Connor Nolan, 11 January 2016

I asked this conversation to take place in order to explore and address some of my

own insecurities about training and specialisation. I have taken part in numerous

different tasks, projects and jobs that require various different skills ranging from

artistic to administrative. While throwing myself whole heartedly into each and every

one I always feel that I have around a 5% grasp of any endeavour and that there is a

world in this field that is locked away from me because I am not dedicating enough

time and energy to pursue it. My thoughts behind this question was therefore to see if

this feeling resonated with anyone else, and if this approach to the arts was

sustainable. The response was overwhelming. The conversation joined with a group

who posed a question about being an ‘emerging artist after your turn 30’, and so there

may be notes that spill over but seemed relevant to touch upon. I have tagged some

names of the discussion but I apologise that I was unable to note the names of the

many more that were there.

- Should creative people be a ‘master’ of ONE thing? Is it more fun and relevant to be

a ‘jack’.

- If you are a ‘Jack’ you may have so many areas of skill that it can be hard to sum up

what it is you actually do. How do you quickly get across your value to a potential


- A person who operates puppets is a puppeteer, a person who writes is a writer, a

person who writes, makes puppets, operates puppets, acts, performs, sings, dances,

devises directs is a…? How do you ‘brand’ yourself?

- I am ME and not a brand.

- Other career trajectories may have a steady incline towards a plateaux. An arts job

goes towards a plateaux which then has dips in. Is there a ‘mastery’ in the arts?

- Are we trying to compare the arts too directly with other models of employment when

their systems do not reflect the career of an artist?

- Our idea of career trajectory could be wrong.

- A possible job title is ‘A person who works in the arts’.

- Is society's idea of career trajectory wrong? You are more than your work. You are

not ‘A person who works in the arts’ but rather simply ‘a person’.

- You are your own brand. Under the umbrella of ‘you’ you hold many skills and assets

that make you your own artist.

- You define what you are.

- Your definition changes to appropriate jobs and opportunities. If you need to be a

dancer then you are a dancer.

- We, our lives and careers are reflective of the external forces that impact on our life.

If opportunity knocks you respond appropriately.

- Is defining yourself as a ‘Jack’ putting you at a disadvantage? Should you instead

declare yourself as ‘The Best’? Does doing so impact positively on your skill?

- Does the title ‘emerging’ define you in the same way as a ‘Jack of all’ would? Not

very skilled in areas and confident.

- Should a new artist with relatively little experience simply state that they are ‘An

Artist’ without the caveat of ‘emerging’.

- Is he title of ‘emerging’ simply a way of narrowing the spectrum for funder to choose


- ‘Emerging’ is not a negative connotation but rather a way of signalling to others that

your knowledge of certain areas may be less than others and therefore require

appropriate help.

- When does ‘emerging’ end? Does anyone every feel entirely confident in their own


- Identifying as an ‘established’ artist implies that you know how and what to do. But

when do I know enough?

- If I am putting 10% of my time into 10 different projects am I really doing any to the

best of my ability and I am developing my skills in any real way?

- Polymath provides greater control and experience in the arts and life.

- Can you even become a polymath. Does the application to many mean that none

become an expertise? Instead do you become average at a lot and is that ok?

- Is the idea of a polymath a fear of losing control of a project? Is a better option a

synergy of expertise?

- You should not apologise for having another career outside of the arts.

- Training and developing skills has meant further work outside the arts in order to

provide financial support to this pursuit.

- If you are interested in many areas is there even enough time in the day to give each

of them the time and dedication to pursue them to the extent you want?

- A multifaceted performer is required in this time. The diversity in one person provides

greater opportunity for employment.

- How do you define mastery, achievement or success?

- Is being a ‘Jack’ a choice or necessity. Is it even possible to be a ‘master’ if to survive

you need to broaden your skill spectrum.

- Is ‘mastery’ redundant?

- Being a ‘jack’ of all feeds the mastery of one.

- Life will mean that you do dedicate more time to one area at a certain time but that is

not to say that the other skills and expertise won't have their time to develop in the


- Has the prevalence of a multifaceted artists gained momentum with the move away

from traditional training and institutes?

- By mid thirties you may feel a pull towards a specialisation. Equally, you may not.

- The arts is not a multi skilled sector but in fact one trade. Your other trades are not

writing, performing, etc. but in fact marketing, administrative, business facing skills and


The conversation was long with voices from a wide range of backgrounds and

experiences. A conclusion I drew was based upon just how many people would more

readily define themselves as a ‘Jack of all trades’. A repeated idea was that the phrase

implies being a ‘Jack’ is being lesser. But what was argued was that the wide and

varied skills that one person can hold opens greater opportunities and satisfaction in

an arts career. What should be done is do away with the idea of a ‘Jack’ and a

‘master’ and instead define yourself by your own terms and measurements.

Confidence and bravery for yourself to say I am X,Y or Z. And while there may be

advantages to identifying as an ‘emergent’ artist it should be a definition you have

control over and not be one thrust upon you. Greater specialised skill development

can happen as a multifaceted artist, but may likely take place as crop rotation but all of

this feeds back into you and not your job title.


Katie Stoney, Tabitha Grove, Nicoles Pimpane, Mike Kaloski-Naycor, Alex James,

Varity Johnson, Gavin Thatcher, Orit Azaz, Robert Beck, Tina Hoffman, Iante Roach,

Hannah Grahem