Home » People & Culture » Hobbyists


The most innocent remarks often hide profound truths.  One of the regular commenters of Barataria recently confessed that trying to make sense of the world was a “major hobby” – a statement similar to what many of you have said over the years. Barataria itself is a hobby dedicated to the same basic principle – the world we live in takes some effort to make sense of.  Unsaid is the implication that the professionals that are supposed to be helping us in the process aren’t all that helpful.

As hobbies go, it might seem a bit strange.  Yet it’s easy to argue the flip side, namely that this should be the duty of every citizen of a Democratic Republic.  Certainly, there was a time not all that long ago when everyone who hoped to be called a Gentleman spent a lot of time connecting with people and connecting the dots of their world.

What is the role of hobbyists in an integrated world once defined by experts who may be falling down horribly?  The new world beyond this Depression might well be defined by hobbyists like us.  That’s where it gets interesting.

Hobbyists taking over from professionals is hardly a new concept in history.  The US was founded on a very similar idea in the first place, if nothing else.  A more interesting example of hobbyists redefining their world is “The Five”, who came together in 1856 for the purpose of creating a new Russian music.  Only one of them had formal training and they all had day jobs – Modest Mussorgsky was a lawyer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was a Naval officer (who wrote onboard his ship), Aleksander Borodin a Chemist, and César Cui an Army officer – all joined together by Mily Balakirev, a conductor.  They worked together to replace the bits and pieces borrowed from the rest of Europe and create something new with a strong, uniquely Russian identity.

Hopefully you recognize some of the names, particularly Mussorgsky who became famous for “Pictures at an Exhibition” and “Night on Bald Mountain”.  You will find much of their music running in the background of nearly any documentary on Russia because to the world The Five defined Russia.

The Five make a good example of hobbyists taking over the scene because in a certain sense what they produced was not particularly Russian.  They lacked the free time and training to go out and catalog genuine folk music from the people themselves.  Their work came primarily from within, a gut instinct that resonated outward.  Today’s blogging world is not substantially different as hobbyists work to understand – and possibly redefine – the world we live in today.

Modern music as we know it in the US is full of people with little or no training, other than their own relentless drive and passion, so the example of hobbyist musicians may not come as any surprise.  Rap, as an art form, was also crafted entirely by people who put it together as they went.  What is different about The Five is that they were the first to do this and they very deliberately intended to define not just their art but their nation in the process.  Ambition, as much as art or a great scene, made it happen.

The field of writing is often infused by hobbyists as well, but rarely has there been such an organized effort.  I have described the state of writing (and culture) today as “Waiting for Steinbeck”, which is to say that we’re looking for someone who can chronicle what is really happening away from the bright lights of teevee and celebrity.  That movement will probably come from hobbyists when it comes.  Your guess is as good as mine as to when it will happen, but I believe that it must.  You don’t have to look further than the number of movies that are remakes of cartoons to realize that our creative juices desperately need to be refreshed.

Away from art forms, however, the idea of hobbyists becomes a bit trickier.  Is simply understanding the world really a hobby?  If it takes up a lot of time and becomes a passion on its own it certainly qualifies.  Many of you have used the term “hobby” to describe what you do, implying a certain craftsmanship in this interactive world.  You do more than read, you comment and contribute and work things out with other people.

Will this ultimately define a new world, as our Founding Fathers or The Five set out to do?  I think it might have to.  Which is to say that we might need to organize ourselves a bit better and be more deliberate in how we approach our shared hobby.  What might that mean to you?

16 thoughts on “Hobbyists

  1. I think it’s a hobby because understanding what is really going on takes far more work than I can put into it. The “experts” rarely explain things in a way that makes any sense and I think that is deliberate so that they remain in control. Knowledge is power. So this is like a hobby even if it never really changes the world but it could if the exclusive club of those who understand things is broken up. The media will never do that because it would make them worthless (more than they are now) so it is up to us.

    You will have to say what you mean about organizing. If you mean taking power somehow that is not clear to me at all. Elections are one thing but politicians are all bought by the special interests that put them there.

  2. I guess I never thought of it as a hobby but it does take a lot of time to stay connected. Too much garbage is the real problem.

  3. I am one of those who said that I consider this a hobby. It is because you have to spend a lot of time doing it. I have yet to find one source for news that really tries to educate their readers. This is very strange IMHO but it is the way it is.

  4. Anna: What I mean by organizing is more or less what The Five did – which is to say trade notes, give each other encouragement, and so on. We do that a lot here now, and it’s great, but we could step it up a notch. Yes, the target is “the system” – which Alinsky will tell you is a losing battle. A real movement would involve a more personal target than that. I’m curious what people think is the real problem. You named “special interests” ahead of even pols or the media. Can we define that better?

    Dale: The signal to noise ratio on the ‘net can be very low, yes. I keep thinking about a list of articles on the side here as a way of highlighting good stuff I find around (and what others recommend!).

    Jan: It is a matter of putting it together from what I can tell. Aggregators have always fascinated me, but I have yet to find one that is really good. I’ll let you know.

  5. I am afraid I will never comprehend some of the things I thought adults “knew”. That is a sad thing for me because I have come to a more complete or adult understanding of some things but not of more things. I still think it is possible given enough time, energy, effort and skill.

  6. Dan: Hey, how are ya? It may not be possible to know everything in this world, but there are some things that you have to know to be a good citizen. And I honestly think that intuitively most voters do “get” what is important, on average. People can understand a lot more with their guts than their head. I’m starting to think that the problem is two-fold – we’re taught to not trust our guts, and we’re actively discouraged from voting by all the BS that passes for “debate” in politics and the media.

