will thus
use this model to examine both the lives and the art making of the participant artists.
We will try to draw a prole of what is considered “amateurish” art, based on the con-
ventions dictated by the establishment together with contemporary trends and tastes, within
the eld of art. e term “creativity” will also be addressed in analyzing the interviews with
the artists in order to gure out their perception of it. Creativity will be examined also while
looking at their artworks as it seems relevant to the discourse regarding the distinction be-
tween what is considered “amateurish” and “professional”. ree aspects of the art will be
explored: theme– the construction of an interesting idea or narrative; style– the creation of
a coherent formalistic manner; and technique– the quality of the use of materials or media.
e concept of creativity will be examined in relation to all three aspects.
We would like to point out that the denition of “outsider art” as made by “outsider
artists” which could seem appropriate for our study since it refers to self-taught artists, was
actually found unsatisfactory. Outsider art is dened as art that “[...] is produced by indi-
viduals who recoil from the notion of art being necessarily a publicly dened activity with
communally recognized standards” (Cardinal, 2009, p. 1459), and “ignores tradition and
academic criteria […] it diverges radically from our shared cultural expectations” (Cardinal,
2009, p. 1461). ese components do not coincide with our self-taught artists. As for the
theory of “institutional critique, exposing the extra-artistic power relations as generators of
processes and moves in the artistic world, we are well aware of its principles; nevertheless,
it has been ruled out as less suitable for discussing the questions raised in the current study.
Issues of selection of exhibiting artists, display decisions and determination of artistic taste
(Fraser, 2005) framing the theory of institutional critique are optional for a further research.
2. Creativity in regards to “amateurish” and “professional” art
If we were to point to a single idea associated mostly with the notion of art, one which dis-
tinguishes art from other human endeavors, creativity would be the one (Edmonds & Candy,
2002). Whether it derives from romantic ideals of spontaneous creation, liberated from insti-
tutional restrictions, or rooted in capitalist ideas of innovation and acceleration, artistic ex-
pression has always been perceived as based on creativity as its sole raison d’etre (Wilf, 2012).
Yet, as central as it may seem for artistic practice, as well as for the on-going discourse about
art, the appeal related to creativity stands in stark opposition to its sense of clarity. Indeed,
it is the ambiguity embedded in it that makes creativity such a useful and acceptable idea.
And since art is integrated into the social fabric of everyday life, the meanings of creativity
remain open for exible interpretation and dierential realizations. In short, whereas all
people may agree that creativity is in the heart of any artistic expression, the understanding
of what creativity is and how it may be performed is socially constructed (Becker, 1982).
68 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
e meaning of creativity, then, is necessarily relative. erefore, it is of little surprise
that people located in dierent positions within (or on the verge of) the cultural eld of arts,
feature dierent perceptions of that idea. But there is more to it than mere perceptions; on the
sociological aspect, we must also understand how dierent perspectives, carried throughout
the loose social networks that comprise the eld, are translated into contested approaches
that render practical implications. In that respect we may claim that amateurish artists and
professional ones hold dierent perceptions of creativity.
e rst step to dismantle the complexity of creativity is to dierentiate creativity from the
close-related notion of innovation (Edmonds & Candy, 2002). As we will show later in the ar-
ticle, these two close concepts which sometimes are referred to as synonymous, could misjudge
modest artists’ works as uncreative. In their groundbreaking critique, Max Horkheimer and
eodor W. Adorno (2002) famously pointed to the dierence between creativity and innova-
tion and claimed that the false association between them is a consequence of strategic decep-
tion. In the context of industrialization of culture, where entertainment cannibalizes legitimate
arts, innovation seems to appear as daring creativity although its socializing eect is in fact the
opposite, i.e. the normalization of conservatism. On the other hand, artists who work in a less
permissive environment, sometimes under restricting regimes and against rigorous inspection,
are pushed for higher levels of creativity in order to express themselves (Miłosz, 1953).
Critics of contemporary art, in Israel and beyond, have also mentioned this phenomenon.
Artist and art critic, Jossef Krispel, recently expressed his dissatisfaction with the biennale
contemporary artworks, “it seems that today artists investigate everything except creativity”
(2019). Along the same line, Israeli theoretician and curator Gideon Ofrat described contem-
porary Israeli art in terms of “minor art”. ese days, wrote Ofrat, a day tour through leading
art galleries in Tel Aviv, Israel, ceases to provide the observer with a thrilling experience it
once oered. Here too, sophisticated technologies and at times technical virtuosity come on
the expense of radical statements and creativity. “Young artists seek to dene themselves in
personal vulnerability developing a pale and vague artistic style […]” (Ofrat, 2010, p. 61).
On the other hand, modest artists oen reveal great passion for exploring dierent media,
techniques and materials. ey, who are free of the requirement to distinguish themselves
in the competitive eld, to gain prominent position in it, and to make a living out of it, can
become more creative within styles which are less innovative in nature. Moreover, beyond the
question of artistic quality, the very choice of non-professional artists to express themselves
by means of art can be seen as a creative disposition. Janice Radway (1984) famously analyzed
the consumption of “banal” literature among working class women. She found these women
to be signicantly inspired by this literature, and the act of reading as in itself creative, re-
gardless of the possible outcomes of such inspiration.
3. e Upper-Floor Gallery artists: study participants and methodology
Over the last eight years, one of the authors (Shahar Marnin-Distelfeld) has been working as
a curator at the Upper-Floor Gallery (UFG) in the MC and public library of Kiryat Tiv’on.1
1 We would like to thank the artists of the UFG for sharing their thoughts, feelings and their artworks with us. eir
cooperation was crucial for the success of the study.
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 69
e gallery, exhibiting about ten shows a year, hosts mostly local artists; it is not an inde-
pendent gallery but rather part of a larger complex serving as a commemoration center for
fallen soldiers who had lived in the town at the time of their death. is center also houses
a public library, an auditorium and another gallery dedicated to Israeli art. While the UFG
artists are charged for their exhibitions, the Israeli art gallery on the rst oor is sponsored
and supervised by the Ministry of Culture (MIC), and therefore features “prominent” Israeli
artists who exhibit free of charge (Misrad Hatarbut, 2018). e UFG artists approach the MC
with the wish to exhibit their work, while in the case of the Israeli art gallery, its curator is
the one to approach artists for the exhibitions she plans, oering them participation in solo
exhibitions or in group shows. Most of the UFG artists are middle-class people in their ies,
sixties or seventies, retirees, who have chosen to invest both time and money in promoting
their art as “serious leisure”. Two-thirds are females and the rest– males.
