Proposed DJ certification ignores artists’ freedom to create

There are many arguments when it comes to art: Is the painting sending a message, or is it just a mess of colours? Is he dancing or having a seizure? Does that song make you want to dance or wish that you were deaf? Inevitably, such arguments all end in the same common cliché: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

With the proposal for DJs to undergo professional certification, a certain feeling of uneasiness should fall upon all musicians and artists. Music is a form of self-expression, and many think of it as its own art form. Requiring a DJ to follow certain guidelines, however, could hinder their ability to create and express themselves. What if history’s great artists had been required to follow “professional” guidelines? Would the Sistine Chapel be the masterpiece it is if Michelangelo had restrictions placed on him?

Within music and art there are multiple genres and styles. The specific skills and knowledge of one DJ may have no bearing on another. You wouldn’t have a country singer teach a rap class, so why would you have a Top-40 DJ telling someone how to harmonize sound effects? Everyone has a different taste in music, and the sounds a DJ creates could require him or her to step outside of the boundaries that the accrediting association may place.

Who teaches art?

Brian Rusted is the head of the art department at the University of Calgary. When it comes to visual art, he says they don’t teach students how to be creative and what to create, but rather how to get their ideas off the ground. “Someone can’t just say, ‘I want to build a bronze statue.’ You need to thoroughly know each step that goes into creating a sculpture, which requires training in the technical aspects,” Rusted says.How can we place guidelines and restrictions on art, when it’s all just a form of self-expression?

Photo Illustration by Drew Henn

“I don’t think any art school teaches, ‘What is art?’ Any good art department will teach students the social aspects of art: how to deal with galleries, critics, and being able to market your art,” Rusted says.

Art schools provide the techniques necessary to get ideas off the ground. They don’t create the idea, they provide a means for the idea to be created. But how would Rusted feel if art were to be professionally certified?

“It would be impossible to regulate,” Rusted said. “If you had to have a generic artist license that resembled something like a drivers license, there would be no one qualified enough to distribute the test.”

Industry calling for change

What makes the DJ certification suggestion interesting is that the DJ industry itself is asking for it. Whenever there is talk of regulation or certification, it is usually the government stepping in to protect the consumer. Just last year, a government-appointed task force in Quebec suggested that there be a professional status created for journalists to distinguish them from citizen journalists. It also suggested giving priority to large, established news organizations when it comes to granting access. If such recommendations actually passed, freedom of the press would only have been granted to large organizations; anyone with differing opinions could have essentially been censored because they would not be granted professional status.

As Craig Silverman, co-founder of OpenFile, put it in Maclean’s Magazine: “They’re trying to find ways to prop up the big media institutions. Why not focus to create an ecosystem that allows new media to thrive instead?” Silverman said.

And that’s just it; instead of creating a professional certification for artists that would alienate those without professional training, why not create a system in which DJs can be recognized for their innovations or individuality?

What are the benefits?

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Although the U of C’s Rusted thinks it would be impossible to create a professional art license, he does mention the benefit of being in an association. “There is a wide range of artist associations,” Rusted says. “Being awarded membership in these associations provides credibility for artists and can legitimize their status in the art community.”

Having a generic DJ certification does make sense in certain circles. If you’re having a party or wedding, you might choose to give up creativity for reliability.

For instance, Dave MacDonell, a recent newlywed, says the DJ he hired for his wedding was incompetent. “The music was just blaring and full of static. He even had videos of porn on the screens.” Nonetheless, MacDonell still says that even if a professionally certified DJ had been available, he still might not have hired one. “Whenever you’re licensed or certified, there’s usually a cost associated to that,” he says. “But if you’re in pinch, and money doesn’t matter, then it would be an easy phone call. ‘Are you certified? No? OK, next.’”

Knowing you hired someone with the knowledge and technical proficiency to handle a sound system is great; but how would DJs be viewed in the art community if they sell out and refrain from pushing artistic limits just to get a certification?

DJs should think carefully about their next move, or they may soon face some unexpected decisions. Maybe they’ll be on the other end of a phone call being told, “OK, next.”

akubinski@cjournal.ca