    So I guess if I was to organize, it would be along those lines. And Rupert Murdoch might be the best target to go after. Just thinking.

  7. I am super tired at the moment. So tired I didn’t bother logging in with my own WordPress account as usual, so I logged in the other way. And keep in mind if anyone bothers clicking on the website, there are some kinks needing to be worked out, so please forgive those when you see them. Aware of them. Long story.

    Also, I have so much I could say on this that it would be it’s own blog post and it also would be easier to eventually just have a ping pong back and forth in person discussion on all of the above and other related things. We’ll have to make future plans to hang out (maybe even multi-task while working…or not…whatever) over coffee or if I’m feeling spendy, “Blended Coffee Goodness”.

    Oh, and being the artist I am, I thought of the most RANDOM idea/project that also pertains sorta/kinda to politics and could possibly use your help or input at some point if you’re interested. Zero funds or budget now (ha ha…so sad), but my personal deadline is October. Shouldn’t be TOO complicated or even expensive, but it’s something you might have interest in being a part of. I’ll explain later.

    When I referred to myself as “artist” I do NOT mean hobbyist because I went to college for it, will probably never be able to afford to pay off its debt, have sold work somehow on occasion, have even been lucky enough to be part of a show in NYC and am well acquainted with at least an artist or two who are…the BIG deal kind of artist. I write that NOT to sound braggy. I write it to say there is a difference. And also to say I do NOT recommend anyone actually attempt to be MORE than hobbyist unless one has the illogical “madness” to even bother with something so impractical in life. Those of us nuts enough to follow such dreams (whether we succeed or fail or both or whatever) are the ones who are not the hobbyists. It’s basically a disease or maybe a “condition” or perhaps even a healthy addiction. People call such things a “gift” but in reality it’s a drag. Oh to have been born with the compulsion to be an accountant or something PRACTICAL. And I’ve been blessed in the sense that sometimes at my hardest brokest moments in life where I have found NO JOBS (you know, the ones we call “real” ones because apparently some work is “fake” or something), I have somehow miraculously sold paintings (not for much, but hey) and had the ability to pay a couple of bills or just eat even. Meaning, whatever it was that my “fallback on” plan was supposed to be (a couple of things actually), it ended up BACKWARDS for me somehow. I did the art all along and even had shows all along throughout any period of “real” or “sort of real” employment. Again, that madness concept. But, there came a point where the “fallback plan(s)” didn’t ever come to fruition. Or maybe I should say it drifted off into the sunset. And considering how the economy is, it might never come back into the sunrise. I guess eventually the art ITSELF lead me to slightly more conventional “real” work (which is great, though not ENOUGH “real” work).

    Anyway, on hold on the phone line for the State Capitol doing a little research regarding this interactive public art piece..

  8. Kris: In bad times, art is the first to go. But then again, during the last Depression there was a fair amount of money put to public art – and documenting cultures through music, visual arts, etc. But we don’t seem anywhere near enlightened enough now, so … yeah, it’s at the bottom of the list.

    The other aspect of The Five that is important is probably that they came out of the middle class that 2-3 generations earlier started to take a strong interest in music, making the “Rockstar” career of van Beethoven possible (a much earlier Barataria piece … 🙂 ). Rich people dabbled in art a lot, but never people with “day jobs”, at least not in such an organized and deliberate fashion.

    But it’s been done a lot since then. Why not in the fine art of … connections? 🙂

  9. I think its pathetic to have a ‘hobby’ out of understanding the world. I don’t mean those of you who do it because I do it to but the idea that it has to be a hobby that takes a lot of time out of your life is just ridiculous. Things are so totally broken right now its incredible we haven’t fallen any further than we have so we must be a strong nation. We’re supposed to leave everything to experts in the Fed or the Tea Party or the media? What do any of them know – not more than we do here I am sure. But at least your talking about people who are trying to be informed as hard as it is. Most don’t even bother and that probably includes those in power.

  10. Having made the statement referred to at the start of this post, I have been considering potential more worthwhile hobbies for myself (gardening, piano, basket weaving…) but decided that spending the bulk of my leisure time with online reading is not so pathetic after all. What I am really doing is continuing a quality liberal arts education (in bite sized bits for free.) Today, thanks to Erik, I became introduced to renowned Russian composers whose works I could check out while pursing a great many other topics of interest. I also gained a random insight into trying to make a living as an artist and the pleasure of following a link to Kristin’s online gallery

    I am currently stuck on the question of what value does any of it have other than my own enjoyment of this wide world of ideas. I guess working/thinking together to make sense of the changes taking place in the economy will help people adjust and ways to do network/organize will continue to develop.

  11. Jim: “Too big to understand” is a much worse problem than “Too big to fail”. I don’t think we’re totally there yet, but it certainly seems like it at times. The big thing is that the US has lost control of most of its destiny, I believe, and we’re having a hard time adjusting to that. I think we can, and should, be able to make sense of enough of what’s going on to have enough control over our destiny.

    Laurie: You’re far from alone in the pursuit of this “hobby” – that’s why I took off from it. I hope you can see that in the comments. A liberal arts education never really stops, that’s true, but I can’t help but think there is more to it right now. Ever since the big flare-up in Washingtoon there seems to be a new interest in understanding the world. I can’t help but wonder if that is the start of a movement that could lead to something far bigger.

  12. Just read this…. Isn’t our notion of government by *elected* officials, and, say, trial by jury, based on the assumption that over the long haul the judgement of “hobbyists” is at least as sound as the judgement of experts?

    I believe this myself, but it may be that the growing sophistication of methods of public manipulation and deception, a la Bernays, et. al, has changed this equation. That out traditional assumptions and beliefs about how to govern ourselves are no longer serving us adequately….?

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