Saturday, May 20, 2006

Professional or Amateur?

"The driver of this truck is a professional..." It's a sign I often see in front of my windscreen. It's followed by information on how to phone in a complaint about the standard of his driving. But does it really mean anything? Well, let me see... Professional sports people are paid on a regular basis, while amateurs play sport for the love of it, with little or no remuneration. Is the truck driver paid for his efforts? Well, yes. That's a no-brainer, but it scarcely warrants a sign. Well then, there are "professions" such as medicine and law, in which the "professional" tag implies long training and exams passed to guarantee a certain standard at the end of training. Is the truck driver trained for his job? Of course - he wouldn't be allowed on the road without a heavy traffic license, and various other licenses such as dangerous goods training where necessary. Again, it hardly warrants a sign on the back of the truck.
So, what it really amounts to is a "feel good" statement to make us think the driver is competent at what he does. We do use the words in this way, as adjectives, though usually not as nouns. Someone does a "professional" job, or an "amateurish" one. It's a pity, I think, that the words are used in this way. Amateur did not originally mean incompetent. It derives from a word meaning "to love". An amateur is one who loves what they do (and therefore does it for love, not for money). An amateur, obviously, can be highly skilled in what they do.
I started thinking about the use of the words in the arts, and googling a little. The American Quilters Society, I found, has dropped the distinction between "amateur" and "professional" in its show categories. I've always thought it was a difficult distinction to make. Presumably it was based on money. There are some who earn a regular living by making and selling quilts, and teaching (Ruth McDowell has supported herself and brought up two daughters for many years, solely on her income as a quilter). There are others who have never earned a penny from their quilts. In my experience, most of my quilting friends who have been at it for very long have at least sold a quilt or two, or taken a class here and there for the local guild and been paid for it. It is pocket money, really, but where do you draw the line? How much do you have to earn before you are professional?
In writing, I realised, it is another matter. No one calls J K Rowling a "professional writer" although she has become wealthy as a result of Harry Potter. No, she is simply a "writer". Or a "published writer". Or a "children's writer". Someone might be a "novelist" or a "poet". But "professional writer" carries connotations of a technical writer, or a journalist, or perhaps someone who contracts regularly to ghost write sports autobiographies. It certainly implies to me, a regular income - not the unreliable royalties - and perhaps a degree in journalism or technical writing.
All of which musing confirms to me that the sign on the back of the truck is pretty silly, really. And that I, for one, am proud to be an "amateur" - making quilts and writing poems for the love of it. And if I occasionally sell something, that's just a bonus.


mab said...

hi catherine,

thanks for your visit, and, I was not aware that some of my words come out strange...that's the first time anyone has said that and I have been doing this for a very long time. But thanks.


mab said...

yes, my friend, you are right...have a great day!


Kay Cooke said...

You've made some good points here which I hadn't thought about really.