e UFG artists are regarded as “amateurish” by the inner rational of the MC, even though
no one uses this term, but rather perceives this gallery as less worthy artistically speaking. Very
oen, people visiting the Israeli art gallery will not even bother to visit the UFG. e UFG art-
ists are considered “amateurish” also because they started making art later in their lives, having
devoted themselves to other professions for years. On the other hand, most artists who exhibit
in the Israeli art gallery are considered “professional” or “prominent” since they are rather
young, known or even well-known in the eld, holding a degree in the arts and are managing
themselves actively “by the rules” within the realm of the Israeli art scene.
e two galleries share a building, but function inversely. e physical division between
the galleries, located on two dierent levels, represents a symbolic separation between what
is dened by the artistic establishment as “prominent art” and what is seen as “amateur-
ish. e MIC, while setting the terms of supporting a certain gallery, lists several elements,
among them a recommendation for the institute (i.e. the curator) to choose a “prominent
artist”: dened by the Committee of Fine Arts as “an artist whose artwork has been exhibited
in museums or galleries, and has also contributed signicantly to the artistic life in Israel,
according to the committee (Misrad Hatarbut, 2018). In spite of it being rather vague, this
condition would usually keep most artists who are considered “amateurish, and whom we
name “serious-leisure-amateurish, away from proper Israeli art galleries.
Despite Abbing’s diagnosis of the “absence of entrance-barriers in the arts”, referring to
youngsters willing to become artists (2004, p. 3), artists displaying their art in one gallery
will, by no means do it in the other one, for reasons of cultural capital (Bourdieu, 2005, pp.
113–114). Many artists who have exhibited in the UFG, rst approached the curator of the
Israeli art gallery, supervised by the MIC, and were rejected by her on the ground of the lesser
quality of their art, the lack of exhibition record in galleries which are considered “promi-
nent”, or both. e rest of the artists exhibiting on the UFG have never approached the more
professional gallery in the rst place, either for fear of being refused or since they thought
their art would better t the UFG, thought to be an “amateurish” space.
Exploring the phenomenon of “amateurish” artists showing at the UFG can serve as a case
study for the wider Israeli art scene. In an attempt to profoundly explore this phenomenon,
we combine content analysis with art-history methods in a qualitative study based on some
thirty visual artists whose art one of the authors has curated over the past eight years. As a
70 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
grounded theory study, we have examined the phenomenon of “amateurish artists” in this
gallery through content analysis of interviews with the artists. e interviews, which were
held in Hebrew, are quoted here in their English translation (done by the authors), and their
real names have been changed to keep their privacy. is study will also look at their works
of art to nd out whether there is a typical theme/style/technique characterizing them as a
distinct group. ree selected works of three dierent artists will be analyzed in this article.
is examination will be carried out through a stylistic-iconographic-interpretive analysis
of the artistic corpus chosen for the various shows. A qualitative method has been applied
as it focuses on a search for the meaning attributed by the artists to their art. is meaning
was elicited from the semi-structured depth interviews and other documents relating to
the process of constructing the exhibitions. e study is inductive by essence, namely, the
insights were crystalized by accumulating data and formulating a theory gradually (Tsabar
Ben-Yehoshua, 2001, pp. 13–14).
We will try to gure out how these artists, labeled as “amateurish” by the establishment,
dene themselves, how their daily activities are organized, what their artistic perceptions
are in regards to the art world and what the rationale underlying their dedication to art is,
despite the hardships they encounter (Deener, 2009). A parallel question to be examined
relates to the works themselves: Can we detect specic characteristics of their art marking it
as “amateurish”? Could these characteristics be named “modest” instead, meaning art that is
done well artistically, yet remains under the umbrella of unprofessional art? Our examina-
tion will thus be based on three aspects: theme, style and technique (Direktor, 2013, p. 27).
4. Findings and discussion
4.1. Do “amateurish” artists create “amateurish” art?
Following Bourdieu’s suggestion to understand cultural products in regards to social agents
rather than within an autonomy of meaning, we believe that “visual imagery is never inno-
cent; it is constructed through various practices, technologies and knowledge” (Rose, 2012, p.
17). ese are always related to social life and social structures (Dekel, 2015, p. 41). Having
claimed that, is there a way to analyze an artwork independently of the artist? Is an artwork
a separate entity at all? According to Gadamer, the answer is “yes”. He denes it as a “be-
ing”, a standalone appearance, which is supposed to create an experience that leaves behind
everything the observer has known or felt before (Gadamer, 2006, p. 74–75). He suggests to
replace the word “work” by the word “creation”, “[…] this creation is not something that we
can imagine being deliberately made by someone […] the thing now ‘stands’ and thereby is
‘there’ once and for all […]” (Gadamer, 1986, pp. 33–34). However, in the art scene, art is
usually examined in relation to its creator. Rarely do museums or galleries consider artwork
for an exhibition as a standalone object. Usually, a rst step for considering art to be exhib-
ited would be checking out the artist’s resume– credentials, awards, collections owning his/
her works and record of exhibitions. While looking at the art made by a person, there are
unwritten conventions and principles for dierentiating “professional” art from other types
of art which is considered generally as “amateurish. e curator of the local Israeli art gallery
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 71
(on the rst oor) told us: “[…] there are no clear rules to indicate good art, and still people
within the art eld will give approximately the same evaluation of a certain piece of art”
(Marnin-Distelfeld & Dorchin, 2018).
e question whether there is such distinctive art created by the artists of the UFG, who
are considered by the establishment “amateurish” and less creative, is a complicated one to
answer. ere are no specic criteria for “professional” art, nor for quality art or “high art”,
agreed upon by all professionals in the eld of visual art. As a result, any attempt to dene
good art” will result in both uncertain and vague answers. is eld, like other elds in
the arts (music or fashion design, for instance), is characterized by indenite features, uid
trends based on fashion and taste of their time (Bourdieu, 2005, p. 185). Nevertheless, we will
try to approach the question of the denition of the art itself, one that is usually le untreated
in relation to art projects in general. In order to dene one’s art as “amateurish, we need to
dene, at rst, the opposite, namely “professional” art, or “proper artistic level” as the MIC
denes it (Misrad Hatarbut, 2018). And here again we are caught between vague values,
understood by those who phrased them, grasped by all the others. e ocial establishment
does not dene the criteria of “proper artistic level” that is required from a supported gallery.
is level is determined by the professionals of the MIC based upon visits to the gallery as
well as the curator’s annual reports (Misrad Hatarbut, 2018).
e analysis of the artwork by the artists of the UFG is based on curating and observing
about y solo exhibitions over the past eight years. In most cases, these exhibitions were the
rst large-scale collection of the artist chosen to be shown, leaving no signicant pieces out.
erefore, we consider these exhibitions as highly representative of these people’s art. Earlier
in the article, we explained the decision to label our artists as “serious-leisure-amateurish
under the SLP, rather than as simply “amateurish. We also chose to relate to the denition of
“modest” artists placing our artists between amateurish and professionalism. In this section,
we will present common ndings that seem to advocate these denitions.
