The Professional-Amateur Axis in Art and Creativity

Another issue I’m always intrigued by within creativity is the dialogue/dichotomy/opposition, call it what you will, between the professional and the amateur, sometimes rephrased as the center versus the periphery. According to an article in The Globe and Mail the art world is currently going through a fad for ‘outsider’ art. “The poor, alienated, ignorant and mentally marginal are the new “ethnics”; their otherness as remote and alluring to privileged art buyers as any African mask.”

The kicker questions come in the middle of the article:

Is the outsider craze a positive sign of a new democracy in the arts, or merely a symptom of advanced and destructive jadedness, the mixed message of a culture turned overly suspicious of professionalism and education that nevertheless remains enthralled by romantic ideas of “authenticity”? And who decides what makes an outsider artist, or whether or not postmodernism leaves the crude and crusty outsider look, like any other, up for grabs by insiders?

The interaction between the center and the periphery is nothing new, in philosophy you could trace it back to the Greeks and the barbarians or the ‘natural savage’ of the Enlightenment. Today the interaction takes place on an accelerated scale; the periphery is snapped up by a mainstream eagerly looking for the next commercial hit. Technology, like the internet, make it even easier for new movements or ideas to become part of the mainstream. On most days I think this access is an unequivocal boon.

Today I’m wondering if the sheer speed with which the center incorporates the periphery, or the professionals coopt the amateurs, decreases the chances for truly evolutionary changes to occur. Biological evolution, a la the Galapagos Islands, thrives on prolonged separation. If the new environment is invaded or raided by the old too soon then new species are not created. Our technology may make the creative ecosphere easier to navigate but it also makes it easier to plunder. The connection between biology and creativity may be tenuous but the metaphors seem intriguing.