A dilettante is the one who practices an art, or even science, solely from hobby, that is to say, for pleasure, and has not exercised it as a profession, or has learned through an education. Thus, the amateur is an amateur, also a layman, and thus differs from the expert. Nevertheless, dilettanteism can not be equated with stupidity, that is, unclean work, because masterpieces and perfect works can be created by amateurs. However, the term is sometimes used as a depreciation for a person who does not understand their subject.

The term goes back to the Italian dilettare, which is derived from the Latin delectare. These words translate with pleasure. Consequently, the translation already refers to the basic principle of a person dumming, namely, to pursue an activity for pleasure [without practicing it professionally or having completed a corresponding training].

Originally, the term “artists”, who had not learned the craftsmanship, or art lovers. The substantive, as well as the verb dilettieren, has been documented since the 18th century and can be attributed above all to the music. Formerly, the terms were by no means used negatively, but, for example, the employment of the nobility was distinguished from those who contested their livelihood with an activity. Today, the term is often used synonymously to the bungler.


Well-known amateurs
The dilettante must therefore not appear bad or inferior because it was made only by a person who did not make the whole professionally, that is, professionally, or in the course of an education. Thus, there are all sorts of well-known amateurs from art, music, literature and science, who made significant contributions in the respective field.

dilettante profession
(Occupation, business) Dilettante performance
(originated from hobby, expert)
by Guericke lawyer, mayor founder of vacuum technology
Priestley preacher, theologian discoverer of ammonia, hydrogen chloride, carbon dioxide and oxygen
Bradley theologian discoverer of the aberration of the light
Herschel Military Musician Discovered Uranus, a major astronomer
Franklin book printer inventor of the lightning arrester
Joseph & Jacques
Montgolfier Papierfabrikanten Inventors of the hot air balloon
Stirling Pastor Inventor of the Stirling engine (see Eponym)
Thompson politician further development of heat theory
Johann Wolfgang
by Goethe jurist, poet discoverer of the interdental bone as well as the metamorphosis in plants
Pierre Augustin Caron
de Beaumarchais watchmaker author of comedy The Marriage of Figaro
Mendel Chorherr Discoverer of inheritance rules (Mendelian rules)
Schliemann Kaufmann Discover the city of Troja
Humann Engineer Discovered the ruins of the Pergamon altar
Kneipp prenatal development of hydrotherapy (Kneipp medicine)
David H.
Levy journalist discoverer of numerous planets
van Leeuwenhoek cloth handlers designed microscopes, discovered bacilli
Foucault Inventor Invented the typewriter and proved the earth rotation (Foucault’s pendulum)
Einstein Physicist Played violin, was belgeitet by the pianist Youra Guller
Meaning change of the term
The dilettante was formerly regarded as the one who did a thing out of the joy of this and of hobby, whereby by this he did not deny his livelihood. When the term emerged in German in the eighteenth century, its significance was still fundamentally positive, but was concomitantly connotated and equated with the bungling and faulty.

The encyclopaedist Johann Georg Krünitz, in 1793, attested a lively feeling for art, which is very close to the original meaning of the concept. Nevertheless, the dilettante is denied the actual awareness of art only a few years later, or at least in the German Encyclopaedia (1796), that the dilettante can have a corrupt taste, and thus differs from the true artist.

The dilettante is thus moving somewhere between the student and the master or the artist and the bungler, which is difficult to grasp. Nevertheless, it was then used mainly negatively, that is to say the botch. For example, in a letter to Goethe from March 1, 1799, Schiler resorted to the phrase “dilettante lightness” in order to characterize the work of Humboldt and attested to it in the same way that he did not understand the reader and a dry manner.

Goethe and Schiller, moreover, are the ones who further the definition of the concept and dare to isolate it from similar or related concepts. In a collection of several writings (On Dilettantism, 1799), they formulate the following confinement of the notion that the dilettante behaves like art to a craftsman. So the amateur becomes a bungler.

Short overview: The most important part of the term at a glance
The dilettante is a person who works a science or art only out of hobby. Accordingly, the term is related to the amateur and the layman and is opposed to the master as well as expert. Nowadays, the term is often used as a depreciation.
However, considerable achievements and works of amateurs can be provided, with numerous well-known names in the annals of dilettantism. For example, Goethe, Einstein, Mendel, or Foucault, have made considerable discoveries in areas they have pursued for interest, joy, and curiosity.
Note: The word is quite difficult. The single l as well as the double consonant are causing problems. Often, therefore, the notation “Dilletant” is found. But this is wrong.

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