Focus on One Thing, or Many?

   Posted by: Joy Alyssa Day in art
Shadow's First ACEOIs it better to focus on one thing, or allow yourself to do many different things? There is usually a consensus that if you do one thing, you do it well. If you branch out, you'll never be a master at anything. I don't know if I agree with that or not. Sometimes, I feel like if I did just focus on one thing, I would get extremely good, but I just don't have the attention span for it. When my brain is working on a painting and gets stuck, it helps tremendously to go and do something completely different. It's like it lets that part of my brain sleep and recover and then can wake up with new ideas, while the rest of me is still creating. Here are some extremes:
Shadow's First ACEO

Shadow\'s First ACEO

This is an itty bitty painting, only 6 inches across, done in watercolor. It is of my beautiful little cat, Shadow. Painting releases stress for me, and I tend to get lost in a painting and the time flies by. The other extreme: Big friggin' glass sculpture
2002 Presented to Astronaut James Lovell, CDR. Apollo 13
This big thing is the Lifetime Space Achievement Award for the Space Foundation. That's me and my partner, BJ, with award recipient Jim Lovell. Jim is holding the individual award that he gets to keep. (It's on display at his restaurant north of Chicago) This type of building feeds the engineering part of my brain. Figuring out how things will fit together, and then creating the pieces and carving them to complete a larger whole piece is more complicated, requiring me to keep a lot of portions in my head at a given time. The thing I don't like about this process is that I'm really bad at seeing progress. I see things finished. If I'm making slow progress, I tend to get discouraged and think I'm not getting anything done. And than all of the sudden, one day the whole thing gets done, like a surprise to me. I certainly don't think I'm a master at any one thing, but I do think I'm pretty darned good at a number of things, and if I had to choose which one to focus on and become a master at, I think I'd go insane. Also, given my temperament, I still don't think I'd become a master at the one thing. I'm just too hard on myself. And anyways, I feel like if you finally DO think yourself a "Master," then you're closing yourself off to growth and learning, and what fun is that? What do you think? Do you have experience with Many vs. One? Please post a comment. Peace, Joy
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5 Responses to: Focus on One Thing, or Many?

  • Diana Says:

    Definitely my experience is with the many, not the one. How cool that award is! And you there with Mr. Lovell. Congratulations.

    I think the more variety, the better each individual pursuit is.

    Both of yours shown here are special.

  • Joy Alyssa Says:

    Thank you! I would love to do more watercolors, but so far, they're only personal projects, and I don't have the time.

    The big sculptures are fun too. I agree with you -- the more variety, the better each is, and I think it's because of the brain resting thing. If you're always on one thing, that section of your brain never gets to take a vacation.


  • Kitty Lily Says:

    Today I really started thinking that something is wrong with me and maybe I need help. I started googling: too many hobbies and this sort of things. I cant say I jump from one thing into other, I keep the old things too. And at the point it becomes too much, I kind of like it.But as I deeper start getting into hobby I start realizing that there are so many professionals and I know nothing about it. I start comparing myself to them.
    For example started really getting into fashion, started readying style and fashion blogs realizing I need to learn a LOT and a LOT, then photography came along, so I started studying it too, taking pix, bought lenses. These are only my lates hobbies I'm talking abobut, I have dozens others. But I'm not perfect in any of them to say - I'm a professional. And I dont know which to pick to perfetionize it (dunno if I say it correctly, english is not my native), so to become professional.
    Which I really do want. I want to become so good at something, but I'm just going into lots things, and I know its not the end, and I'm already 30!
    So it really bums me out. Any advises would be helpful. thanks...


    • Joy Alyssa Day Says:

      Hi Lily,
      I have a lot of interests as well. The only way to become better is to keep working at them. I won't tell you to choose just one because I wouldn't be able to do that and it sounds like you wouldn't be able to either. But what I have learned to do is restrict myself to only taking up new interests that have a direct influence on my career.

      For example, I really wanted to take up woodcarving, but didn't want it to be another hobby that took time away from everything else, so I forced myself to not start learning about it. Once we got the Orrery job though, woodcarving was a part of that, so I could buy the equipment and learn how to use it and directly help my career. Now I have the equipment and knowledge to use for future jobs that might require it. Am I a master at it? no, but it's past the "hobby" stage.

      I would love to get into mountaincliming or scuba diving, but since they wouldn't further my main objective of being the type of artist I am, I make sure I don't allow myself to take them up. If there was a time in the future where I needed to scuba dive to be able to finish a certain artwork though, I certainly would do it and then I'd have that learned as well.

      So I guess what you might want to do is focus on a whole theme and then you can work at all the various parts of that - like fashion photography. You would need to learn about fashion, you would need to learn about photography, so put them together. You won't be an overnight expert at any of them, but that's ok. You will have a unique view and skills that others don't.

      I hope I've helped a little. Write back if you wish.



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  1. What’s Your Take: One or Many? – Part I | The Art & Engineering of B.E.Johnson