In what follows, I pose a challenge to you, my dear readers and conversants, to consider what it is to be a professional. And I hope to hear your responses. Rudyard Kipling provides a searing review of art and professionalism in his poem, The Conundrum of the Workshops. His poem brings this post to a close, following a brief look into Kipling's own background and philosophy.
As an insatiably curious beast, jack of all trades, polymath, dilettante, self-obsessed, immodest dreamer (however you might address me), I often wrestle and rant over the idea of "professional."
Question One: Is a professional someone who earns money for her craft? What percentage of her income must be earned in this pursuit until she is a professional tiddly wink player?
Question Two: Must you have a degree, accreditation, or must you be published?
It appears we now live in a world of self-published individuals, each of us a mini media mogul of our blog, youtube, and facepage, each lording over our one pixel in the digital collage of humankind. And now droves of people of all ages are turning to MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses. Ivy Leagues leading the charge to offer their courses to anyone who understands enough English to complete the coursework! Some of these courses offer their own certification of completion.
But there is a significant backlash to this increasing availability of knowledge and DIY spirit. New professional associations are unceasingly coagulating from the primordial ooze of unlicensed amateurs. Their message: you must have letters at the end of your name in order for you to be trusted and to water at the shrinking pool of clients/customers. Only the most naïve would deny that commodification drives professionalization. And to be frank, commodification is an extension of hoarding. And hoarding is derived from such base emotions as fear, however justified and rationalized by economic nomenclature.
I must agree that there is an endless list of reasons for professionalization of skills, and many are beneficial. I want to know that my dentist is not wholly self taught. Despite all the economic and safety reasons, there is one thing that professionalization ultimately cannot guarantee: Skill. I can't tell you how many failing teachers, harmful physical and psychological therapists, and barely helpful accountants I have met.
Here is the conundrum: A certification does not make you good. It means you jumped through some hoops and shelled out a good bit of money to clear the threshold:
"Matters of economic policy should be reserved to a priesthood with the correct post-doctoral credentials, which would of course have excluded David Hume, Adam Smith, and arguably John Maynard Keynes (a mathematics graduate, with a tripos foray in moral sciences)." ~ From the Humble Libertarian
I hope we take the time to consider this inquiry. I am taking on my own challenge, as I hope you do, to observe unlicensed workers and consider them for their talents. Where do we ultimately draw the line for necessity of credentials?
So, what does Rudyard Kipling have to say about professionals and artists, writ small or large? And how did his social position and upbringing influence his insightful evaluation?
"Rudyard Kipling was never one to accept accolades for his work. He was, I'm sure, called an artist by many, but refused to make a distinction between craftsmen and artists. He refused honors most of his life, and I rather think he did so because he saw himself as one of the people for whom he wrote. He was a commoner in his own eyes and resented being elevated above the average man. He was capable of the aires of the upper middle class, but also loved the music halls, placing him at elbows with many of the lower classes. Match that with all the years he spent as correspondent travelling with Her Majesty's Boys in Red, and we see an appreciation for the commoner, and less so for the elevated.My take on the conundrum? He's thumbing his nose at "artistes" in general, trying to distance himself from them." ~Bruce Graham, 2007, from an online poetry forum
The Conundrum of the Workshops.