There's an old saying about being a jack of all trades and a master of none. While this saying is often about someone who never perfects anything, but rather can do lots of things adequately, from an artistic point of view there are many reasons why you may want to be a little more adaptable and flexible when it comes to subject matter and style.
So which is best? Being a specialist with a particular artistic bent, or being a generalist who can do lots of things, but doesn't specialise in any one thing? Here are some thoughts on the matter:
"I never ever get bored with painting pink fairies with monarch butterfly wings". Being a specialist can be boring. If you have to paint the same thing, the same colour scheme, the same style ALL THE TIME, life can get a bit dull. Of course, if you are passionate about your speciality then it can be a never-ending exploration of something you adore. Kind of like chocolate or trashy romances. Some people could live their lives never eating another kind of sweet, or read anything else and that's ok.
"Hey, aren't you that girl who paints the weird dancing turnips?" Is that really how you want people to remember you? And is that really what you want to get commissions for, for the rest of your life? As a specialist you can be pigeonholed. You can be defined by a particular moment in time -- much the same way an actor gets typecast. If you love dancing vegetables, then great, you won't have a problem, but if you don't, it can be very hard to escape from people's expectations.
"Who are you again?" If you don't specialise, you can get lost in the crowd. Imagine yourself a bird of paradise amongst a bunch of pigeons -- You want and need to be noticed. Being memorable (for good reasons) is a way to build a fan base and get sales/ work.
If you have many different skills and subjects that you can paint (competently), you open yourself to a greater variety of projects.
"Why don't you ask her? She's the queen of painting purple unicorns!” Being a master in a particular field immediately makes you an expert whose advice is sought. This can be good and bad -- depends on if you are happy to answer questions, or even defend your position as an expert. There are a number of digital artists that are expert painters that essentially have to provide work in progress shots to 'prove' their method.
"I have no brand!" Having many skills and doing many themes can make it difficult to 'brand' yourself. How do you want yourself to be known if you don't have something that stands out as representing 'you the artist'? As a specialist, your speciality is your 'brand'.
"How dare you paint a space monkey? You're supposed to paint mermaids!" If you are a specialist, you can have violent reactions from fans when you don't paint what they expect. You'd be amazed at comments from so called fans when you change your style or your media. It doesn't matter what the reasons are, if you have a fan base for a particular reason, you do something different and you are bound to tick someone off!
Sometimes specialisation only has a small fan base. You may be brilliant at what you do, but if there are only three people in the world who love your stuff, unless they are willing to be your patrons, you may need to broaden your artistic field.
So what is the best approach? Generalist or specialist? Well, it really comes down to a few things.
You have to paint what you love or connect with. Whether it's a style, colour or subject. Things that have meaning to you, or you enjoy painting, generally come out better than something you loathe and struggle to paint.
Know thyself. If you love to paint the same kinds of paintings, go for it. If you get bored with the same paintbrush between one painting and the next, you might be happier doing a bit of illustration, a bit of design work, and selling products as well.
Skills regardless of specialisation are important. Without skills, you lose credibility.
Finally, people grow and change. You might specialise in one thing for ten years, and then abruptly change and do something different. And that’s ok too!
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