My last post inspired a friend to comment via email. Like me he wondered why craftsmanship and striving to do your best is held in such low regard by certain modelers. We exchanged some ideas but neither of us has an answer that satisfies.
Words don’t make no difference*
To begin, consider the vocabulary shaping the worldview of hobbyists in this country: “Good enough,” “rivet counters,” “selective compression,” “freelancing,” “playing with trains;” along with ideas such as the three-foot rule (if you can’t see it from three feet, don’t worry about it), and even “hobbyist,” which denotes an amateur’s approach and mindset. The way we communicate with each other and the public should not be taken lightly. Words make a difference. They have meaning, make distinctions and create an impact on readers. Establish the vocabulary and you’ve defined the conversation and the outcomes.
I want to be inspired
I no longer purchase model railroad magazines on a regular basis because with the single exception of the Model Railway Journal from the UK, they no longer inspire me. To move my skills forward, I look at other topics such as woodworking and other crafts where the pursuit of higher skills is respected. To better my writing skills, I follow the blog of a professional writer I respect. I study graphic arts and related subjects such as photography to sharpen my design skills. There are telling differences in how these disciplines treat their subject matter. Let me cite a couple of examples.
The magazine I mentioned last week, American Craft, features profiles of leading craftspeople and their work. These are professionals who have spent countless years in dedicated work to hone their skills. The magazine has a clear editorial focus toward professionalism and excellence. You will not find articles for hobbyists such as “5 Ways To Make Better Clay Pots” or “What To Look For When Buying Your First Loom.” I enjoy learning about the individual journeys of the artists and builders and I’m inspired by their discipline and dedication to craft.
The title Fine Woodworking, published by Taunton Press, says it all. The focus is on building skills by learning from the work of professional woodworkers.
In stark contrast to American modeling magazines that attempt to be all things to as wide an audience as possible, the Model Railway Journal also focuses on excellence in finescale modeling in 2mm, 4mm, and 7mm scales, among others. The high quality work is presented in a respectful manner. Sadly, there is nothing like it in this country, except for the various annuals published by Westlake Publishing.
I find such editorial clarity refreshing and herein lies a clue. The premise of these magazines is that the reader wants a serious approach to developing their skills. Among these fields there are publications aimed at the professional and others aimed at the amateur, with little or no crossover between them. The conversation about model railroading doesn’t make this distinction, being positioned with a clear hobbyist mindset, even though there are modelers capable of producing museum quality work, along with professional modelers who earn an income from their skills.
Our magazines once had a similar expectation but in my view, today it no longer exists. Couple this with the subjective and growing idea that an out of the box model is just as valid and no different as one built from scratch, a view that suspends any sense of discernment. Further, any differences there may be are simply a matter of personal taste, rather than degree. In the arts and other disciplines, aesthetic judgement is critical. A work met expectations or it didn’t. But if, as some believe, everything is equally valid and, with matters of skill treated subjectively, is there any wonder why a resentful attitude exists among modelers who embrace that view?
I don’t have an answer. I realize some people object to my views. My position has always been this, if you want to couple your 4-4-0 to a string of Amtrak Superliner cars and watch it chase its tail, please do so. Don’t, however, expect me to get excited about that because it isn’t how I practice the craft of railroad modeling. My choice doesn’t have to be the same as yours and your choice doesn’t have to be the same as mine. I’m not diminished by your choice nor should you feel diminished by mine. I will practice the craft as I please and share my view with others. Aren’t we all free to do the same?
*My use of poor grammar was intentional.