“Amateur” may not have the greatest connotations – given that it can be used to describe someone as incompetent, like calling them a “bumbling fool” for example. I mostly thought of its negative connotations when I was younger, never sharing any of my actual interests in case someone came up to me and asked questions I had no answers to or challenged me to give profound contemplations – exposing me unskilled. I didn’t even like how the word sounds. Ironically, however, this past year I’ve noticed that I started to use the word when describing my interests. “I’m an amateur Shakespeare lover” or “I’m an amateur art enthusiast.” This got me thinking whether I even understand the word and so I searched for its meaning, which revealed a lovely fact about it. “Amateur” comes from the Latin word amare meaning “to love,” which developed into amator, “lover.” While having a negative connotation, the word stems from the idea of loving something just for the sake of interest and fondness of it. This certainly sounds better than the implication of ineptness.
I think previously calling myself an amateur meant I did not take myself or my interests seriously – like I really was an “incompetent fool.” However, I do take my interests seriously – but not in the sense that I want to absolutely perfect my knowledge on Shakespeare or the French Impressionists, for example. My love for these things comes from the enriching pleasure they give – the beautiful moments when I’m completely immersed and mesmerized by the artistry – but then their importance also lies in inspiring me to learn and keep an open mind to what it is that actually fascinates me. While I’m not on a path to become a scholar of art history, I will continue to have a significant fondness for art that compels me to learn about its history and the artists behind my favorite works simply because of my love for it – a world that I’ve found has enriched my life, particularly by encouraging me to find the beautiful in life. “Love” is the key word here; that’s why I think “amateur” fits in its original sense since, certainly, something like “connoisseur” (an expert judge in matters of taste) does not.
The word, although stemming from a beautiful concept, still sounds, I have to admit, silly. It is, unavoidably, due to the associations. But it takes me back to thinking if I’ve ever taken myself seriously in my interests that I try to nurture independently. While I do take my love for the arts seriously – meaning I try to keep an open mind and actually educate myself a bit more beyond “Claude Monet was the founder of French Impressionist painting” – I do not take myself too seriously in trying to enrich my interests. I need to point this out because it means that when I was younger, I took myself frustratingly seriously in my fascinations as well as studies, since I had this idea of having to educate and cultivate the interests of the “incompetent fool” that was me. (Imagine a 16-year-old Kurdish kid of Finland in a small boring city thinking these absurdities: what could she possibly do with all the knowledge at that age and in that place?) So there has been a “dialing down” in how seriously you take yourself in trying to pursue independently the things you love. You’re only human who can learn so much as your mind is able to absorb. What helped this, then, was embracing gradually the silly sounding term which in its very definition discards seriousness and means loving something for mere interest.
While “amateur” will probably continue as a word having negative connotations, I would like to think it also holds as relating to a person who is fond of something and cultivates it as a pastime (a finer definition). At least, I would encourage this definition for if it were not for amateur hobbies, life would be pretty boring, and not all of us have the chance to educate ourselves into becoming complete connoisseurs. It also accepts those who take more time to develop their knowledge or skills in their interests. An amateur can be truly fond of something – photography, cuisine, history, flowers – and reads upon it in a way that fills her appetite with pieces of knowledge but doesn’t stuff herself entirely, giving time for the information to be taken in. What I’ve come to like about the word is how it stems from the Latin words for “to love” and “lover” because it appears to encourage us, in its essence, to love whatever subject we choose to pursuit so that we will get the most out of it in the means of simple pleasure. The word doesn’t suggest that a person go to a great extent to develop expertise but to merely appreciate whatever she is doing.
It’s a good time to consider those little interests of ours that we love just for the sake of being fascinated and fond of them. We’re living in difficult times that force us to mostly stay put, but it is also an opportunity to cultivate our interests: becoming an amateur (mind, as in amator), developing as such or even, perhaps, becoming an expert judge in matters of taste (good luck). I know I myself have some reviving to do since it has been hard not to think of what is currently happening. However, it should happen with more love with me, meaning I should appreciate my pursuits more. I will definitely look into Monet. Let us, then, not forget the things we love and keep learning about our fascinating interests…
Oxford English Dictionary