Blurring the lines: the amateur vs. The Expert

Sasha’s post makes some great points about the ways in which the internet can serve to democratise art and culture. In his book The Cult of the Amateur: how blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values Andrew Keen discusses his many issues with the internet – as you can see from the title he’s not a huge fan. One thing that seems to really keep Keen awake at night is “the cult of the amateur”. Keen seems to really like strictly defined categories, and he’s not too crazy about the lines between amateurs and experts becoming blurry – and in some senses, he’s right. There is a time and a place for an expert (and there will continue to be in spite of the internet), but there are also plenty of instances where amateurs do a pretty great job, and because of the internet there is now more room for those amateurs to move into a professional sphere if that’s what they desire.  The internet is a fantastic tool for discovery, and Keen’s extreme anxiety presents quite a narrow view of the internet as a resource.

In relation to the line between the amateur and the expert, and the concept of remixing, I think David Bowie’s creative practices are worth considering. In composing song lyrics Bowie sometimes uses a computer program called “The Verbasizer” (you can read more about this here). This tool allows the user to enter phrases or sentences and then it simply remixes them to produce new sentences. So, Bowie types in a few lines that he has written, or newspaper headlines or whatever, and “verbasizes” them into lyrics. Surely, Keen would agree that David Bowie can be considered an expert in the composition of music, but I think “The Verbasizer” blurs those lines of expertise. I imagine there would be plenty of people who would feel indignant about Bowie’s use of this tool and would probably respond by saying “well, anyone can do that.” But that’s my point (and Sasha’s too, I think) – anyone <i>can</i> do it. Remix has been part of artistic processes for centuries. What Bowie is doing is really just a technological version of the language poets cutting up words and pulling them out of a bag. Anyone could do that too. The point is that not everyone who uses a tool like “The Verbasizer” is going to end up as the next David Bowie. There is more to remix than just slapping a bunch of things together and calling it art. The experts will still emerge, even from the wilds of the internet. We will still have good art, good journalism, good scholarship, etc, and we might even be able to learn some things from the amateurs too.

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3 Responses to Blurring the lines: the amateur vs. The Expert

  1. cleda.choi says:

    I completely agree with Julie and would add that Keen’s views illustrate his anxiety towards a greater democratization of information dissemination. After spending a week preparing a presentation on Foucault and Said, Keen’s opinions seem, to me, to exemplify an anxiety towards loosening up control over who gets to form, to contribute to all kinds of discourses. That being said, it is scary for me, probably all of us, to face a professional world in which the lines between amateur and professional are constantly being renegotiated.

    • laura.chapnick says:

      I agree with Julie, and especially her final points about learning from amateurs. In terms of online resources sometimes the most valuable feedback can be found in the comments sections (I do not mean to be self reflexive here!) If a scholar, writer, artist…etc is trying to test out an idea, the collaboration between expert research or output and amateur opinion can inspire the expert to remix in a whole new way that can be productive for both parties.

  2. Pingback: ♥ Amateurs ♥ | The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes

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