How many of you have felt limited to pursuing one passion? The message often heard is,
“Just focus on one thing as the rest becomes a distraction.”
“Doing everything will turn you into that embarrassing Jack of all trades, master of none.”
This “advice” may come from a teacher, a parent, or a partner. Many of us have tried conforming to this ideal, giving up the pursuit of other art forms interests to focus all our time and energy on just one area.
We may try to follow those instructions, believing sacrifice is the way to success, but instinctively I think most of us know whether that advice is madness. How can one artistic outlet possibly detract from another?
Composer Richard Wagner says it best in this quote, “Whatever my passions demand of me, I become for the time being – musician, poet, director, author, lecturer or anything else.”
Wagner is a renowned operatic composer, who was a complete artist that embraced being a multi-passionate, multi-talented being.
When he wrote an opera, he didn’t go and search for the story, find someone to write the words, and hire someone else to conduct, freeing up his time so that he could focus on only composing. No, he took care of everything he needed, from top to bottom, so he could entirely embrace and fulfil his artistic vision.
He even went as far as to build the theatre for his operas so he could have every element just the way he wanted. OK, so he may have been a bit of a megalomaniac, but to his defense, he refrained from actually performing in his operas, which was probably a good idea.
Now, there is no arguing that Wagner wasn’t a half crazy genius and not everyone has the means, talent or headspace to accomplish what he did, but we can definitely learn from his message.
He specifically says “whatever my passions demand of me, I become…” meaning, his art is completely guided by his primary focus, his primary passion, and he is willing to support it with whatever means necessary.
Instead of sacrificing other talents to focus all his energy on one goal, he channels his numerous talents, all in the name of his primary pursuit.
There is no way anyone would accuse sir Wagner of being a Jack of all trades.
His goal to support his passion for opera by taking on all the supporting roles is the key to his success and a major part of the legacy he left behind. He made famous the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the complete work of art, in which each individual art form is reduced to form a common purpose.
In essence, it means no one art form should be more important or prominent than any other. In an opera, the melody is not more important than the harmony, the singer not more important than the orchestra, and the set not more important than the plot.
By giving each element enough importance to contribute to the greater good, which in his case was the composition of an opera, he created a new interpretation of the art form.
If Wagner had only focused on composition, without exercising his complementary abilities, who knows if we would even know his name today.
Are you a blocked, multi-talented artist?
Do you sometimes feel held back by the expectation of the work you pursue? Many artists have been discouraged from exploring other outlets, but please realize that there is no need to limit yourself. Since all art feeds art, shutting down one outlet may make another area rigid and blocked.
If you are feeling a bit held-back artistically, I recommend spending a bit of time learning about and playing with a different art form. Don’t worry about being great, just focus on finding release.
Here are some ideas that are by no means exhaustive or exceptionally inclusive. They are simply ideas to get you thinking:
- Singers could try drawing or painting as a way to play with methods of communication through a rhythmless, free form of art.
- Dancers might try spending some time writing, the exercise of putting words on the page, without worrying about structure or grammar, just free flow will allow you to turn inwards and connect with a new way to convey emotions and ideas through words instead of through the body.
- Painters could consider taking an acting class to get a feel for the way words and body language can express thoughts and emotions. It may help you understand how to paint a picture without the use of visuals.
These are just a few ideas to help find the way that another form of artistic expression can support your main passion without hindering it. If you have any thoughts or experiences you would like to share about how sticking to one area and devaluing another has either benefited or hindered your artistic growth, please leave a comment below. It’s always useful to hear about how people handle multiple talents.