Pro Schmoe

Since when does the fact that someone gets paid to do something make his effort or work product any more significant than that of someone who does the same thing without monetary compensation? Since when does the word “professional” mean that the person who is one has the right to look down his nose at the person who is an “amateur”?
I have a few friends who are dedicated photographers. Their photos are gorgeous. It’s obvious that they didn’t just point a disposable camera toward a monument during a whirlwind six-day tour of 19 European cities just for the hell of it. No, they take special care with subject, composition, and narrative. Their photos are more than just garden variety.
But since they don’t receive money for their work, and in some instances have no real aspirations to do so, many people label their efforts as a “hobby”, on par with such stuff as building a ship in a bottle, making boxes out of popsicle sticks, or performing any activity that involves the use of a glue gun, yarn, and glitter. That doesn’t really get my goat (or my sheep, llama, or yak). What does is this: When people with professional expertise dismiss the amateurs’ efforts because they don’t know the “technical” side of the activity.
One of these friends (we’ll call her “Tina”) recently got up the nerve to show several of her photos to a client who is a professional photographer. The photographer immediately asked Tina all sorts of questions that left her head spinning. One of the things she asked about was aperture. Tina was down-to-earth enough to admit to this client that she doesn’t know her aperture from a hole in the ground. The client sniffed derisively and thus deemed Tina’s photographs as illegitimate and unworthy of further discussion.
“She thinks I don’t know what I’m doing, just because I don’t know the technical terms,” Tina said. “Maybe I don’t know how to describe what I do, but I do know what I’m looking for. I just feel my way through it.”
Another friend, “Nancy”, admits that she would love to know more about photography, but that she is having a blast just taking photographs of everything that catches her eye. Nancy has a fantastic sense of composition and an eye for color. Every time I see one of her photos, I know there is a story behind it. I’m sure there are more technical terms, but I don’t care.
“Yeah, but I don’t really know what I’m doing,” she says. “I just see something I like, and I take a picture of it.”
Still, her photos are no mere “snapshots”. As we say here in the land of the truly lofty, “She knows her stuff!”
So what if she doesn’t know what an F-stop is? I don’t know what it is either. As far as I’m concerned, the F-stop is somewhere on Sixth Avenue. It takes me where I want to be, and that’s all I need to know. Just like Tina’s and Nancy’s photographs take them where they want to be — locked in a moment that they felt worthy of preservation, for whatever reason. Need they know more?
So why do people who are paid to do something feel the need to put down the efforts of others who are not paid to do it? Is an actor who is struggling to make it in an off-off-off-Broadway production, working for nothing but the sheer love of acting, any less of an actor than someone who receives millions of dollars for making a less than memorable movie? Is the painter who sets up his easel on a corner of Union Square, capturing the scene in watercolor, any less of a painter than someone who has somehow managed to get his work shown in a gallery? The same can be asked of writers, singers, musicians, and anyone else who isn’t paid to do what he loves to do.
I wonder if the supercilious snoot who looked down her nose at Tina’s work ever heard of a little-known schmoe named Vincent Van Gogh.