On Being Versatile

Charlotte the spider told Wilbur “I’m versatile.” Wilbur asked “Does “versatile” mean “full of eggs”?” Charlotte replied “No, it means I can change with ease from one thing to another.” Adapted from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

Once again, I have been honored with another blogging award, The Versatile Blogger, from poet AZ/catcherofstars of Verse Not Prose and photographer Kerry of Lightscapes Nature Photography. I accept it with humility and grace, knowing that it is coming from two WONDERFUL bloggers and I apologize for the delayed response. Kerry particularly had insightful thoughts on the practice of giving and receiving blogging awards, and I refer you back to his post with “Ditto, what he said!” With the award comes some obligations: post the image of the award; acknowledge the one(s) who nominated you; share 7 facts about yourself; and nominate others in turn and inform them of their nomination. The numbers vary on this last one, so I take the path of moderation in all things.

However, I will preface this post by the admission that I am of two minds about the award, but not from the obligations incurred. No, for me it is all about the perception of being versatile in the world of creative arts.

Tools are often sold on the basis of their versatility, whether it is a Swiss Army knife or an iPhone; the all-around sports player is a valuable asset to the team, but in the artistic world, “versatility” often means dilettante or generalist, implying “master of none.”  Authors and composers often use a pen name when writing in a different style that might make them commercially successful but tarnish their “serious” reputation. Other fields often have the same bias. No doubt, a scientist isn’t necessarily penalized for being a complex, versatile, eccentric individual with lots of extra-scientific interests.  But it certainly doesn’t help him a bit. (Stephen Toulmin, philosopher and logician)

On the other hand, there are those who have successfully broken through this cultural barrier of generalist/specialist or crossed the limitations of category, using Renaissance man Leonardo Da Vinci as a model – Leonard Bernstein and Albert Schweitzer come to mind. Since I have wrestled with this duality in my own career, this is how I have come to resolution with the idea of versatility and its role in my life.

It has been my experience that each of us has something that drives us through our life, sometimes inchoate but always there and which shows up in all our creative endeavors, perhaps like an underground river attempting to spring forth above ground wherever it can find a suitable channel. So what others may perceive as great variety in one’s work is really an ongoing attempt to find a better or new expression of the same element, the same creative drive, the same river.  When I was a kid, my mother, a mathematician and aeronautical engineer, would knit complicated argyle socks for my father.  For the life of me, I could not understand why she didn’t just buy him some socks! Many years later, she knit a beautiful complex afghan throw as a gift for me, and later still she became a basket maker; I became a grateful recipient of her work. As an adult, I had the sudden insight that all of those things were connected – she loves exploring geometrical patterns and that passion found expression in many different forms.

So perhaps a better analogy is that of a tree, deeply rooted underground yet rising up in an expression of many branches, all connected and “of a piece.” As I look back at my creative work thus far, I see certain themes reoccurring over and over, so what seems like versatility to others is just me exploring those themes with new tools, new skills, and new forms of expression.“Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.” (William Cowper, English poet)

With that in mind, here are my 7 spicy “branches”:

1. Long before I began to photograph seriously, I sketched and painted. Many of my subjects were about thresholds, pathways, and light, a fascination that continues in both my photography and my musical compositions. Here’s a few images that illustrate a progression between early paintings and more recent photos and finally the garden, which is my greatest painting.

My First Oil Painting

My Last Oil Painting

Steps Into Light

Grass in Light

Garden of Light & Color

2. Walking is exercise as well as a spiritual practice – movement seems to support thinking in an open way and some of my best ideas take shape during my daily morning walk.

3. I love to cook, mostly without a book – it is all about smell, taste, feel, and imagination.

4. I’m in the middle of two major music and multimedia projects.  The first is a solo CD of original songs – “House of Sound: Electronic Art Songs” – which I hope to sell online; you may have already listened to Winter and Light.  The other is an opera “Out of the Air” based on the life of Leon Theremin, inventor of the instrument that bears his name.

5. I have a Sudoku puzzle app on my cell phone to keep me occupied and amused while waiting in lines, etc.  Numbers and the patterns that they suggest never cease to fascinate.

6. Years ago, I wrote a monthly column “Color in the Garden” for newsletter of the Pittsburgh Civic Garden Center (which later became part of Phipps Conservatory.) Writing the column taught me how to see color accurately and I still teach a four week class on the subject for Phipps.

7. Yoga every morning keeps me strong, flexible, and calm. Recently, as I “black ice skated” down a friend’s steep driveway, I survived with only a few bruises, sore muscles, and injured dignity rather than with a concussion, torn muscles or broken bones. Versatile AND flexible!

I now pass on the Versatile Blogger Award to those whose blogs I admire for their underlying passion for an idea that is realized in multiple ways.  As always, dear recipients, feel free to handle this as you will – I mean to do you honor, but if the obligation is a burden, you can always skip and “regift.”

David of David Polifko Design & Fabrication has a great blog on design and a new website that features his photography.  You can learn about design concepts, see Photoshop used as a mockup tool for a real life design project, or learn about technological tools.  David’s blog is itself a lesson in beautiful visual design and a wonderful model for his students at UC Berkeley Extension.

