rise of the amateur

“The whole idea of the professional artist belongs to the 20th century,” says Shan Maclennan, Southbank’s creative director of learning and participation. “Before that, amateurs were everywhere.”

This quote is from a Newsweek article on amateurs making art. [link via artsjournal]

We’ve written before about the “rise of the amateur” and how that’s affecting the contemporary landscape.  I like to think of it as “the rise of the professional amateur” – which is something of an oxymoron. But the truth is that there are many, many talented people who for any number of reasons have not penetrated the ranks of “professional” artists. Should these people be barred from artistic expression? Should their creative output be denigrated because the gatekeepers of professionalism have not given their imprimatur?

When my friends and I started the WYSIWYG Talent Show back in 2004, we regularly played to packed houses because it was very porous – it wasn’t about professionalism, it was about sharing stories, talents and quirks. That being said, some very professional people performed and out of that soup of stories and individuals came some very polished and accomplished talents.

It has been said (I think of the Velvet Underground) that technical amateurishness should not be a barrier to artistic expression. And now more than ever with technology lowering barriers to access in art-making we should be encouraging a proliferation of creative expression. Does that mean that we do away with professionalism? Of course not. But we need a vast and thriving ecosystem of “amateurs” or “professional amateurs” to help nurture innovation and change. And to keep things fun. Art shouldn’t be something that is merely looked at, it must be participated in.

Oh – and I also want to make a quick note saying that, to me,  “amateur” doesn’t necessarily mean “Loud folk art practice” – it just designates someone who has a day job that is not their art.

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