Thursday, May 4, 2017

Does Specialization Kill Creativity?

Sometimes artists we admire don't seem to move forward. They're good at what they do, but they don't seem to evolve. May they be trapped in their respective field? And is it bad for creativity?

The multipotentialite Leonardo da Vinci would have had quite some trouble in our era.

I've followed quite a few artists so far. I enjoyed their books, their music, their paintings, their movies, their jewellery designs ... And even though their art still amazes me, with time, I stopped following some of them. - Why? Because their art bored me.

The Benefits of Specialization

As a young artist trying to grow a fan community you're often advised to specialize, so everyone will know who you are and what you do. For example, if you're trying to gain a foothold on DeviantArt, you should upload works of only one art genre. If you're active in several genres then create multiple accounts, so you'll have one account for every genre.

In my honest opinion, this is maybe one of the best advices you can get as a beginner: Set priorities and focus on just one thing. To understand why you only have to put yourself in your audience's shoes: Would you follow someone if you don't know what you'll get? An artist may create amazing art, but if you don't know where the train is heading you aren't very likely to take a ride.

Artistic Stagnation

On the other hand, however, there might come a moment when you feel that the train is running in circles. Every new artwork resembles the previous one and everything feels like you've already seen it. The original idea was ingenious, and this is why you've become a fan in the first place. But now you see that apart from that original idea there isn't much originality anymore.

Maybe the author keeps writing about one and the same topic for years and the plots of his novels become just too predictable to people familiar with his previous works. The movies of a director can suffer from having the same atmosphere and the same twists. The music of a composer may lack variety. An actor may seem to play the same role in every single play, show or movie. And so on.

This is when art becomes boring or even frustrating.

Multipotentiality vs. Specialization

In psychology and education there is a personality type called multipotentialite. Multipotentialites are people who master many different intellectual and/or artistic skills throughout their whole life. Unlike so-called specialists, they can't stick with just one profession or hobby: They have a need for constantly discovering few fields of interest and learning entirely new skills.

While multipotentialites were idealised in the past (which is why they're also called Renaissance people), on today's job market they're often met with suspicion. Employers often think they can't focus, they don't trust their abilities and are very reluctant to hire them. Leonardo da Vinci would have had quite some trouble in our era.

Multipotentiality Is Innovation

However, while the world really needs specialists who know everything about their respective field it also needs multipotentialites to link those fields and create something new. Multipotentialites are the drivers of innovation - in science, society and art alike. If you remember my post on originality, you may also remember the following lines:

The human mind doesn't go beyond what it knows. An artist can have all the talents in the world - but if he knows only pink, plush and rabbits he'll never create anything more original than pink plush rabbits. So what I'm trying to say is: The ability to have original ideas depends on the knowledge of the artist.

If you know nothing, your art is nothing. If you don't keep learning and developing new ideas, if you don't get inspiration from various fields - your art stagnates. It loses originality. It ceases to be art.

Specialization is good, especially in the beginning. But if you overdo it, it will kill your ability to be creative.

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