Ehpem at Burnt Embers has a revolving palette of interesting photos in many subject categories, some macros, some Black and White studies in texture and line, and recently some wonderful ocean/shore photos.  Definitely worth a look!

Margie  of A Lighter Shade of Grey: Little Stories and Big Pictures has a wonderfully diverse blog of humorous stories and lovely photos that make me laugh but also make me think. That is a treasure!

Scientists and kayakers Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson of Wind Against Current have a unique point of view, that of kayaking in the New York Harbor. Their photographs are completely unique and they always have an interesting take on nature, science, technology, culture, etc. Don’t miss “Dance Your Ph.D”

Amy at Radical Amazement has a beautiful blog of photos and thoughtful posts. Her message for the winter solstice, Turning Towards the Light, made me a fan of this site.

Joss of Crowing Crone Joss, a recently published author, has an inspirational blog on spirituality and just began a blog on wellness for women. Read her “Why Crone” post for a fascinating discussion on personal power.

I  wish everyone a joy filled new year of opportunity, love, and fun!

All text and original images of “On Being Versatile” ©2012 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved
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33 thoughts on “On Being Versatile

  1. Pingback: The Gift of Inspiration | composerinthegarden

  2. Pingback: Six Months – Awards « burnt embers

  3. Lynn I both say congratulations – you deserve awards! – and I say thank you for including Burnt Embers in your passing the award along. I apologise for my tardy response – returning to work after the holidays and maintaining my blog have left me with little time for other things. I am both surprised and honoured by your recognition. I very much appreciate it and you have included me in some fantastic company. Thank you! Now for the pleasure of passing your favour forward.

    • Oh, you richly deserve the award! I have so enjoyed your recent series on the water photos. I know it takes time to respond to these things, mine sat in the corner a few weeks before I could respond. I look forward to exploring your post!

  4. Do you still paint? I haven’t yet shown my artwork on any of my blogs –yet. Partially because I haven’t done any in past few years. My blogs are the closest “art” pieces for me at this time. Maybe one day there will be a piece or 2. They are already on my fireplace mantlepiece.
    The more you reveal yourself, the more others like myself don’t feel too much like..um..dilettentes. I share:
    Poetry: I used to write it as a teen and won a few awards. But dropped it since then.

    painting (oil, acrylic and mixed media for me) . I also took evening courses in stained glass, Western calligraphy. I have art supplies and paintings spread across 2 places in Canada.

    Cycling: I will have to return to simple yoga because I’m stiffening up.

    Sewing: I used to sew 80% of my wardrobe prior to cycling passion, for about 15 years. I used to (and still do) love fabric stores with lush bolts of colour and textures. A great place to envision tailored creations.

    • Jean, I don’t paint anymore, although I bought some pastels a few years ago and started working in them a bit. Your eye for detail and perception of the unusual shows up in your photos, certainly – I love the idea that you think of your blog as your artwork! I mostly express that part of my visual interest with photography/Photoshop. I love doing composite photographs, which is a bit more like painting – I’m a big fan of Maggie Taylor and took one of her workshops.

      I have heard that cyclists are encouraged to cross train in yoga as a counterbalance to the muscles emphasized in cycling; it has certainly allowed me to continue working a lot in the garden.

      I know what you mean about fabric stores! I used to sew my clothes (don’t anymore) but I still love to go in fabric stores to immerse my senses in so many colors, textures, and patterns.

      Watch out, Jean; you may be nominated next for this award!

  5. Thanks you Lynn as always! :)
    Your first oil painting is quite beautiful and in no way reflects the first of anything – it looks as though you had been painting for years. I do appreciate your nomination as well – and following through my own descriptions shall take a bit of thought. Look forward to more of your posts.
    Cheers-

    • Thanks for the compliment, David. Oils were a big revelation for me, partly because of their fluidity and partly because of their earthy tones. And as I am responding a little late to your comment, I must say that I love your Versatile Blogger post!

  6. Pingback: Versatile Blogger Award | Wind Against Current

  7. Pingback: Changes and Overdue Thanks « Radical Amazement

  8. Glad you liked “Wincanton in January 2012″ . I shall be adding to it throughout the month.
    Congratulations of the award. I am sure you deserve it. I agree with you, that walking is good exercise. It gives you time to think and observe and keeps you fit at the same time.

  9. Hey hey … congrats and thanks for the links, which I always enjoy checking them when I can.

    Oh … a cook too … but I don’t make it to Pittsburgh very often! :( …. but I love the oil paintings!

  10. Congratulations on a well deserved award, Lynn. I love the way you wended your way through this post with acceptance, explanation, grace, gratitude, and gifting it on to others. :)

      • Indeed it does – I totally get where you are coming from and all the wonderful things that music provides I can’t help but see in other things too (patterns, textures, rhythms, colour etc) – it’s everywhere!

  11. How very kind of you to nominate me and my blog for this award. I don’t feel all that versatile compared to you, but I’ll do my best to be worthy! Thanks!

    • Margie, I noticed after the fact that I was not the first to nominate you, so thank you for your kind response. I have enjoyed reading your blog and eventually want to respond to your brilliant post on “Freshly Pressed”. Have a Happy New Year!

  12. Wonderful thoughts, marvelously expressed, Lynn. The images are special as well.

    (BTW, if I could paint with your acumen I doubt I ever would have taken up photography.)

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