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I have thought a lot about specializing.
My father once described a commercial he saw on german television: the commercial asks, ‘which would you rather listen to?’ showing first a plays all musician with cymbols on the knees, an accordian, and harmonica. The second image was a symphony violinist. The point he was trying to make was clear.

To make great things you have to focus.
A lot of marketing advice reccomends specializing. Do one thing, and do it well. Don’t try and be everything to everyone. In order to become a master artist, you must focus your attention exclusively on your craft. Multi-tasking and ‘having too many irons in the fire’ can be counter-productive.

I can’t focus, I want to do it all!
I paint: with oils, acrylics, watercolor…anything!
landscapes, portraits, whimsical, abstracts…depending on my mood. I work with clay and can’t decide whether to work with functional (cups, bowls, etc) pottery or sculptural…so i do both. I tend to obsessively work on one thing until I reach a point where i am burnt out, and then i will shift to something else. It is a good cure for artist’s block.

I am trying to tie everything together.
In spite of my different moods and mediums, a unique voice is developing. My style is a fusion of many different passions. I have been working in series with the idea that each painting will relate to the one painted before and after it. The goal is a uniform look when all the paintings are shown together in a room. It is hard sometimes to avoid tangents, but they can be the next series.

That’s as close as I can get to specializing.
I know that not all artists have a problem with focus, because it shows in their work. I wonder if they had to struggle against the desire to ‘try everything’ before focusing? As I continue to develop, my many obsessions might fuse into one great work. I hope so.

Can anyone else relate to this?
I am interested in hearing any stories and suggestions. Are you a good multi-tasker? What techniques do you use to focus on a project? Do you know any successful ‘jack-of-all trades’? What do you think was their secret?

I really would like to hear your comments…if you aren’t sure how to post to the blog, feel free to email me:

3 thoughts on “specializing

  1. Hi Kenny,
    I do a whole lot of things. Many of them very well, and many not so well. For me, if I keep experimenting, I feel that I have more freedom to try new things. Sometimes that leads to a dead end, sometimes something new and refreshing. I think that overall I have developed my own voice in part because I have not overly specialized. However, I notice that over time, my pieces seem to have a unified theme, or process that is very satisfying.

    With my pottery, I can take a look at a piece and if I like it – It’s Art! If I don’t, I reglaze, refire, break or otherwise do something until I have exhausted all the possibilities or have decided to just “let it go”. One of the great things about pottery is that you can learn that great life lesson of letting go. Sometimes you make the decision, and sometimes the kiln gods do it for you.

    One of my all time favorite artists is Leonardo de Vinci. His curiosity kept him doing some interesting and at that time sometimes illicit work. (Pro John the Baptist, cadaverr work, etc.) He still found time to make favors in high places and get his comissions. I don’t think he had a particular focus, but he sure had a wonderful style.

    I think that your art will lead you to your own style.

  2. Kenny,

    I completely relate to your dilemma. I often think that if I could focus on one kind of work and pour all of my energy into it that I could really do some great work.

    I am passionate about so many things that I feel I will never be able to focus all of my energy and creativity into one obsession. I want to do so many things that I lose focus. There is never enough time. Working fulltime as a graphic designer and managing a family really leaves very little time to explore all that I want to do. It is frustrating and I often find myself in such a hurry to do what I want to do, for lack of time, that I accomplish nothing. I am passionate about graphic design and do focus at work on that but I would love to have time to paint, dabble in jewelry making, take a sculpture class, get back into photography etc. There’s so much to do!

    I do feel that specializing can be very successful and rewarding but I also feel that the need to explore is a wonderful learning process. We are always learning. Great things can happen unexpectantly and without exploration we might never reach that place where our energy is best focused.

    Your work is great and your style is evident in all that you do. Maybe in time you will be able to focus on specializing but I think for now you have to explore your passions. You can’t ignore your obsessions. I agree with the Leonardo de Vinci example. He is an example of someone with many passions. Everything from scientific inventions and anatomical illustrations to artistic masterpieces. Imagine how he must have felt, yet his whole body of work is what we marvel at.


  3. Hi Kenny,
    Trying new techniques can lead you into new areas temporarily but what you learn in one area of art always translates to other areas of art. I am weary of specializing in one area. The art becomes more commercial and looses its edge. Like jazz . it sounds more interesting when its a little raw.

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