Somewhere towards the end of my college days, I listened to a talk by a professor with whom I was not overly familiar. This professor and I never really interacted on a personal level, and I never had her for any classes. I don’t remember anything from that lecture, even, beyond one phrase that has been bouncing around my brain lately;
Stay narrow so you can go deep.
She didn’t mean ‘eat sweets sparingly so that you may fit into smaller and smaller manholes and explore the underbelly of the metropolis of your choosing*’ but rather that by narrowing your focus (in her case it was a very specific form out of a very specific medium) you can fully exhaust every possibility that focus holds.If you try to spread yourself too thin, you might end up with a wide range, but very little depth.
Which is advice that I would do well to listen to. I am infatuated with ideas.
I love the “aha!” spark of a new avenue- whether it’s a new medium (printmaking! drawing! metals! weaving!) or a new subject (mail art! body parts! collage! obsessive collections!) or even in my life apart from art (I should learn french! I should make jams!)- I am constantly flooded with ideas and ambitions that are ultimately unattainable when attempted at the same time as the other 5034874551.3 ideas and ambitions currently in the works. Usually this ends with me sitting at my computer, with 14 websites pulled up at once, trying too hard to read and learn and do everything while essentially doing nothing. I feel so much the meaning of Sylvia Plath’s words
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”
Ideas are cheap**(which is too bad because I love to travel and plane tickets are expensive.*** ). My love of ideas has led to at least forty lists for pieces or series of artworks in the past 6 months and maybe 5 actual pieces. What I need to do- no, what I’m going to do (and internet feel free to hold me accountable) is try to narrow my focus. Instead of starting three new series of work about three separate subjects, I’m going to pick the one I’m most interested and do my damnedest to make work about that subject until I’ve exhausted either myself or my options.
This is not to say that having ideas is a bad thing, or that I’ll ever stop making these ridiculous lists or looking at 14 webpages at once (…just counted- 11 tabs open currently…)- Just that I think it’s time to acknowledge that ideas are like guests at a party with free booze: They all come easy at once, but the really great ones will still be there in the morning to help you as you all, weak-kneed and cotton-mouthed, wearily crunching plastic cups into trash bags and laughing about what a great time they had.