Specialization is Highly Overrated

Stitch Montage
Past Art Montage

I have, in the past, called myself a needlework dilettante (or a craft dilettante, but I always seem to put them back into my stitching, or my stitching into my other crafts…)  But recently I have begun looking at this as less of a detriment and more of a benefit to myself and my growth as an artist.

I was listening to a program on NPR last week and a historian stated about a past scientist that made great inroads into Astronomy, and who happened to be an insurance man in his day job, that “back then you could be more than just a scientist – you didn’t need to specialize like you do now.”  I found myself taking issue with that statement, both in science, and in other lifetime pursuits (like my needlework).

In science, many many discoveries have been made by so-called “amateurs,” even recently. (Note the elementary school students who did original research on bees and were published in the Royal Society Journal). Of course, the scholarly world of academia tends to frown on this – as they also tend to dislike anything that is written in a way that normal people can understand. <sigh>

But that’s actually not my point in this rambling post! My point is that experimenting with your needlework styles — trying out different types of embroidery and then trying to combine them into work of your own, is the best way to truly take your work to the next level. And mine, too.  If you do mostly cross stitch, try a small redwork piece. If you do mostly historic reproductions, try adapting one in a modern style. Try out new things, new types of needlework. I’ve realized that that’s been my goal ever since I started REALLY stitching way back when I was 12! And I’m going to take it even further this year. And to share my voyages. First stop – crewelwork shower curtain!  (With a pause to finish the pseudo-ivory work flower I’ve been working on!)

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8 Responses to Specialization is Highly Overrated

  1. If you haven’t already, you might want to read The Renaissance Soul and/or Refuse to Choose. They’re both written for people who don’t find specialization fulfilling. They’re worth reading for the validation alone, but they have actual practical advice on how to enjoy multiple interests in a world that expects you to specialize.

    They were both good, but I’d recommend starting with The Renaissance Soul.

    • I’ve read Refuse to Choose (LOVE Barbara Sher!), but hadn’t looked at the Renaissance Soul. I’ll have to track a copy down. Refuse to Choose is what pushed me to break my day into 50 minute segments with 10 minute breaks… I always did well in high school and college! Since running my own business has so many facets, not choosing isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be… (except between stitching, designing, dancing, knitting, wood carving, drawing, writing… oh wait.. OK, so I still get overwhelmed sometimes!) Prioritizing is sometimes an issue!

  2. I can’t really bring myself to specialise, and I’m sure my stitching and designing has improved overall from the many different types I try. Even learning to paint has helped!

  3. I think specialisation is definitely overrated and over emphasised. It means too many doors are closed, as we have time limits and I find that creativity is stifled. And creativity has taken the human race further than the unrealistic goal of perfection.

  4. Speaking as one who is a generalist at heart, I know the problems it causes too. It’s only one of several things that kept me out of graduate school.

    But I keep up the good fight, and find ways to cast my generalist tendencies as its own specialism.

    I’ll have to look into those books….

    • LOUDLY I agree with reading Barbara Sher! As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’ve read Refuse to Choose, offered it to friends, have it sitting in my studio (just moved it yesterday, in fact). I started out with WishCraft back in 1984 and was lucky enough to take a Wishcraft seminar with Barbara in Eugene, OR in the early 90s. (I LOVE the woman!)

      I think we need more people hollering about the modern obsession with specialization… Consider my voice one of many! 🙂 Stitching, Knitting, writing, reading, drawing, computer tech, oh and a tad bit of astronomy on the side, though that’s more my sister’s venue… Yeah. I’m busy.

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