Choosing an art form
October 11, 2011 5:32 PM   Subscribe

How do I choose which hobby I want to devote myself to?

I want to make art. I have limited free time after work that I'd really like to spend working on one of my hobbies. The problem is, I am equally interested in different things. I'd really like to play guitar and sing and write songs (I already do the first two things, but I want to get better and learn how to do the third). I also want to learn how to draw and get really good at it and maybe move on to painting and other mediums. I also know that to get really good at something, it requires lots of practice over a long period of time, so I want to choose one thing to get really good at. That doesn't mean I'd stop the other thing entirely, but I do feel a need to set my focus.

How do I choose? I know that I could choose to do both, and I have been doing both, but I really want to set down one path so I can really focus my energy on one of them. I want to be able to do one of these things for a living, and I know that's a mighty undertaking and I am willing to work for years to make that happen.

So, what do I do? How do I choose between two different art forms that I enjoy equally?
posted by allseeingabstract to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
you can't just choose in a void, that's impossible. start doing both of them and see which one you're still doing in six months. natural selection. also, why do you think you have to have lots of practice? that sounds like a good way to discourage yourself right out of the gate.
posted by facetious at 5:45 PM on October 11, 2011

Which one do you feel like you're better at?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 5:46 PM on October 11, 2011

Playing music is good in a group and alone. Drawing and painting aren't usually social activities. Which appeals to you more?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:51 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try looking at it in a more practicable way. Which one is a broader skill to have in the future? Or which one do you have a more natural ability towards? Will one take longer to master than the other? ect.

For instance, say guitar is fun and you learn more quickly, but drawing is more methodical and will take longer. Which one skill would be more flexible to market when you're older? If you are a good guitar player you will be one of many who are fighting to be a musician, while if you are a disciplined drafter and drawer, you can go into architecture modeling, landscape architecture sketching, caricatures, painting, ect ect.

Just some suggestions in the way you think about it. Really though, it's likely over analyzing, most people are often multidisciplinary, but due for the sake of employability people are often pigeon holed into careers fields, and not really encouraged to try others in our world.
posted by Snorlax at 6:13 PM on October 11, 2011

Make your hobby aesthetics so you can do all of them.
posted by cmoj at 6:16 PM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

It might help you decide if you break it down into the specific tasks you'll have to actually do to achieve your goals of becoming "really good". Then look at the list of tasks and see which one you actually prefer and think you can realistically achieve.

For instance, here are some things you might want to do to become a musician (IANAM):
-Commit to practicing for a set amount of time each day
-Buy a metronome or other tools that improve your technical ability
-Study up on music theory and composition
-Make friends with musicians and composers so that you can collaborate, help each other improve, and share tips
-Make friends with people who run venues and produce music
-Broaden your understanding of the music industry--read up on methods of distribution, copyright
-Attend shows to see what else is out there and how to perform
-Periodically explore new kinds of instruments and new genres to gain new perspective
-Learn about the different kinds of recording software available to you.
-Learn about different networks and file formats you can use to share your music
-Learn about the costs of producing and promoting your own album

Then, make a similar list for becoming an artist. Which list appeals to you more? Pick that one.
posted by millions of peaches at 6:34 PM on October 11, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for all the great responses so far. I can say I find both drawing & playing guitar to be satisfying. Music comes more naturally to me; I've noticed a larger learning curve with visual art but I think I'd be happy being accomplished in either craft.
posted by allseeingabstract at 6:47 PM on October 11, 2011

Music probably is easier to earn a living at than art, and if that's where you're more naturally inclined then go with that.

That said, I've always found it useful to have a 'second string' creative activity going on (that you don't take so seriously) as it's nice to be able to go and do something else when you're having one of those 'hitting the wall' days with your main activity.

I've often found that coming back to whatever's been causing me problems after doing 'the other thing' leads to significant improvements in whatever I've been having a problem with.

And also this: the work that you do in different creative fields will get entangled in really interesting ways that you can't foresee right now further down the line, so it's always good to have another plate spinning quietly in the background, even if you have made a conscious decision to make one thing 'your main game'.
posted by Chairboy at 7:03 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Filip a coin.

If its heads and you are excited for drawing, yay! you win!. If you realize, oh, I was hoping for tails, then do the tails hobby.

My wife and I would do this sometimes to decide which movie to see.
posted by shothotbot at 7:11 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Listen, if you have gifts in more than one area, at some point you have to realize that you won't maximize all of them in one lifetime. What is most drawing you now?

This isn't an intellectual decision, it just seems like one. When you get home in the evening and have time to devote to a hobby, the only salient question is, what do you most want to do with your available time?

If you can't determine what you most want to do, default to the next question: what is my goal? If you have a goal, that will push you to prioritize whatever endeavor will help you reach that goal. One your goal (finish a series of portraits, record an album, run a half marathon) is met, you can change up goals and do something different.

If you have no goal, and you don't want to do anything, then just hang out on the internet.

But most of us have to choose what to focus on right now. You really can't do it all, and the more you're capable of, the harder that is to swallow. Choose something. Anything.
posted by Miko at 7:25 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It sounds like you've heard about the 10,000 hour rule and are aiming at around that much practice. Supposing for the sake of argument that's the number you'd need to turn pro at most things, it's around 10 years of practice at the pace of 2.75 hours per day--a modest pace you should probably break up into ~2 sessions each day to get the most out of it, not get sick of it, and still have a life doing almost anything.

