Versatility vs Specialisation: Making a Living vs Starving in a Garret

The box room mystery. Robin Baird Lewis

Once upon a time, in order to ‘join’ the local arts community I submitted a portfolio of work to a juried art show touting itself as an open public studio tour with venues available in the downtown core. While I did not expect to get accepted the first time (due to the inevitable “earn your dues” syndrome) I wasn’t surprised but disappointed at the jury’s expressed opinion that “my work lacked focus”.

Lacked focus. Tiresome attitude. An ironic comment as well…since my strengths lie in the ability to focus on a wide range of subjects and media enough to enjoy working there temporarily and respect those who dwell there constantly. Yet my temperament is ever curious and my character is a creative yet practical one.

But to this jury variety was nothing apparently. I just lacked focus. Period.

As I later discovered, this comment originally came from a person who, at that time, specialised in photographing only pregnant women in black in white: viz. eternal motherhood with a retro treatment. I was already accumulating clients barely into my second decade of my disparaged versatility when this person was still wrapped in Huggies. But ya know…maybe my response was just due to a simple disgust with such a tiresomely vapid and naive observation.

I guess there will always be a bottomless niche of pregnant women whose natural biological self-involvement thankfully preserves the planet’s procreation. One could exploit that as one’s focus. Or one could respect another’s level of skill in other media on other subject matter and not be such a snotty juvenile about it.

Just my take: difficult as it may be for those biased by decades of art college charlatanism (don’t get me started!) the element of versatility in a world of instant change is the way to adapt and survive. I was raised in a family preaching this years before the tech world started to dominate the globe.

Make no mistake. Ya wanna make a living? Get out of your garret and try using your God given talent to meet the public’s needs. Get off your high conceptual horse. Schmooze a little. That’s not selling out…that’s building a bridge to contribute to a greater financial respect for the arts community in general.

It also helps when you know that what you really want is to eat, fully clothed, in a warm shelter…and stuff like that.