It is not at all clear how to dene “good” or professional art in Israel or elsewhere today.
Gadamer refers to art as “so true, so full of being” linking it to philosophical concepts such
as “truth, “absoluteness” and “the beautiful” (1986, pp. 192–196). Each one of them is per-
ceived by the observer if the work of art is “good”, but they are not measurable and cannot
be achieved by following a protocol. For example, in Gadamer’s theory “[…] art is a ‘state-
ment of truth’ with the power to ‘aect us immediately’” (2006, p. 58). Once again we remain
with a sense of blurry ideas of how to distinguish a “good” piece of art from a “bad” one.
However, in this study we have tried to investigate the artwork in order to gure out, at least,
what characteristics could distinguish what is considered “amateurish” and “professional”.
We focus on three aspects: theme, style and technique. emes include every topic one can
think of, from minimal abstract drawings to hyper-realistic gurative descriptions, through
botanical-inspired owers to harsh nudes. It is not so much the selection of themes which
determines a work of art as “prominent” but rather its style and technique. Any topic could
be expressed by using certain artistic tools to make it look more updated, more relevant to
the “high art” scene, and therefore more “professional”. To become “professional”, a theme
needs to be worked on profoundly, so as to explore its complexity and richness. Every theme
is in danger of becoming irrelevant, outdated and boring, if treated traditionally the way
72 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
many artists have done before, or if treated too simply. An artwork must not be a “one-to-
one” version of a situation, a landscape, a gure, in order to be labeled “professional” today.
Gadamer explains that “e work of art is an assertion, but it is one that does not form an
assertive sentence […]” (2006, p. 72). “Professional” artists are supposed to demonstrate
creativity as well– a principle which is uncertain and vague.
Many of the UFG artists fail to develop their themes further away from the direct image
they portray. ey keep their theme so close to the viewer, wishing to create an imitation
of reality in their drawing, painting or sculpture, that it leaves not much room for interpre-
tation. is reduces the potential for a meaningful observation. Gadamer argues that an
artwork should not attempt to reect a likeness to something the observer would recognize,
but rather “It comes forth! Is something that one has never seen in exactly this way before
(2006, p. 75). Being too clear, too straightforward could limit a work of art from reaching
the status of professional contemporary art, as it is perceived by the establishment as lack of
creativity and originality.
Many of the UFG artists make series of themes. ey treat a specic topic from dierent
viewpoints, in a way typical to “professional” artists. However, in general, themes of the UFG
artists tend to deal with traditional subjects, both universal values and concepts, like aec-
tion, tranquility, peace, and their personal experiences whether in a domestic space or out
traveling. While we might claim that these are the core themes of a lot of artwork done by
many artists ever, we do notice a common attitude conveyed by the UFG artists towards these
topics. Self-portraits, portraits of family members, indoor domestic scenes or outdoor ones,
e.g. in the garden with pets, are rather popular among the themes. Landscapes of familiar
surroundings or those of faraway lands explored during travelling are also very common.
ese traditional themes are perceived by the establishment as less creative than other themes
that are more original, current and updated.
Very rarely do we nd political agenda in the art of the UFG artists. By the term “politi-
cal” we mean any theme or ideology that is part of a social-political discourse in our society.
e absence of political topics contributes to a sense of outdated imagery, compared to con-
temporary art exhibited in “prominent” galleries and museums that very oen tend to deal
with socio-political issues of our time. In addition, the UFG artists tend to avoid conceptual
themes all together. is feature, we believe, indicates the dierent route of “amateurish
artists to the art eld, then that of “professional” artists who got trained in art schools from
an early age. e lack of this professional orientation results in choosing themes that are
considered outdated or irrelevant to the zeitgeist. Some guidance could change this situation
dramatically as seen in cases of amateurish artists who get an art coacher.
Besides the themes, what strongly denes the UFG art as “amateurish” rather than “pro-
fessional”, is the style and technique they apply. However, technical skills would be the main
characteristic dening them as “modest” rather than simply “amateurish. It is important
to notice that many of these artists show great creativity in the way they work with the
materials. People who express great desire towards the art making process, usually start-
ing “from scratch”, may be regarded as highly creative. However, if creativity is judged by
experts and agents within the art eld, they would probably dismiss this kind of creativity.
Most UFG artists reach a professional level of technical skills by learning and training in
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 73
studios of experienced artists. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, while every topic could
be considered “high art”, the choice of style and technique is highly crucial to the denition
of art. Many UFG artists use traditional styles and techniques like watercolor on paper, oil
on canvas, etching, wood sculpture, stone sculpture or steel sculpture. While “prominent”
artists use these materials too, they oen create original works by combining those materi-
als and techniques with other unexpected materials or ready-made objects. Furthermore,
when using traditional materials, “prominent” artists will tend to challenge traditional styles,
themes and techniques, searching for the “next thing” – a novel creation. “Amateurish” artists
tend to rehearse classical and traditional techniques, therefore their works seem to resemble,
sometimes imitate, past artistic manners. Professional artists, on the other hand, would tend
to demonstrate a greater sense of innovation and originality.
UFG artists oen follow both material and stylistic conventions without artistically chal-
lenging the observer. is feature explains the appeal experienced by audiences who prefer
familiar, expected, traditional forms of art, rather than contemporary “high art” which oen
dees these. Installation and performance– two highly popular contemporary media are not
part of the UFG repertoire as well.
Haim Azuz’s sculpture, A Presence of Two (2010) (Figure 1), would serve as a suitable
example to discuss the denition of “amateurish” art that we would like to dene as “mod-
est” (on the axis between “amateurish” and “professional”). e theme of couple-hood, which
the artist has elaborated in several sculptures over the years, is universal. ere have been
numerous sculptures dealing with this topic considered “high art” (Constantin Brâncuși’s
e Kiss (1907), to mention only one). It is not its theme, which makes this art “amateurish,
nor is it the high skills of the sculptor treating the wood, but rather the style; the choice to
create the man and the woman out of the same piece of wood, and the even composition of
them facing each other, conveys the idea of couple-hood at rst glance in a rather naïve way.
Figure 1. Haim Azuz. A Presence of Two (2010). Eucalyptus wood, 40×20×30 cm
(source: courtesy of the artist)
74 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
Furthermore, these artistic devices are traditionally known from art history, in regards to
both the subject matter and the treatment of the wood as an old-fashioned sculpting material.
