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The Amateur Life

Everything recently has been pointing me towards the joy of the home made, of the amateur.

Professional and amateur: when you set those two opposites together nowadays, the values are clear. Professional is good and sleek and efficient. Amateur is messy, substandard. But the word amateur comes from amor. The person who loves what they do. And think about professional. The profession is what we do to earn money. The professional is the act that is finessed by the financial, by earning our keep.

One is about transaction and the other is about love.

This week I went to the New York City Ballet’s Balanchine evening at the Colisseum. NYCB are the acme of polished dance. Spotless, athletic, beautiful. I love Balanchine and in the final cascade of Symphony in C I felt the bubbles of delight rise in my throat.

The following day, I went, after work to see my nephew who had been cast in the lead of the High Wycombe district’s combined schools musical ‘The Bluebird.’ Six hundred children singing together wonderful music written specially for them – dancing and acting their way through the story. In terms of response, in terms of pure unadulterated delight, the ragged, joyful sprawl of ‘The Bluebird’ beat the Balanchine hands down.

Not to say that school plays are better than Balanchine. There’s space for both. But definitely to say that the amateur is often – if not intrinsically – more satisfying than the professional

When you make things for money not for love then the delight dims.

I have always wholeheartedly treasured in your work the whiff of the school play. It tickles me still and I miss it terribly.

Tilda Swinton wrote a fabulous open letter to the dead filmmaker Derek Jarman which is the basis to a new documentary on his life. You should look at the full text – it’s wonderful and inspiring.

She is far from hagiographic and often deflates Jarman’s bumptiousness but her passion for what his films stood for is undimmed:

Things have got awfully tidy recently. There is a lot of finish on things. Clingfilm gloss and the neatest of hospital corners. The formula merchants are out in force. They are in the market for guaranteed product. Financial returns… add -water- and -stir [ … ]The dead hand of Good Taste has commenced its last great attempt to buy up every soul on the planet, and from where I’m sitting, it’s going great guns.

What stands out is that spirit of the ‘school-play’, the amateur. Most of Jarman’s films were made for £200,000. But it was precisely that willfull and perverse determination that characterises the love that makes the ‘amateur’ better and more satisfying than the professional.

That the example you set us is as simple as a logo to sell a sports shoe; less chat, more action, less fiscal reports, more films, less paralysis, more process. Less deference. More dignity. Less money. More work. Less rules. More examples. Less dependence. More love.

I loved the films of Jarman when I was growing up and I wondered whether they would have aged well with all their heavy and often pretensious imagery and allusion. I think they have. I loved seeing them again. Their wit and freshness was bracing.

The rather vicious reviews the show at the Serpentine got seem to me the laziest kind of homophobia. The thrust of them all was: why did he bang on about being gay all the time. A question one never poses to any heterosexual filmmaker. And besides why not? He was a gay man and he was dying of AIDS. Isn’t that valid enough. It actually infuriates me that these fat, married art critics are allowed to make comment’s like:

As my 13-year-old daughter muttered harshly as she fled a show that offered her absolutely nothing in the way of shared experiences: “Okay, you’re gay. Now move on.”

Since when has a 13-year-old girl’s experience been the touchstone of artistic validity? What is the shared experience in Guernica, in the St Matthew’s Passion, in Beethoven’s string quartet that would interest a 13-year-old girl? It’s blatantly a ‘disgust’ rather than a absence of shared experience that inspires that comment. Which says more about Waldemar Januszczak’s parenting than his daughter’s aesthetic taste.

On a less narked and more amatory note. (Or should that be amateury?) I went to ‘Duckie’ last night at the Vauxhall Tavern. A venerable bastion of gay culture through the years – Lily Savage fought the police here – the Royal Vauxhall Tavern has always kept the gay cultural flag burning. Duckie is particularly wonderful. I think they describe themselves as authentic London honky-tonk and progressive working-class art for giddy young men. I’ve seen some bizarre and wonderful things put on in that tiny, beery, sweaty venue, to a rapt and appreciative and mostly drunk crowd of happy gay men and women.

Last night was the Srishti Dance company. 8 eleganted shirt-and-tied men dancing and singing the most electrifying Indian music and dance. A bit like Kathak vogueing. How on earth they stayed so elegant on that tiny slippery stage I have no idea. Anyway, I loved them and I loved the beery crowd who cheered their hearts out more.

And the last word to Tilda on Derek:

And the clarity with which you offered up your life and the living of it, particularly since the epiphany – I can call it nothing less – of your illness, was a genius stroke, not only of provocation, but of grace . With your gesture of public confessional, both within and without your work- at a time when people talked fairly openly about setting up ostracised HIV island communities and others feared, not only for their lives, but, believe it or not, also for their jobs, their insurance policies, their friendships, their civil rights – was made with such particular, and characteristically inclusive, generosity that it was at that point that you made an impact far outspanning the influence of your work. ..you made your spirit , your nature, known to us – and the possibility of an artist’s fearlessness, a reality. And the truth of it is: by defying it, you may have changed the market as well
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