Dilettante means an amateur, a dabbler, in art, in literature, in music, in ideas, someone viewed as having little skill, and neither talent nor expertise. From the Italian via the Latin, dēlectāre – to delight – in the 18th century, in the age of the grand tour, it more simply meant an enthusiast, someone with a curiosity, a love of art, who found, in the allure of creation, exactly that – a profound and enthused delight.
How it came, in the 19th and 20th centuries, to take on the more pejorative sense, we can only surmise. Of course, there was a certain privilege associated with those able to wander the museums, galleries and artistic quarters of Europe’s grand old cities in those times. And perhaps as the arts themselves fell further in service to the more prosaic demands of commerce, and of politics, a concomitant envy reared in chagrin at those able to pursue a more pure delectation.
Of course today, technology has democratised such pursuit; we now hold both the privilege of experience, and the means to create and share, easily, in the electronic devices in the poorest of our hands. Thus, all that is required now, is the desire, the will to pursue that delight. The apple is in our hands, as it were, and all the universe asks of us, is to taste, and share. A dilettante is, now, therefore, anyone who braves the journey.
In these pages, through my wayside meanderings, I hope perhaps to show, in some small way, a return to that original meaning. For, while commerce may be necessary, and politics inescapable, it is through what we create purely to entrance, to amuse, to ensorcel, and to delight, in finding joy, we all become dilettantes.
A blue & ochre child
My own particular delight began in books, as a child, in Australia’s ochre towns and cerulean cities. These were places of red brick hearths, and wire fences, hard black roads, and chipped enamelled white goods, and later the efflorescing sameness of new grown suburbs, imbued with the casual savagery of roadkill and cattle yards, of football spurs and petrol fumes. Realms of pragmatism and necessity, where, if you answered the questions in the right way, you received the oranges. If you didn’t, woe betide. I always found them sickly, or if not quite ripe, too acidic.
Nevertheless, despite the tyranny of distance, and life’s other prosaic limitations, I could be wandering the catacombs of revolutionary Paris one day, or the fierce, alien canals of Barsoom the next, utterly overwhelmed by all that vicariously surrounded me.
From there to here, from then to now, is a journey of many years. I still find myself in that relative wealth, that relative poverty. Having traversed all the near parts of the universe, (without ever really stepping too far from home) I here share some of my own journeys. Despite that distance, I still find in so many ways, where I have come from defines me. One path goes back to the Mor MacCrimmon, the line of Scottish pipers, and earlier, the carnate and warfaring Vikings. Another, less well defined, to this lost continent’s long abiding river people. Even when I was unaware of this fraught heritage, it knew me, through the judgements and misconceptions of others, defining who I was, and forming who I would be.
Can one delight in both the joys and the barbarities that have informed your journeys? Only if you wear the appropriate masks. Of course a mask itself is ultimately given meaning through the revelation of its removal.
Thus, here you will find me, wearing and removing masks. Dabbling in poems and stories, occasional commentary or observation, fraught and contested biography, occasionally a video (not quite a performance), or a recitation, sometimes an electronically scrabbled together artefact that makes a pretence of music. Perhaps a linocut, or more often, the borderless and untrammelled frame of a photographic image. Finding there is only ever another mask underneath. Exploring the barbarities of my delight. A dilettante indeed.
These days I live quite far from the red planet of my childhood, and the blue one of my youth. With a cat and an historian, in a quiet, pleasant town, amongst the green hills surrounding Melbourne. Mostly, I still read, and study and weigh feathers against mountains, to see which falls fastest. Gravity still holds me, but, perhaps, a little less each year. For my amusement, for my delight, I offer you my wares, such as they are, sometimes weary, sometimes worn, sometimes trammelled, often shining bright, in the hope that they may bring you some delight, and in your delectation, that you may share your own.
No other recompense is required. However, if you are moved, amused, transported, furied, delighted or charmed by anything in these pages, and wish to lend more material support, you can find and purchase any of the books I have released on Amazon or Book Depository.
Or, if you are perhaps struck more by the visual than the verbal, in the Gallery, you can order prints from a selection of photographs and artworks (publishers can also licence images for online and print use there). Or, if in straitened circumstances (though personally I would say “crooked” circumstances) you can simply share any of the pieces you have found delight in to your social media.
There are some direct links to a selection of my creations below – feel free to explore.
Sharing is caring, as they say, and loving is giving, or more traditionally, here abideth faith, hope and charity, and charity, being the greatest of these; from these faithless offerings, my only hope is that you take what you will.
C S Hughes