As seen in Azuz’s sculpture, UFG artists usually avoid innovative stylistic issues. Challenging
the unity of the two gures, creating a more interesting composition and perhaps combining
the wood with dierent materials might have contributed to greater potential of interpreting
this artwork. e choice of theme and the well-established curving skills could place him as
“professional” if it were not for his naïve and plain rendering. His traditional approach in
this specic piece would be probably perceived as outdated by artistic agents, labeling it as
“amateurish, while we would label it “modest” instead, thanks to a high-leveled wood curv-
ing skills that is not simply achieved by an amateur. Here again, the question of creativity
becomes relevant, as for the artist himself the very idea of making this sculpture is a creative
act. is would also be the experience of many people who observe the work. Nevertheless,
for experts within the art eld, the traditional style and technique would categorize it as
lacking creativity on the basis of being un-inventive.
Landscapes are a common theme among the UFG artists too. ey draw and paint near-
by landscapes, explored during hiking or biking, and also landscapes travelled to and docu-
mented by photos. Such is the work Boats, Myanmar (2017) by Ali Gonen (Figure 2). As in
the case of Azuz, Gonen is a self-taught artist, who succeeded in reaching a high level of
artistic skills. We denitely cannot dene this art as “amateurish” based on the high level
technique. Based on the observation of the brush work, we would rather dene it as “modest,
between amateurish and professionalism. Using watercolor, he drew a few boats oating on
the river by twilight. is artwork is well composed in terms of evenly locating the boats–
two in the forefront, three a bit further back. e eect of light and shadow is meticulously
rendered to create a realistic atmosphere of the scene. What makes it “amateurish” with a slim
chance to gain positive feedback from contemporary “prominent” galleries and museums, is
Figure 2. Ali Gonen. Boats, Myanmar (2017). Watercolor on paper, 50×70 cm
(source: courtesy of the artist)
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 75
both the theme and the style. is piece suggests a colorful impression of a moment, using
all the colors of the rainbow, a sensually pleasant image which leaves little room for thought:
no question asked, no enigmatic episode to follow. What could be considered “high art” in
the end of the 19th century, is considered supercial and “amateurish” today.
Keren Rot is a semi-retiredenvironmental scientist, working with a high-quality dissect-
ing microscope. Over the years, she has found a way to take pictures through the microscope
by holding her digital camera onto one of the eyepieces (“oculars”) of the microscope. She
photographs microscopic crystals,precipitated from solutions of a variety of salts and sugars,
sometimes with pigments added to the solution (before the materials crystallize). She oen
integrates images of dierent kinds into selected works using Adobe Photoshop. In this work
(Figure 3), we see the First Candle of Hanukkah (2015) added to a photo of a soy sauce crystal
illuminated with white LED light; this was the rst of eight made by the artist in celebration
of the Jewish holiday of light. e works of Rot are unique in technique, combining two
elds– that of chemistry and that of photography. e images are formalistic, abstract, but
many times alluding to realistic objects or landscape views, suggesting familiar visual experi-
ences we have seen on other occasions. Apart from nature and the eld of photography, Rot
also integrates her own cultural world into her art, as seen in this specic piece as well as in
others. Rot’s collection of works, echo the works of the prominent artist Vik Muniz, who also
uses various materials, sometimes natural ones, to create images to be photographed later on.
Her “amateurish” art is quite updated in terms of technique, and therefore we would dene
it as “modest” instead.
Rot’s works, are by all means creative, as she integrates various materials and techniques
in a highly exceptional way. However, what keeps Rot’s works from being exhibited as “pro-
fessional” art in “prominent” galleries or museums is her themes and mostly her stylistic
choices. Being loyal to a natural order, she allows the crystals to shape themselves gradually,
Figure 3. Keren Rot. First Candle of Hanukkah (2015). A photo of a soy sauce crystal
(source: courtesy of the artist)
76 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
and this enables a variety of forms to be viewed under the microscope and be captured by
her camera. Manipulating the color and lighting of the crystals as captured by the camera, as
well as designing the nal composition of the print, create spectacular images that glorify the
beauty of nature. Contemporary art is somewhat suspicious towards spectacular art, unless it
carries some socio-political message. e beauty of nature is not complex and sophisticated
enough to make her art seen as “prominent”. While audiences of ordinary people might
like the beautiful images based on natural forms and a ne photographic work, the artistic
establishment in Israel would nevertheless categorize it as “amateurish.
e three artworks presented above are examples of UFG art considered “amateurish” by
artistic agents in Israel, including the MC people. e themes of these artworks can wide-
ly vary, but still avoid socio-political issues. eir styles tend to be harmonically pleasant.
Technical skills are sometimes poor, but many times are quite professional, with little or no
dierence compared to those considered “professional” artists. ese features of their art,
being outdated in relation to contemporary trends, but still rather professional in terms of
technical skills, frame “amateurish” artists’ art as “amateurish” art. is kind of art exhibited
at the UFG, is present all over the country, becoming popular as people live longer, and as
a result of a rising standard of living they can aord serious leisure activities such as art.
4.2. e artists express themselves
Our ndings indicate that the UFG artists place themselves in an in-between position. eir
sense of seriousness; that is, their dedication to and immersion in the work of art, elevate
them beyond the status of amateurs aiming at mere pleasure. At the same time, however, their
aspirations reveal to them the powers operating in the social eld of art, which denies them
of the status of “professionals”. e UFG artists are thus aware of the apparent criteria den-
ing “professional” artists dierently from “unprofessional” ones: younger, holding a degree in
the arts, being actively involved in the art scene of Israel, and to a certain extent revalidating
them through their discourse. However, several characteristics strongly place them close to
professional artists in terms of seriousness and dedication, as well as in their motivation to
develop themselves artistically in the eld. ese characteristics to be discussed further on in
the section, justify our denitions of these artists as “serious-leisure-amateurish” and “mod-
est” rather than simply “amateurish.
5. Self-perception
Most of the artists interviewed hesitated to dene themselves as artists; some explicitly avoid-
ed that self-denition while others embraced it although they realize they are not considered
as such by professional agents. In response to the direct question presented by us, “How
would you dene yourself?”, Zamir (73) said, “I deal with sculpting. […] it is clear to me
that I do not belong to the art world. e realization of non-belonging repeats itself in most
interviews and explains why it is so dicult for the artists to perceive themselves as such.