But some people have a problem with focusing themselves even 3 hours per day and maintaining that pace over the long term. What happens in most career paths is there's some opportunity to take the matter up in a non-personal capacity long before hitting the 10,000 hour mark (school, friendships or social organizations that help out, entry-level jobs, jobs that put you in the right place to learn from experts, even actual jobs where you're just not that great yet, etc.). And that's something that carries you along and gives you some relevant knowledge without requiring so much independent work and personal consistency.

So if you're seeing any opportunities like that around you, then that's a factor to consider: better teachers for one path or the other, more friends who could teach you stuff just as you hang out with them, a place you can work and pick some things up (e.g. a guitar shop or music venue), etc.

And just plain trying to hit the 3 hour mark each day for a solid week in either skill may tell you a lot about which one you'd like to do for several years.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:41 PM on October 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Try this.

Try doing both. Set aside a certain amount of time each week to practice both. Not necessarily a lot just yet -- just as much as you're comfortable with. Keep that schedule for a month -- some time practicing art, some time practicing music. At the end of the month, ask yourself this question: "Was there a point during the past month in which I did one of those two things OUTSIDE the allotted rehearsal schedule?" If the answer is "yes," whichever one of those things is, that's the one you want to do.

What I'm getting at is: your hobby should be the thing that gets you jazzed when you do it. If you're only "meh" about -- if you only care enough to practice out of a sense of obligation -- that's not quite the same as if you care enough to keep going when you're done practicing because it's too much fun to stop. Even if you never get "good" enough to make a career of it; I played piano in high school, and would often goof around on the piano even when it wasn't my practice sessions, simply because I felt like playing the hell out of Streetlife Serenade or trying to get that piano solo in the middle of Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. If you find yourself doing something like that, noodling on guitar even when it's not your "practice session," or sketching on trains or in waiting rooms just because, then THAT'S what you should be doing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:50 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW, guitars aren't as portable or innocuous as sketch pads/pencils. You can practice drawing anywhere; not so much with music.

I'd do both. The cost to draw is putting a pad/pencil/etc. in your briefcase. Drawing helps you see AND it is useful in a variety of places. Music, not so much, but I can't imagine a world where I couldn't MAKE music if I wanted to, instead of being a slave to other people's minds. Three chords and the truth is all you need, according to Bob Dylan.

Life is long enough to accommodate both, and if you have some nascent skills in both, you may regret leaving one behind if you really intend to do that.

(Also, you can always change your mind later.)
posted by FauxScot at 10:03 PM on October 11, 2011

I went the other way, I do both (music and sketching) - the thing is I am doing it because I enjoy them both, not because I intend to make a living out of either.

I spend about 4-5 days a week on my instrument, about 1.5 to 2 hours a session. "Art" wise, I found that just spending 15 minutes a day doing a sketch showed me significant improvements over the years.

In my experience, it's less about total time spent, but quality, focused time spent. If I do not feel well or can't focus on either, I will not push it. Previously I was doing more than 10 hours a week on my instrument, and alot of it was spent pointlessly wood-shedding. After I started focusing my time and will, it seemed like things came much faster even though I actually used less time.

This may also give you some clue if you'd prefer to do one or either.
posted by TrinsicWS at 2:14 AM on October 12, 2011

How long have you lived where you live? How connected are you to the music community? How about local artists - is there a strong community? Do you feel like this is your long-term resting place, or are you likely to move around a few more times (school, jobs, etc.)?

I found that my occasionally-for-pay amateur hobbies ebbed and flowed dramatically as I hopped from city to city (undergrad, time off, grad school, post-doc, job 1,...). Starting in a new place, I'd check out different gatherings, meet a few people, and depending on how those relationships developed, one of my loves would be much better supported than the others. I'm not the kind of person who can sit in a closet and practice/create for myself, so the "off" hobby took a backseat for a few years, but I'd pull it out and give it another chance when I moved. From town to town, it really varied which groups of people were active vs. struggling or cooperative vs. drama-filled.

So, focus on music if there's a good singer-songwriter community and places to play, and people to swap ideas with and share billings with who are generally not back-stabby. If you can't find any collaborators, or everyone you talk to is driving to the next county for most of their gigs, or they do nothing but badmouth each other, take that as a sign, and do art. Similarly, if the artists you know are discontent, broke, whining about the morals of the only 2 gallery owners in town, etc. maybe that's not the time/place for you to throw your all into art.
posted by aimedwander at 6:54 AM on October 12, 2011

First, an obligatory link to the Wikipedia page for Isaiah Berlin's essay, "The Hedgehog and the Fox." I am, by nature, interested in many things (which makes me a fox, on Berlin's view) and, though I realize this means I'll never be top-notch at any of them, I've managed to be exceptional at one and solidly good at several others.

I don't think you really need to choose between these two things. In fact, I think they're a nice pair. Being a working musician--speaking from experience on this one--involves a lot of downtime. And sketching is an excellent way to fill such time. It's also great that sketching is, while still a creative activity, quite a bit different from music. Because, no matter how jazzed you are about music, there will be times when you simply won't want to play. Flipping back and forth can keep things interesting.

I've known musicians who were also talented at visual arts (e.g. bassist/singer/songwriter Gonzalo Silva), so you'd hardly be alone in this.
posted by wheat at 8:35 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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