Robin Simpson, CEO of Voluntary Arts Network, had the best New Year back to work Twitterbrag this morning, as he was quoted in Newsweek's story about the rise of amateur artists. There are few better people to quote, as Robin walks it like he talks it, a serious but unpaid French horn player and advocate for the importance of voluntary and amateur artists. I tend to agree that the emphasis on paid arts production as the entirety of 'the arts' has been meant something has been lost to the overall, and leads to some of the feelings of exclusion some people describe, and that a continuum is both more accurate and healthy culturally. (I agree that this predates the recession, and actually predates the digitally-enabled 'pro-am revolution' too.)
I might say that, coming from a poetry background, where the actual production of poems is rarely paid for - although associated products and activity might be. Some years ago I put together a books of essays on poetry readings, and there were at least two essays in there which reflected the tensions about quality and openness obvious in the Newsweek piece. They looked at the phenomenon of open readings, one, by Martin Stannard questioning the value and comparing some readings to Les Dawson's piano playing as I recall (without the book to hand), another by David Kennedy marking the personal psychological and therefore arguably social value of even bad poems, drawing on poems of mourning. I've hosted more than my share of open readings, and wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to go to one these days, but when I do see them, there's always something fascinating and heartening about them. And if there's not one really bad poem, it's not open enough for my liking. (The book, Words Out Loud, published by Stride in 2002, is no longer available except second-hand - unless you ask me nicely in which case I've a few in a cupboard...)
So let's make space in 2010 for amateurs of all qualities - the gems of brilliance that are let in will more than make up for the mediocre, I'll wager.
Oh yeah - and Happy New Year!