Is there a word for 'dilettante' that doesn't have the same negative connotation?
January 30, 2005 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Is there a word for 'dilettante' that doesn't have the same negative connotation? I'm looking for a way to express employment in a number of disparate fields in an artist's bio. Ideally a noun (the sentence reads: "So-and-so is a self-employed ______"), but other/better constructions are welcome too.
posted by xo to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Dabbler in various fields"?
posted by borkingchikapa at 10:54 AM on January 30, 2005


That's kind of a hard one because the definition of dilettante is usually perceived as "amateur", other definitions are also usually percieved as "amateur" or kind of goofy, e.g "renaissance man". Perhaps try something basic like "professional".
posted by jeremias at 10:55 AM on January 30, 2005


Would polymath be over the top?
posted by punilux at 11:04 AM on January 30, 2005


Gadabout?
posted by interrobang at 11:07 AM on January 30, 2005


multi-tasker?
posted by peterbl at 11:09 AM on January 30, 2005


Punilux beat us to it on preview. Depending on the profession you seek, it could come off the wrong way. I remember using the word in conversation with an otherwise intelligent person who looked at me quizzically and said, "What language is that?"

Broadly-skilled professional, less off-putting...actually the noun dilettante isn't pejorative but usage is king and that's how it's preceived these days.
posted by nj_subgenius at 11:10 AM on January 30, 2005


I like to use autodidact. It's not the same thing really, but it is usually related to people who know a little about a lot, someone not "specialized" in a single profession. You could restructure the sentence to read something like: "So and so is a self-employed autodidact who currently works in several fields including x, x and x."
posted by sic at 11:10 AM on January 30, 2005


{perceived} arrgh
posted by nj_subgenius at 11:10 AM on January 30, 2005


"jack-of-all-trades"?

Don't use a noun that most people will need to look up in a dictionary. Just rewrite the sentence with a descriptive phrase.
posted by smackfu at 11:13 AM on January 30, 2005


I was going to suggest polymath too. But that could sound really pretentious in the wrong context. It usually kind of implies "genius," so it would have to be obvious that there was a little self-inflation going on.

I'd stay away from "dabbler" because it has the exact same implications as "dilettante."

If it's possible in terms of space, I would just list all the things that the artist has done. ("So-and-so is a self-employed writer, photographer, painter, sculptor, and writer," for example.) Fewer words are usually better, but having the list better conveys the exhaustiveness of the subject's accomplishments, with fewer undesirable connotations.
posted by SoftRain at 11:16 AM on January 30, 2005


Look out for confusion in the eye of the semiliterate beholder.
gadabout can be confused with gadfly (not good); autodidact = blurred with 'didact', leading to 'someone pedantic'.
(that's just my experience)
Same with polymath as mentioned before. Who's your audience?
posted by nj_subgenius at 11:19 AM on January 30, 2005


Renaissance (wo)man?
posted by sageleaf at 11:31 AM on January 30, 2005


Definitely "jack-of-all-trades". You can safely call someone that and not get punched in the face, unlike "autodidact" or "polymath".

Unless they recall the rejoinder "and master of none", but I digress.
posted by tommasz at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2005


Sorry, jeremias, that's what I get for skimming.
posted by sageleaf at 11:32 AM on January 30, 2005


"jack of all trades, master of none" (so don't use that).
posted by andrew cooke at 11:51 AM on January 30, 2005


I think the best response on this subject is Brian Eno's:

Interviewer: "All this can make you sound a bit of a dabbler, can't it, a bit of a dilettante?"

Eno: "Well, I am a dilettante. It's only in England that dilettantism is considered a bad thing. In other countries it's called 'inter-disciplinary research'."

So there you go: you're an interdisciplinary scholar.
posted by googly at 11:52 AM on January 30, 2005


I came in here to suggest polymath as well. Personally, I think it sounds less pretentious than "Renaissance woman/man", just because... well, you kind of have to be a polymath to know what "polymath" means, but that's not so for the (IMHO) hackneyed & overused phrase "Renaissance whatever."

I don't think that "autodidact" is quite what you're looking for — I was always under the impression that it means "one who is self-taught" rather than "one who knows about a lot of things", and the OED backs me up. Of course, it may be true that the person is an autodidact as well as a polymath, but it may not be the meaning you're trying to get across.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2005


Why not leave it as "so and so is self-employed" and avoid another noun altogether?

Or, you can go the route of many a poet's bio I've seen, when they want to shine their cred as an artist cum working stiff, and list all the actual jobs. As in, Poet X has been variously employed as a soda jerk, movie usher, cow puncher, etc.

Or, you can just make everyone mad with jealousy and leave the day job stuff out altogether, subtly insinuating that you are successful enough to not have to worry about it, while not outright lying.
posted by melissa may at 12:12 PM on January 30, 2005


FWIW, there are graduate programs in interrelated media, so working across boudaries as an artist is not always seen as a bad thing. Even if the areas in which you've worked are not always related to your artwork, you can look at your experiences as being a wide range of creative exploration.
posted by spaghetti at 1:33 PM on January 30, 2005


Generalist?
posted by NortonDC at 1:58 PM on January 30, 2005


I've always liked "factotum" (someone who can do/has done a variety of jobs, originally connoted being a servant) but it doesn't really serve your purposes. I'd have to agree with melissa on this one-- you might be better off leaving the word out.
posted by gwint at 2:38 PM on January 30, 2005


"well-rounded and versatile" are two good ones.
posted by softlord at 3:52 PM on January 30, 2005


I like to use autodidact.

Suit yourself, but I think that's generally perceived in as negative a light as "dilettante." "Generalist" isn't bad, but melissa may's may be the best suggestion.
posted by languagehat at 3:56 PM on January 30, 2005


"jack-of-all-trades, master of some.
posted by exlotuseater at 4:40 PM on January 30, 2005


Mulitfaceted? On preview I agree with Melissa May's suggestion to leave it off entirely.
posted by yoga at 4:45 PM on January 30, 2005


Hacker Tourist
posted by b1tr0t at 5:29 PM on January 30, 2005


I use generalist. Flâneur, unfortunately has explicitly negative connotations, but since it is so obscure, it could be abused to seem to have positive connotations until that's the common usage of it.
posted by jimfl at 5:45 PM on January 30, 2005


"pursued disparate interests"
"developed a broad range of skills"
"branched out in several directions"
"My experiences covered several disciplines."
"explored a variety of career paths"
"My background draws on several disciplines."
posted by NortonDC at 9:33 PM on January 30, 2005


Um, if its for an artist's bio, why don't you use the word 'artist'? Or if the jobs you are trying to represent are not particularly artistic, despite this person defining themself as an artist, how about 'multidisplinary professional'?
posted by Kololo at 2:51 AM on January 31, 2005


Or, um, maybe 'multidisciplinary professional' instead.
posted by Kololo at 2:52 AM on January 31, 2005


You haven't gone into what kinds of jobs the poet has had. If he's a thinker type how about synthesist?

If manual labourer how about handyman? A handyman will do everything from digging a ditch, to building a fence, to repairing a tractor, to plumbing a house.
posted by Mitheral at 6:07 AM on January 31, 2005


Flâneur, unfortunately has explicitly negative connotations, but since it is so obscure, it could be abused to seem to have positive connotations until that's the common usage of it.

I'm ALL for this suggestion.
posted by flaneur at 10:20 AM on January 31, 2005


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