Like Zamir, Haim (73) said, “I am satised with the fact that I have the privilege to deal with
art” and Gabriel (77) said that “I perceive myself as a creator more than an artist”. Keren (69)
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 77
explained, “until 2008, I did not realize my photographs were art”. In spite of her discovery
of the artistic values of her output, Keren still expresses reservation about the “artist” title
saying, “I do not call myself an artist, but I know that what I do is art”. Hence, “creating”
art, “dealing with” art, or “doing” art can be understood as discursive strategies by which the
speakers bypass the obligating title of “an artist” while still emphasizing clear aspect of seri-
ousness and creativity. Only one interviewee (Gabriel), used the explicit term “amateur” but
as was stated above, he too shirks that degrading term presenting himself also as “a creator”.
Toren (73) avoided any term while asked about his self-denition, saying,
“I am trying not to deal with denitions. From an early age, being the son of a paint-
er, I was well aware of the sociology of the art world, as well as of my poor ability to
navigate within it. erefore, I prefer to focus on making art in artistic circles where
I feel comfortable”.
Unlike the speakers cited so far, other interviewees took on the denition of “artist”. One
of them is Mimi (63), who used to work as an art teacher in public schools located in the
periphery of Israel. When asked to dene herself, Mimi says, “I see myself as a professional
artist. I am particularly professional in etching. My works are very touching and absolutely
professional in terms of technique”. In other words, the decisive aspect that enables Mimi
to see herself as an artist is her proven etching skills and not the question of involvement
in any artistic milieu. Accomplished technique is indeed the condition by which an artistis
measured, but there is more to that. “I have painted all my life, she says, “it’s part of my
self-identity; in fact, even my earliest memories concern painting. e technical aspects can
therefore be seen as a consequence of more intrinsic aspects, i.e. the reective work done
by the person and which distinguishes him/her from those whose work remain a technical
matter. As Mimi puts it, “I meet many women who are in a similar situation to mine; they
create and search for opportunities to exhibit and sell their work. Not many are doing an
inner-work as I do, though.
Vered (68) and Ilana (65) are two other women who regard themselves as artists. Refer-
ring to her rst exhibition in the UFG, in 2010, Vered says,
“e feeling I had at the Memorial Center was not good, as if I was inferior to those
presenting downstairs at the Israeli art gallery. At that stage, I experienced myself as
someone who simply makes art whereas today I experience myself as an artist”.
Ilana similarly says, “For many years I have considered myself as a ‘painting woman’ and
only recently do I feel I can call myself an artist”. Of all the artists interviewed, Vered is the one
who works, exhibit and sells most intensively, both in Israel and abroad. Like Mimi, who was
mentioned above, Vered attributes her sense of self-recognition not to her technical skills or to
the value of her products but rather to a personal process she went through, which is based on
a strong sense of creativity. is process could be seen as another characteristic of professional-
ism, distinguishing “amateurish” from “serious-leisure amateurish” like Vered. Vered, states that
“I keep myself busy with art for many hours a day, either practically or by reading,
thinking, searching and planning, or visiting museums and galleries and meeting
with other artists. Most of the time during the week I focus on art and my identity as
an artist feels great to me”.
78 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
Vered’s every-day life is pretty much based on creativity. She perceives all her activities as
part of a creative way of life. Ilana voices a similar narrative,
“I live the art-world as part of my life environment. I follow what happens by reading,
visiting exhibitions, listening to lectures, and obviously by making art. […] I am an
artist as a way of life, as a way to look at life and due to the necessity to express things
in paints and words”.
What we see here is a subjective narrative of perceived development, a process of per-
sonal growth that enables a complementary progress to the status of being a “real” artist,
supporting the denition of a “modest” or “serious-leisure-amateurish” artist as opposed to
an “amateurish” one. Creativity seems to play a central role in both Vered’s and Ilana’s experi-
ences, regardless of the artistic outcome they might accomplish at the end. Haim articulates
this dimension once more,
“to sculpt a nice swan or to paint a rened portrait is a combination of technical skills
and visual perception; although this can bring about aesthetic pleasure it cannot
stimulate any further thought. For me studying philosophy constituted an important
perceptual infrastructure; it sharpened my critical observation and perception of the
world”.
6. Rejection
Every serious leisure activity contains its own tensions, dislikes and disappointments, which
each artist must confront occasionally (Stebbins, 2015, p. 13). Apparently, the subjective nar-
rative of development denotes a potential to become a full-edged artist. However, this nar-
rative does not undermine the vague– yet well-established– boundaries separating “modest
from “professional” art. Practical eorts made by the artists to fulll this potential bring them
face to face with mechanisms that organize the politics of value in the eld and reveal to
them some objective obstacles.
In order to put themselves on the track of advancement, most of our “serious-leisure-
amateurish” or “modest” artists approached various study programs. However, due to their
age, the phase they have reached as retirees, and various commitments, their studies oen
were held in marginal institutions and sporadic programs rather than in recognized academic
or professional ones. Aer his retirement, Haim registered for a sculpting workshop at the
Yizrael Valley Community College and completed only the rst year. is one year, he says,
exposed him for the rst time to the realm of sculpting:
“I experienced working with clay, plaster, casting techniques and some wood-carv-
ing. It gave me basic tools for my art. During the following years, I participated in
short-term lessons in wood sculpting, stone sculpting and drawing. I learned the rest
in an autodidactic way based on technical abilities I acquired through the years (as a
practical engineer)”.
Mimi, an art school-teacher says, “Aside from my formal B.Ed. studies, I took several
courses in painting, participated in few programs, and was granted a diploma as an instruc-
tor of intuitive-drawing in the Pinki Feinstein approach”. Ilana, registered for the external
art studies at Oranim Academic College (OAC), Kiryat Tiv’on, alongside her regular work
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 79
as a nurse. “I learned painting with a few artists”, she says. “Each of them contributed to the
development of my drawing approach. Despite this contribution, Ilana still chose to refer to
her teachers in a general manner, as if she doubted whether crediting them by name would
establish her own artistic credibility. Even Vered was reluctant to attribute her relative suc-
cess to the courses she took. She explained that “most of my learning is done by myself and
occasionally in short-term courses”.
Zamir is a unique example of a person who did apply for proper academic studies. Aer
taking some courses, he registered at OAC, spent half a year at the University of Barcelona
and nally, aer his retirement from his professional academic career, applied for studies
at the Department of Arts at the University of Haifa. Unfortunately, this application ended
with disappointment:
“Following my rst solo exhibition in 2012, I thought that if I invested the required ef-
forts and means, I might gain recognition. is is the reason I registered for art stud-
ies at the University of Haifa. In my rst meeting with the chair of the department he
told me, ‘we are not interested in people like you; you are already ‘cooked’. What we
want is to shape young people who still don’t know what they are looking for’. All in
all, I felt that the art-world as reected by university teachers, did not consider it plau-
sible for me to become an artist”.
