Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

I’ve often heard the expression, “jack of all trades, master of none”. The idea behind this phrase is obvious enough: if I spend my time doing a little bit of everything, I may end up being versatile, but I will never, ever be truly great at any one thing. And if I want to be a great painter, I’d better drop the camera, the audio gear, the camping, the website work, the writing, the wood work, the electronics, and everything else, and just paint.

I’ve been told that if I make a business card, I should only put ‘painter’, and leave out the “photo, video, sound” part. If I make a website for my paintings, I should avoid even mentioning that I also do photography. If I really want to pursue photography, then I should make up a fake name and make a new website for just my photography. I shouldn’t let people know that I like to do more than just one thing. I shouldn’t get distracted by doing more than one thing.

But, is this really good advice to follow? Does a wide focus spread across many fields eliminate the possibility of truly mastering any one of them, or does the knowledge gained in one discipline inform the decisions made in another?

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Just Like Old Times

I had just put in yet another 14 hour day with Brad. We were closing in on the 90 hour mark for that week, and I was worn out. After the short walk home, I stumbled through the front door, and headed straight for bed. It was nearly 4 am. My shoes were still on my feet, and I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.

Around 9 am, my phone rang.
“Kyle, put together an art show for November.”
I rolled over and went back to sleep.
I crawled out of bed around noon and made my way over to the secret lab / collaborative studio (otherwise known as “Brad’s house”).
“Hmm…I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamt that I got a call from my old high school teacher, ordering me to put together an art show for Bob’s gallery. Weird.”
I checked my phone’s call history. It wasn’t a dream. I did agree to curate an art show.

Brad looked at me, “Have you ever curated a show before?”
“Do you know how to curate a show?”
“So, why did you agree to it?”
Because it’s a show!

Never turn down a show. That’s the rule. Show. Show your work. Always be ready. Be ready for three shows at once, just in case; and if you are already booked, work harder and make it work.
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October Studio Update

Nuit Blanche turned out to be far more work than I had planned for, but that extra work is now paying off. Over these past few days, Brad and I have been reworking ‘Take a Picture’, creating a new series of invisible images for people to look at. As far as the technical aspects go, we definitely over-engineered our design. That decision is making “Take a Picture: Phase II” go a lot faster than Round 1. In the past two days, we’ve managed to accomplish what took us one month last time around.
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My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Aftermath

My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Part 4: Aftermath

It is October 3rd. For the first time in weeks, I wake up feeling well-rested. It is 4:00 Sunday afternoon. Normally I would feel awful for sleeping in this late, but after last night, 4:00pm is a good time to be up. I’ve got absolutely nothing planned for the day. At last, I’ve got some free time; but what should I do with it? Well, I guess it’s time for some much-needed website maintenance, and I should probably catch up on my email, which has been sorely neglected these past few months. A lazy catch-up day sounds about right.

Of course, within 5 minutes of turning on my laptop, I forget all about the website and email, and I find myself surfing the web, looking for reviews of this year’s Nuit Blanche, hoping that someone has said something nice about Take a Picture. I find some discussions about Nuit Blanche, but every time I hit ‘refresh’ more comments have come in. Maybe I should wait on this for a bit.

I make a cup of tea and go over the memories from last night. I ask myself, “What did I experience last night that is truly blog-worthy?”
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My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Show Time

During Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2010, I was making random notes to capture my thoughts and experiences. Although these entries are typed up and posted after the event took place, they are based on notes made in the heat of the moment.

My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Part 3: Show Time

Inside the venue, the five of us are going over the procedures one last time. The three volunteers get a crash course in the concepts behind this series. Each volunteer was equipped with a digital camera. In case a viewer arrived without a camera of their own, our volunteers would be able to show them the effect. It is important not to exclude members of out audience. We went over some logistics.
“Expect a film crew to come in and document the work, expect an organizer to come around and confirm some things, expect these people to do this, watch out for that”, etc.
When all that is settled, Brad and I exchange some silly banter. I’m terrible with small talk, but I’m going to be doing a lot of it this evening, so it’s a good idea to get warmed up, and Brad’s quick wit is a big help. It forces me to start thinking in words, then gets me doing it faster.

I have a terrible fear that something should be going horribly wrong at any moment. I can’t think of anything that we missed, but the whole set up process just seemed too easy. Nothing is ever this easy. Brad assures me that when you plan everything out ahead of time, this is how things should go; it all just works.

Show time arrives, and it’s time to begin our Nuit Blanche adventure. The doors are opened, and no one rushes in.
In my planning, I had been so worried about accommodating a massive crowd, I never thought about the possibility that no one would show up. I guess we are a bit off the beaten path, and the sign is kinda hard to see, but no one? No one at all? Not one single person waiting to get in? This is really depress…..oh, wow, people!
Continue reading My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Show Time

My Nuit Blanche Adventure: The Storm before the Storm

In the days leading up to Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2010, and during the day of the event itself, I was making random notes to capture my thoughts and experiences during the lead up to, the actual event, and the aftermath of Nuit Blanche. Although these entries are are going to be typed up and posted after the event took place, they are based on notes made in the heat of the moment.

