A while ago I played a festival, under my own name, playing the kind of down-tempo electronic music I usually make.
The organiser billed me as a "polymath". I think this is because some of the people attending the festival probably knew me better from my time in Kinetic Money, or from my anarchic chiptune sideproject.
But I kind of think most people probably read "polymath" as "twat", or just don't know what it means. I read an artist biography recently, and the guy had described himself as a "true renaissance man".
I can't even type that with a straight face.
How can it be that in the 21st century where almost everyone under the age of 40 has multiple income streams, multiple interests and is part of the "gig economy", we STILL need to explain this fact to people?
I was reminded of this question recently when I saw prolific musician Andy Burrows on twitter. His profile reads: "Tom Odell, We Are Scientists, David Brent & Foregone Conclusion, I Am Arrows, Smith & Burrows, The Snowman & the Snowdog, onceuponaRazorlight"
People seem to need the mental hook to hang people on, but also seem only to be able to hang people on one hook at time.
Austin Kleon wrote an amazing thread of tweets about this same issue and included the following two quotes:
“You’re supposed to do one thing. If you do more than that, people get confused.” Margaret Atwood
"I made every mistake in the book. You should never do two things. You should hammer one nail all your life, and I didn't do that." - Brion Gysin
And too damn right he didn't! His Wikipedia entry reads: "Brion Gysin was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist".
A lot of people know me for one thing and when they find out about other things I do they say unhelpful things like "Oh, are you not doing music anymore?", "Are you focusing on your photography now?", "Are you trying to make writing your full time job?", "Are you hoping to give up your work at the university soon?".
No, no, no, and no. I'm having fun, I'm following my heart. I like what I do, and I do what I like.
For some reason people look down on diversity of interests. The common phrase goes, "Jack of all trades, Master of none" but I just can't get on board with that. A lot of people spend their entire lives following one path, and I love their dedication. For some of us though, we're more easily distracted. And we follow in a great tradition of easily distracted people: Da Vinci - Artist, anatomist and war-machine designer. Jefferson - President, lawyer and inventor. Asimov - Biochemist, author, and ethicist.
For a lot of people, personal satisfaction derives from diversity of output. Last night I wrote words, music and developed film, and went to bed satisfied with my work.
I'm convinced I'm on the right path for me for now. My problem is marketing myself.
I met with someone for lunch today. They wanted some friendly advice on advancing their career, and had followed a couple of career paths in recent years. I told them, "For the job you're applying for, you're going to get asked if you really want the job, or if you're just waiting for your other work to pick up." And I hated myself for saying it. We all only have one life and should be encouraged to follow as many interests as like. But that is where society is at right now, asking us which one nail we'd like to hammer for the rest of our lives.
I've been using the strap-line recently "Digital Creative / Analogue Heart". The aforementioned Austin Kleon describes himself as "A writer who draws". It's like we're trying to justify to the world that we do more than one thing.
We're not special though. Everyone I know has side-hustles, hobbies and the 21st century economy is blurring the lines between who we are and what we do.