While not all our interviewees expressed a sheer frustration as Zamir did, all of them
indeed shared the bitter experience of rejection. is experience is reected most oen in
curators’ refusal to include their works in “professional” galleries, like the one located at the
rst oor gallery at the Kiryat Tiv’on MC. Haim, for example, approached a curator at the
Wilfried Israel Museum; unlike Zamir, who was denied for being “cooked, Haim was ex-
plained that he “wasn’t ripe yet”. Haim admits he found this comment “meaningless” but did
not insist. “I then applied with another curator but again with no success”.
In that regard, it is interesting to examine those interviewees who dened themselves
earlier as proper artists. Mimi admits that applications she sent were ignored by curators
more than once (“it doesn’t feel good”). In other cases, she says, “participation cost me a
lot of money but at least it gave me the privilege to exhibit”. Mimi, thus, feels herself “at
the margins of the art-world. “My works are good”, she emphasizes, “but I cannot commit
myself to making art as a full-time job. Ilana’s rst exhibition took part in Eshkar Gallery,
a space that regularly features antiques. Following this debut, she started to understand “the
rules of the game”, as she put it, and today she approaches curators representing “spaces that
welcome a wide range of less known artists”. Hence, Ilana admits she has “no aspiration to
become part of the established art-environment”. Vered claims she has been accepted to about
half of the exhibitions she has applied for. Like Mimi and Ilana, she also describes a process
of implementing the inner codes of the eld. “ere are many places [galleries] that require
formal academic background; in these cases, I don’t even try out. It gives me the feeling of
being an outsider”. It may be understood, thus, that Vered, Ilana, and Mimi’s self-denition
as artists acknowledges the intra-sections in the cultural eld of arts and do not pretend to
challenge it. eir relative success derives from their learnt understanding as to where and
to whom they may or may not apply as “modest” artists. It is therefore not surprising that
while they seem to acknowledge their artistic value, they also posit themselves as outsiders
to the “professional” sphere.
80 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
As outsiders, as are most of our interviewees, they do not exhibit very oen and do not
enjoy the experience of acceptance on a regular basis. On the contrary, more oen they nd
themselves excluded, expelled to humble classes, workshops, and learning programs where
they encounter other “amateurish” or “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists like themselves. As
Zamir puts it,
“in the workshops in which I participate, I meet with artists that see sculpting as
nothing but a hobby and the workshop itself, as a recreational activity. I guess they
might as well replace the artistic activity with a card game, sing-along meetings or
listening to lectures”.
Hence, the lived experience of such social networks caters to a further demarcation of
the dierent spheres comprising the eld of art. On the one hand, it dierentiates “amateurs”,
i.e. people who seek pleasure, from “modest” or “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists who seek
serious leisure. On the other hand, though, it demarcates the “professional” sphere to which
“modest” artists cannot be accepted, regardless of their creativity, accomplished skills and
rened products.
7. Respect and recognition
Being a “modest” or “serious-leisure-amateurish” artist does not entail only frustration and
disappointments. As was explained earlier, the mere process of making art is interpreted
in terms of personal growth while occasional exhibitions earn the artists many supportive
comments and hence satisfaction. is satisfaction is much indeed a central component of
what Stebbins denes as the “positive sociology” of the SLP (Stebbins, 2015, p. xv). Positive
feedback is usually received by the UFG artists from their close circles of family members
and friends. ese people escort the artists along the years and their continual presence is
therefore signicant for the artists. Haim, for example, says that “encouragement from my
spouse enables me to work comfortably”. Keren says, “Rina, my spouse, is my main source
of support and she is the rst to see my photographs. I also send it to friends to take a look
at. Feedback is very important to me, also from the crowd who attend my exhibitions. Ilana
says, “family members and friends support me. Other artists, in a similar status to mine, and
even some who are more known, are also companions in this journey”.
One may realize the contradiction between the warm hug given to “modest” artists within
their intimate circles and the chilly response they oen receive from professional agents of
the establishment. Zamir puts this contradiction very clearly, stating that “family members,
friends and colleagues are supportive and encouraging. For the art-world, however, I am
totally transparent, I do not exist”. Professionals assess the “modest” artwork in accordance
with their inner-codes and standards (as described in the section “Do ‘amateurish’ artists
create ‘amateurish’ art?”). eir criticism thus oen portrays “serious-leisure-amateurish
artists as people who lack the potential to become professional; metaphors of being “cooked”
or “not ripe yet” – when referred to a 70-year-old person– convey this message. Family and
friends, on the other hand, perceive the artistic work within the context of personal and
familial relationships, as part and parcel of their shared experiences. Against this backdrop,
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 81
it may be understood why artists feel somewhat unsatised with compliments they receive
from friends and family. Vered says,
“My most important supporter and critic is my spouse. I also gain support, evaluation
and constructive feedback from friends. I feel I’m not exposed to the art-world. Maybe
if I studied art in a proper way and was more exposed to peer-critics, it would have
lled that void”.
Haim expresses a similar point of view, saying,
“I received many positive responses from the crowd, friends, colleagues and curators
of exhibitions in which I participated. But I wonder how I should relate to such com-
pliments that bear no meaningful say or practical criticism”.
Ambition to exhibit one’s works and searching for “meaningful” feedback distinguish
“modest” and “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists from simply “amateurish” ones. Whereas
“modest” artists do appreciate support given to them by family and friends, they strive for
recognition by professionals as well. is may also explain their unwillingness to pay money
for the privilege to exhibit. e mere nancial aspect is only a part of the reluctance and not
necessarily the main consideration (as many of the “modest” artists have the means to sustain
their serious leisure). Haim explains,
“I realize that in order to be considered ‘an artist’ I should be prepared among other
things to invest money. […] On the other hand, being accepted for exhibition that
requires payment is suspicious of being motivated by a commercial interest; it is not a
pure evaluation of my work”.
Expenses thus reveal a symbolic aspect that concerns the economics of artistic image of
both the artworks and the artist. e fact that most (if not all) “modest” artists do pay money
to be displayed, should thus be understood either as a matter of non-choice or as a practical
consideration related to their intense wish to be recognized artistically. is very dilemma,
regardless of the dierent decisions made by each individual, claries the in-between position
occupied by “modest” or “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists.
is negotiation of “modest” or “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists within themselves and
with the art world regarding the conditions of exhibiting their art, echoes the professional-
amateurish-public triangle suggested by Stebbins as a model to understand the social struc-
ture of the art world. Being public-centered, artists experience dierent relationships with the
public in terms of both recognition and commercialism (Stebbins, 2015, p. 8). “Professional”
artists will not pay in order to exhibit their artwork and might expect higher prices when
oering their art for sale, while “amateurish” artists (whom we dene here as “modest”),
will usually pay for their exhibitions, being able to sell their art for lower values. However,
it is important to indicate the uncertainty rooted in the lives of any artist, since artists are
freelancers, who usually lack any nancial support system (Dekel, 2015, p. 43). e instabil-
ity nancial situation is common to all sorts of artists– professionals and amateurish, and
it is more the consequence of social structure than of artistic quality. Toren says, “I would
be happy to sell more; in addition to the nancial aspect […] selling an artwork is a clear
expression of recognition.
