Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Utopia in progress

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Musician and artiste Coco Solid has embraced the internet. Photo / Supplied
Musician and artiste Coco Solid has embraced the internet. Photo / Supplied

Amateur: its old-fashioned meaning is "lover of", so that an "amateur artist" is someone who makes their art for the love of it. A professional artist can also be an amateur - someone who loves making art and makes money from it.

In this best sense of the term, musician and zine artiste Coco Solid, aka Jessica Hansell, is an amateur artist. When the Ngapuhi/Samoan/German Aucklander started putting out mix-tapes in 2004, making money was not the point. The rapper and punk rocker makes a bit from her music now, but it's still not the point. She also works separately from her many artistic endeavours, and sees this whole other life as enriching her art. "I think that's important," she said last week, at Survive & Thrive, an arts industry conference run by the Arts Regional Trust and thebigidea.co.nz.

Unsurprisingly, she's not worried when she hears people talking about "music dying"; for Coco Solid, the industry big boys' decreasing profits just means making music is "becoming less of a capitalist venture". Rather than being afraid of cyberspace, she owes much of her increasing and "scattered but loyal fanbase" to "the generosity of the internet".

I like Coco Solid's thinking a lot. I like the idea that the quality of someone's art isn't equated with the money they make from it (unlike, say, client-driven design, where that is absolutely fine). I like it because the admired artist in this scenario isn't likely to be the one who has pandered to the highest bidder or the lowest common denominator.

I like that the internet makes the Age of the Amateur Artist seem possible - everybody sharing their aesthetics and creativity and feedback, whether or not they're making money. And many will be making money: the web has made it cheaper to distribute music (for example) as well as making it cheaper to consume it. The price per unit might be smaller, but a much higher percentage of that price can go back to the artist. They have more control.

I also like the idea that we can all participate, as artmakers as well as audience members. We can all take advantage of the relatively cheap apps and websites and technologies such as kindle, garage band and etsy and can now self-publish our own artistic products. You can dream of wide distribution (possibly with professional artistic help), or your artworks can be love letters to your cat.

"But", the visual arts people might wail through all this dewy-eyed idealism, "the web's all very well for musicians and authors and their reproducible artforms, but what about us? We make one-off objects, expensive to produce."

There are several partial answers to this. Maybe more fine art will be repeatable (iterable) in the future - video art is already on the rise.

Then there's internet crowd-funding. Arts crowdfunding is literally buying into someone else's dream; a lot of people give a little directly to the artmaker to embark on an artistic project, rather than one company investing a lot. New Zealand is to get its own arts crowdfunding website "Boosted" later this year.

Like I said, partial answers. This is a utopia in progress: amateur, mon amour.

- NZ Herald

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