My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Part 2: The Storm Before the Storm.

I had been asleep for about 20 minutes when the phone rang. It looks like I’m going to be a little late getting to the venue for the final touches of our set up. It’s a good thing I did most of my packing the night before. Breakfast consists of an apple that is starting to go soft from sitting too long, and a cup of what I call a ‘triple instant’. A triple instant is 3 cups of instant coffee in one cup. It’s far from tasty, but very much needed this morning.

The brisk walk isn’t enough to jump start my body, but I do manage to arrive in a reasonable amount of time, 5 minutes faster than expected. We get to work. The wires are being cut to size, and I have Brad replace every single one of them with speaker wire. it is a needless cosmetic change, but I think it’s one of those subtle extras that will make a difference. Brad doesn’t put up much of an argument, and in the end, he agrees with me. Usually, I’m the one saying “it’s good enough” while Brad is demanding more unnecessary cosmetic changes. I guess he realized that if I’m the one saying it needs to be changed to look good, then it must really need to be changed to look good. So, Brad starts doing his thing, and it’s time for me to start doing mine…only my exhausted mind never thought to pack my tools last night. All those tools are still at home, on the table by the door. So, less than an hour after walking to the venue, I have to walk the 2.4km back to my house, pick up my tools, then walk another 2.4km back to the venue, and get to work.
Continue reading My Nuit Blanche Adventure: The Storm before the Storm

My Nuit Blanche Adventure: The Calm Before the Storm

In the days leading up to Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2010, and during the day of the event itself, I was making random notes to capture my thoughts and experiences during the lead up to, the actual event, and the aftermath of Nuit Blanche. Although these entries are are going to be typed up and posted after the event took place, they are based on notes made in the heat of the moment.

Part One: The Calm Before The Storm

October 2nd, 2010

(Yea, I know that is a clichéd expression, but I’m a painter, not a poet, and that phrase captures the mood I’m in, so it stays.)

The lead up to this day has been intense. Weeks of steady 14-hour workdays have given way to a roller coaster oscillating between periods of insane last-minute busyness, followed by hours of empty free time.
In the mad rush to get everything done, there was little time for anxiety, for nervousness, anticipation, or for excitement. My attention was so focused on the work in front of me that I didn’t have room to worry about anything else. The small windows of free time that have opened up during these past few days have allowed all those previously ignored emotions to flood my senses. Throughly unhelpful worries and worst-case-scenario situations have overtaken my mind.
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Take a Picture: Promo

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2010 is coming up in less than a week now, and it’s getting harder for me to contain my excitement.

If you haven’t been to the Take a Picture video page, you might have missed the two promo videos Brad and I have released for the Take a Picture project. Not to worry, I’m not going to send you on an internet scavenger hunt. I have included both of the videos with this post!
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Perfect vs. Good Enough

After watching a series of recorded talks and presentations, I have become a fan of Seth Godin. Like his talks, his blog is an explosion of ideas, and each idea is worth spending some time with and giving some serious thought. They are the type of ideas that even if they all turn out to be wrong, a person is still better off for having thought about them. The ideas are fresh. One idea that is stressed more than once is the importance of abandoning the idea of perfection, and shipping a product that is good enough.

At first, this didn’t sit very well with me. “Good enough” is a phrase I use very often. I am by no means a perfectionist with every detail in my life. The only area where I do strive for perfection is my art, because the arts are one area where I strongly believe that “good enough” is never good enough. Only the very best that I am capable of producing is ever good enough. This must be an area where business advice does not apply to the art world.

But this might be too literal of an interpretation on my part.
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Expanding on ‘Take a Picture’

In the last entry, I introduced you to the reason for my recent focus on taking pictures of art: My next art project is about this very topic. These are the ideas that have been dominating my thoughts lately. It’s what I’ve been thinking about; it’s what I’ve been talking about; therefore, it’s what I’ve been writing about.

When I’m working on something, I like to completely immerse myself in ideas surrounding the topic I’m dealing with in the artwork. I usually start with a very clear and focused thought that I want to develop. I work out the basics, and create a rough sketch or guide to work with. That rough plan must be very flexible, because I find that the ideas I develop throughout production are far more interesting than the initial thought that started the whole thing. I’ve got to anticipate some unexpected turns on my journey to completion. Countless little choices pop up during the process of actually making a finished piece, and I believe that having the right ideas floating around in my head can inform the decisions that I make, and the result is a much stronger finished product.
Well, that’s the idea at least.

The final paragraph of the last entry listed some of the points I wish to raise with “Take a Picture”, but I didn’t actually talk about how I was approaching those issues.

In this entry, I will break down that final paragraph, and expand on each of those points.
Continue reading Expanding on ‘Take a Picture’