82 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
8. Rewards
If there is one theme common to all interviewees it is the expression of fulllment and
satisfaction with their artistic life. It is evident from previous studies that artists have been
found to be considerably more satised with their work than non-artists (Abbing, 2002, p.
3; Steiner & Schneider, 2013, p. 242). Serious leisure participants nd their disappointments
and dislikes insignicant in comparison with the rewards they gain through their activity,
in our case– art (Stebbins, 2015, p. 13). e rewards of a serious leisure pursuit are the
routine values that attract and hold its enthusiasts. e search for rewards is a life trajectory,
a motivating engine for the “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists. ere are two categories of
rewards to be enjoyed by them– personal and social. Our interviewees expressed personal
enrichment as a prime reward. Vered says, “my occupation as an artist is great for me. It is
challenging and full of interesting and reviving forces for me. It opens new horizons and
new encounters, as well as marvelous journeys”. What Vered expresses could be dened
as personal creativeness, enrichment, gratication and regeneration (Stebbins, 2015, p. 14).
Haim also feels grateful for being able to make art as a serious leisure, saying, “From my
perspective, making art is an investment in ‘good living’ as I see it”.
Self-actualization is also present within the “serious-leisure-amateurish” artist’ views of
their artistic experiences. Haim talks about his sculpting skills, which develop with time,
Mimi mentions her etching technique as professional, Toren describes his artistic knowledge
being gradually improved as a personal reward. e “serious-leisure-amateurish” artists’ pro-
fessional artistic knowledge gained over a period of time is perceived by them as a personal
achievement. Financial return from the serious leisure activity is another reward less central
to their experience, although it is mentioned by many of them as proof of acknowledgment
and recognition of their artwork by the public. Toren stresses that “buying an artwork ex-
presses the high evaluation of it, while Vered mentions the fact that she sells artwork as part
of her self-denition and self-gratication as an artist.
Social rewards reported by Stebbins were hardly found by the UFG artists (Stebbins, 2015,
p. 14). e importance of sharing their art practices with other “serious-leisure” artists was
mentioned by several as a desire, mainly in the context of creating a suitable workshop, and
thus facilitating the work itself. Group accomplishment or contribution to the maintenance of
a group of “serious leisure” artists were not mentioned in the interviews, perhaps because the
UFG artists were mainly focused on individual artwork and exhibitions rather than working
with others in teams.
Conclusions
is study has focused on self-taught visual artists lacking an academic degree in the arts,
who still devote most of their time to art and yet encounter a glass ceiling in their attempts
to become recognized as fully-edged artists. We embraced Buscatto’s denition of “mod-
est” artists, applying it on the artists who have exhibited their work at the UFG at the MC
of Kiryat Tiv’on. e UFG artists are considered “amateurish” in keeping with rigid cri-
teria formulated by the MIC, which supports art galleries and museums in Israel, where
Creativity Studies, 2020, 13(1): 64–86 83
“prominent” artists usually exhibit. e UFG artists cannot be regarded “prominent” since
they are missing three main features of professionalism in regards to visual arts: they do not
hold an academic degree in the arts, they have not made signicant contribution to the art
world of Israel and they do not make a living out of their art. However, we cannot dene
them as simply “amateurish” since they dedicate most of their time to art, are committed to
an everyday schedule devoted to artistic creative activities, are highly motivated to make art
and to exhibit their art, perceive themselves as more than amateurish and in fact, at times,
do reach the level of what is considered “professionalism.
Aside from the concept of “modesty”, we examined both the artists and the phenomenon
in focus using the SLP. While this theory includes three sub-categories (serious, casual and
project-based leisure), we only referred to serious leisure as our framework in this study. We
claim that the artists of our study are located on an axis between “amateurish” and “profes-
sional” in a uid area of “serious leisure” which includes creativity as part of their every-day
experience. We choose to dene them as “serious-leisure” artists based upon their character-
istics, both from a sociological point of view as supported by the SLP, and from an artistic
point of view, reected through an analysis of their art. We label their artwork as “modest”
based on the analysis of their themes, styles and techniques: their art varies in themes, but
avoids socio-political issues as well as conceptual attitudes. Domestic scenes, landscapes and
traditional themes, known from the history of art are dominant among “modest” or “seri-
ous-leisure” artists’ most prevalent choices. eir style is usually traditional, non-innovative,
slightly naïve at times, seeming to search harmonic compositions. eir choices of materials
and formats are rather old-fashioned. eir technical skills mainly depend on their training
and talent, but could easily reach professionalism given some additional practice and rene-
ment. e aspect of creativity in both their art and personal experience as artists, is present;
they perceive their artistic lives as creative while their works sometimes reect a sense of
creativity that is oen hidden due to lack of originality.
Our ndings indicate that the UFG artists place themselves in an in-between position
while their sense of seriousness, that is, their dedication to and immersion in the work of
art, elevate them beyond the status of amateurs aiming at mere pleasure. At the same time,
however, their aspirations very oen encounter the powers operating in the social eld of
art, which deny them of the status of “professionals”, leaving them painfully frustrated. e
UFG artists are thus made aware of the harsh criteria distinguishing “professional” artists
from unprofessional ones, the former being younger, holding a degree in the arts, and being
actively involved in the art scene of Israel. To a certain extent these artists revalidated their
unprofessional status through their discourse. Most of the artists interviewed were hesitant
in dening themselves as artists; some explicitly avoided that self-denition while others
embraced it despite being aware of the fact that they were not actually considered as such by
professional agents. eir self-perception reected their in-between status, that very thing
we call “modesty”. While not all our interviewees expressed a sheer frustration, all of them
indeed shared the bitter experience of rejection. is experience is reected most oen in
curators’ refusal to include their works in “professional” galleries. However, being a “modest”
or “serious-leisure” artist does not entail only frustration and disappointments. e mere
process of making art is interpreted by the artists in terms of personal growth and creative
84 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
life while occasional exhibitions earn them many supportive comments and hence satisfac-
tion. Positive feedback is usually received by the UFG artists from their close circles of fam-
ily members and friends. ese people escort the artists along the years and their continual
presence is therefore highly signicant and meaningful for the artists. Most artists do strive to
achieve professional recognition, though. If there is one theme common to all interviewees, it
is that of a sense of fulllment in their artistic life. Serious leisure participants nd their dis-
appointments and setbacks insignicant in comparison with the rewards they gain through
their activity: personal enrichment and gratication, a sense of creativity, self-actualization
and some modest nancial yield.
