An amateur, from French amateur "lover of", is generally considered a person who pursues a particular activity or field of study independently from their source of income. Amateurs and their pursuits are also described as popular, informal, self-taught, user-generated, DIY, and hobbyist.
Historically, the amateur was considered to be the ideal balance between pure intent, open mind and the interest or passion for a subject. That ideology spanned many different fields of interest. It may have had its roots in the ancient Greek philosophy of having amateur athletes compete in the Olympics. The ancient Greek citizens would spend most of their time in other pursuits, but would compete according to their natural talents and abilities.
The "gentleman amateur" was a phenomenon especially among the gentry of Great Britain from the 17th century until even the 20th century. With the start of the Age of Reason, with people thinking more about how the world works around them, (see Science in the Age of Enlightenment), things like the Cabinet of Curiosities, and the writing of the book The Christian Virtuoso, started to shape the idea of the gentleman amateur. He was a person who was vastly interested in a particular topic and would study, observe, and collect things and information on his topic of choice. The Royal Society in Great Britain was generally composed of these "gentleman amateurs" and arguably is one the reasons science today exists the way it does. A few examples of these gentleman amateurs are Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Sir Robert Cotton, 1st Baronet, of Connington.
Amateurism can be seen in both a negative and positive light. Since amateurs often do not have formal training, some amateur work may be considered sub-par. For example, amateur athletes in sports such as basketball, baseball or football are regarded as having a lower level of ability than professional athletes. On the other hand, an amateur may be in a position to approach a subject with an open mind (as a result of the lack of formal training) and in a financially disinterested manner. An amateur who dabbles in a field out of interest rather than as a profession, or who possesses a general but superficial interest in any art or a branch of knowledge, is often referred to as a dilettante.
The line between amateur and professional has always been blurred in athletics with the central idea being that amateurs should not receive material reward for taking part in sports. The lack of financial benefit can be seen as a sign of commitment to a sport; until the 1970s the Olympic rules required that competitors be amateurs. Receiving payment to participate in an event disqualified an athlete from that event, as in the case of Jim Thorpe (he got payment in a different sport, but was banned in all olympic sports). The only Olympic events that still require participants to be amateurs are boxing, wrestling and figure skating but amateurism in these cases is defined in terms of rules, mainly participation in "professional events", rather than whether the athlete receives any money for his sport.
Contribution of amateurs
Many amateurs make valuable contributions in the field of computer programming through the open source movement. Amateur dramatics is the performance of plays or musical theater, often to high standards, but lacking the budgets of professional West End or Broadway performances. Astronomy, chemistry, history, linguistics, and the natural sciences are among the fields that have benefited from the activities of amateurs. Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel were amateur scientists who never held a position in their field of study. William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci were considered amateur artists and autodidacts in their fields of study. Radio astronomy was founded by Grote Reber, an amateur radio operator. Radio itself was greatly advanced by Guglielmo Marconi, a young Italian gentleman who started out by tinkering with a coherer and a spark coil as an amateur electrician. Pierre de Fermat was a highly influential mathematician whose primary vocation was law.
In the 2000s and 2010s, the distinction between amateur and professional has become increasingly blurred, especially in areas such s computer programming, music and astronomy. The term amateur professionalism, or pro-am, is used to describe these activities.
List of amateur pursuits
- Amateur astronomy, including a list of notable amateur astronomers
- Amateur chemistry, including a list of notable amateur chemists
- Amateur film
- Amateur geology or rockhounding, including a list of notable amateur geologists
- Amateur journalism
- Amateur radio
- Amateur sports
- Amateur theatre
- Amateur pornography
- Arts and crafts or handicraft, including a list of handicrafts carried out by amateurs
- Independent scholar
- Independent scientist or gentleman scientist, including a list of notable amateur scientists
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