Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Consequences of Overcoming "Jack of All Trades" Syndrome

Back in the high school days and even for a couple years after, I would never have called myself a photographer, at least not in the traditional sense. I was all about the multi-media bandwagon, dabbling in equal parts with web design, illustration, animation, interfaces, you name it I was probably doing it. Not well, mind you... that period I recall frequently lamenting on my multi-media discipline and getting extremely down on myself for being moderately versed in so many creative media but not really grasping any of them to the high tier levels of those people whose work in that media I admired. So, eventually, I chose to specialize.

I'm not really sure why I picked photography to specialize in these days. Maybe because it was the newest media to me at the time, thus my enthusiasm in the exploration of new media paired with the determination to focus my skill in that media beyond just an amateur level built into super-massive momentum. I've been down on myself the past couple days, so my mounting fear is that on some subconscious level I chose photography because I perceived it as the easiest media to attain a high level grasp on (which both belittles photography as a medium and insinuates that I am inherently lazy, fulfilling the function of depression in devaluing what is important to me). Following that train of thought, I find myself pensive regarding the other forms of creative expression, of art, I ultimately let go of to achieve success in photography.

Last night my dreams dragged me all the way back to high school drama club (or Dionysus Club, as we young hipster high brows accepted for its namesake). Stage acting was enormously fun, and from all I can glean from the experience and coverage of the plays I participated in (biased of course... it was high school, we were all kids), I was pretty good at acting. But of course I never applied myself, dedicated myself to the art form - I was a multimedia kid, the idea was to do everything in dabbles, never to dedicate to the perfection of a single art. And that's exactly what came out of the dream. I was in a male supporting role whose monologue opened the show, but when opening night came I had to pull the director aside and confess, "Sir, I've been so busy with other projects that it is just now occurring to me that I have never even looked at this script once. I have no idea who my character is. I have no idea what my lines are."

(This dream, diving down into the Inception levels of subconscious thought, may very well tie beautifully into the thoughts rousing my brain just before I fell asleep last night, namely the sense that I'm not really confident I know what I'm doing in life outside the ritual grind of routine, and the maddening realization that on a long enough timeline absolutely everything becomes just that... routine.)

I suspect the prediction of ultimate failure played out in the dream relates to recent graphic design projects I've had fall into my lap. Another of the coveted arts sacrificed in my mad focus on photography was illustration, which in and of itself was split into multiple sub genres such as vector art, traditional pen-and-ink, and digital painting. Those lacking in creative skill sets still perceive me as a reliable talent in illustrative media, and so I get logo design projects tossed my way once in awhile. It's entirely my own fault because for a period when first concepting my photography business it seemed a grand idea to composite it with greater digital design offerings, namely graphics and multimedia. This was before I understood that I was no longer, realistically, a multimedia artist, and well before I realized, for the first time in any concrete sense, that I'm not so sure I really want to be considered a multimedia artist anymore (which is actually the thought I'm exploring via this blog post for the first time, oddly...).

At the office, I've had random assignments to produce graphics and animation, but for the most part the potential of that work has been limited by the software available to produce it (PowerPoint and Publisher), so of course it's impressive to people who wouldn't otherwise know how to draw custom vector paths and understand compositional concepts of balance and color theory. Privately, I've had a few clients requesting logos, which I cobble together in Inkscape and wonder how the work was ever considered passable. More important than the lack of value I perceive in the work itself, however, is how much I simply don't enjoy doing it. And that is a weird thing to me. Once upon a time, any work in any artistic media seemed like the Holy Grail of assignments. Now, my lack of enthusiasm for the media is akin to my lack of enthusiasm about remembering lines from a script. It's not my art anymore.

I miss dabbling in other media the way I used to, but in practice I don't find enjoyment in those abandoned disciplines. My partner theorizes this may be a facet of having attained success with one discipline, that having reached a point of competitive competence in photography has made the prospect of engaging a task in which I'm effectively starting at or near the bottom unattractive. That actually makes a lot of sense as it applies to my personality, as I've always had an unfortunate tendency to compare my work to the work of others in a never ending quest to devalue my efforts at expression. Having refined a form of expression past the comparative value threshold, why would I engage forms of expression still stalled out at personally devalued levels of skill? How important to me is it to try and grapple with these other forms of expression and refine them past the comparative value threshold reached in photography? Would it be more valuable to invest that time refining photography further into stratospheric levels of skill?

My position feels awkward. While I appreciate the broader perspective afforded by the Jack of All Trades approach to the arts, it's frustrating to then pare that skills portfolio down in the eyes of business clients and to the self (especially when one has a propensity for saying "yes" to every job, no matter how hot the "NO" may be boiling deep down). There is also nostalgic lament for the paths not taken, as I could just as easily have refined illustration as photography and the curiosity surrounding where that road would have gone is palpable. I'm reluctant to completely abandon the inroads made on other creative skill sets, but at the same time I do not actively refine them, thus I am effectively a hoarder of uselessly imperfect talents. Worse, I'm lazy for not refining other skills just because success in one has created a warm blanket of complacency. Worse than that...


... I think I'm coming to understand the magnitude of my problem with relaxing because, holy crap, reading through that entire paragraph exudes other deep seated issues from whose resolution I would greatly benefit. Is it the nature of the hopeless creative to never find any contentment or satisfaction, ever, from anything?

Pardon me while I go think on my mental state over coffee.