Our study reconrmed the occurrence of the “modest” UFG as a sub-category, prevailing
within the art world around us. e terms “modest” and “serious-leisure” artists were proven
to strongly validate dening this phenomenon along sociological parameters, with the artistic
analysis further supporting this denition. Future studies should further investigate the cases
where this “modesty” is challenged, both by the artists themselves and by agents from the es-
tablishment, who seek to broaden the limits of what is regarded “amateurish” and conversely
“professional”. We are well aware of the limitations of our study, which focuses on dening a
rather general phenomenon, leaving out exceptions altogether. ese exceptions could indeed
explore the weaknesses of the study’s boundaries and the somewhat uid territory between
what is considered “professional” and “amateurish”. We believe that this territory is about to
widen itself as more people aspire to create art as a serious leisure activity, being eager to
display and share it. e artistic establishment already feels the need to open up its doors,
to rethink denitions of art and build art-galleries and alternative spaces for shows, suitable
to accommodate the ood of artworks made by older people who live longer and have the
nancial means to create and display art, albeit “modest.
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„AŠ NESU MENININKAS, AŠ KURIU MENĄ“: IZRAELIO
MENININKAI MĖGĖJAI IR KŪRYBIŠKUMO POJŪTIS
Shahar MARNIN-DISTELFELD, Uri DORCHIN
Santrauka
Šis tyrimas susijęs su savamoksliais vizualiųjų menų kūrėjais, kurie vertinami kaip
„mėgėjai“, Kirijat Tivone (Izraelis) įkūrus memorialinį centrą, kuriame jie ekspo-
nuoja savuosius meno kūrinius. Pabandysime išsiaiškinti tiek tikslias, tiek tik nu-
manomas menininkų „mėgėjų“ charakteristikas bei užginčyti spėjamą mėgėjiškumo
ir kūrybiškumo stokos sąsają. Taikoma metodologija apima sociologinį požiūrio
86 S. Marnin-Distelfeld, U. Dorchin. “I am not an artist, i make art”: amateurish artists in Israel...
tašką, remiantis išsamiais interviu su menininkais, taip pat meno kūrinio vizuali-
nę analizę. „Kuklių“ menininkų teorija, kurią išplėtojo Marie Buscatto, ir rimtojo
laisvalaikio perspektyva, kurią suformulavo Robertas A. Stebbinsas, padės analizei
ją paremiančiomis klasikacijomis ir kategorijomis. Tvirtiname, kad mūsų tiriamų
menininkų vieta yra ties „mėgėjiškumo“ ir „profesionalumo“ ašimi, takioje „rimtojo
laisvalaikio“ zonoje. Jie laikomi „mėgėjais“ dėl akademinio išsilavinimo menų srity-
je stokos, santykinai vyresnio amžiaus, ocialaus pripažinimo nebuvimo, iškilusių
įvairių kliūčių demonstruoti savuosius meno kūrinius ir už juos gaunamą nedidelį
nansinį atlygį. Nepaisant jų užimamos periferinės pozicijos meno srityje, vis dėlto
galėjome nustatyti keletą charakteristikų, kurios atskiria jų meno kūrinius nuo tų,
kuriuos sukūrė „profesionalai“. Mūsų išvados įrodo, kad jie priklauso tarpinei „ku-
klių“ ar „rimtojo laisvalaikio mėgėjų“ menininkų kategorijai, kuri panaikina įsitvir-
tinusią menininkų „mėgėjų“ ir „profesionalų“ dichotomiją. Nustatėme, kad šių „ku-
klių“ menininkų patirtis yra kūrybinio pobūdžio kaip ir kai kurie jų meno kūriniai;
vis dėlto šio pobūdžio kūrybiškumas, regis, yra ignoruojamas tų sričių profesionalų,
kurie suvokia kūrybiškumą kaip inovaciją.
Reikšminiai žodžiai: mėgėjiškasis menas, menininkas mėgėjas, meno sritis, kūry-
biškumas, profesionalus menininkas, vizualusis menas.
Chapter
In the arts, both nominal and expressive authenticity are considered important. Artists and art lovers believe in the ideal of expressive authenticity. In the second half of the twentieth century, both authenticity and informalisation become essential components of the arts for almost everybody. The young consider the etiquette demanded at serious art events stifling. They shun these events and are increasingly into popular music. The obsession with nominal authenticity causes a severe cost disease in the performing arts. Costs rise significantly, necessitating increases in funding, which exposes an unwillingness to cut costs among the serious arts. Art lovers embrace notions of singularity and aura, which result in fewer artist collaborations and the increased passivity of audiences. The young are attracted to the arts and, as a consequence, are willing to work for low income. I present a number of explanations for this trend. The ideal of expressive authenticity is the most important reason. Meanwhile, although most artists have second jobs, incomes remain low and their position remains precarious. It is essentially this willingness to work for low wages that enables the exploitation of artists. Their often necessary desertion of the arts as a career is stressful.
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This study investigates ‘amateurish’ visual artists and their work, exhibited at the Upper-Floor Gallery (UFG) at the Memorial Center of Kiryat Tivon, Israel. Out of thirty such artists, three were found to form a sub-category - the ‘challengers’, due to the ways they challenge boundaries within the art world. All UFG artists were studied both through in-depth interviews and through their artwork, and were defined as ‘serious-leisure’ artists, instead of simply ‘amateurs’ (Marnin-Distelfeld and Dorchin 2020) according to the theory of Serious-Leisure-Perspective (Stebbins 2015). The ‘challengers’ can be differentiated from the rest of the group, having succeeded in developing their artistic performance and exhibiting their art in venues beyond peripheral galleries, and by better understanding the art scene in general. Two have a partly relevant academic background in art or art-related studies, which contributes to their artistic choices. Their art possesses three crucial properties, which also characterize ‘professional’ art: it is semantically unstable and complex in meaning, it deals with socio-political issues present in contemporary cultural discourse and it is made of mixed media, with original combinations of materials and techniques. All three characteristics embody an artistic approach compatible with current curation trends, thus placing the ‘challengers’ away from ‘amateurism’ and closer to ‘professionalism’.
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