The Polymath-ness Of Being

Here’s the thing about being weirder than anyone else anticipates: it’s both wholly fantastic and terrifying.

From Wikipedia: A Polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.

And while this is supremely wonderful enough for me, I also have the added bonus of being a self-taught polymath. It’s one of those aspects of the self that are so intrinsically rooted deep in you, that like breathing, you hardly notice it- or ever have to put effort into doing it (unless you’re doing the same workouts I’ve been doing on DailyBurn. In which case you already know there are exceptions to this rule)

By 3 I was reading. At 6, I was teaching my brother how to read on his bantam Batman book (and yes, I remember), and making my own dolls- because I was also sewing. By 8, I was watching foreign films and became determined to learn all of the languages on earth to help people solve their problems. Every Christmas, Hannukah, and birthday present was dedicated to either language cassettes or adding to my mini art studio in my basement. I would watch Salute Your Shorts or Welcome Freshman and play with my little pottery wheel. Or I would collage, make pot holders on that loom thing, or organize my toys with a disturbing level of detail. (Orange Section, Row 12, Drawer 2 had my Crayola markers in case you were wondering).

I spent my saturday mornings writing out different ideas for characters; what they were like, what they wore. Then I’d write it all out in novel form on my IBM Aptiva. Or break my family’s dot matrix printer using a different font for every word in a letter to my friends. Which happened….often.

Yes I spend a majority of my life in solitary-creating mode, but I am also outgoing-when the time calls for it. I was in dance classes from 2 and excelled in tap, I started doing commercials, acting, improv, and by 12 I was playing the guitar. By 16  I was making my own clothes, entering reading comprehension & geometry competitions, reading philosophy, and writing poetry to get through the emotional turbulence of my day to day life. Like it was totally normal, and every teenager in the world was also handling things this way.

In this specific context, dropping out of high school and going to college was the absolute best decision I could have ever made for myself. I took every class I could. The first day of sign up was like a holiday.  Biology, Oceanography, Calculus, Sociology, and then all the classic arts that I can never have enough of. I honestly believe I have an accumulated 13 years of Art History inside of me. I can also say I don’t ever need to hear about cuneiform again, but the rest of it– worth every second.

The social sciences; sociology & anthropology held my interest much like my cherished font disks did (and they did people. I slept with the boxes in my bed), and I was really excelling with a professor of mine. She and I got along so well she invited me to an archaeological dig in Chichén Itzá, and I was all set to go. Until I found out I was accepted to art school in the same week.

The positive attributes to being this versatile far outweigh any negative ones,  but there will always be them– I just don’t accept them anymore. For a long time my family treated me like a flake. I wasn’t capable or interested in follow through; just really enjoyed flittering about across one activity or another. Unfortunately that (unnecessary!) attitude stuck around a little longer than it should have, but putting myself through art school really changed things. It was something I had always wanted and was always drawn to.  Even though I dreamed about it, I was told it was always out of my reach. I wasn’t good enough, or talented enough to get into art school or to be an artist. I know (KNOW!) you are reading that saying WHAT?! but let me tell you how true it is.

True. And from more people than I would like to admit; for a really long time.

Even getting into art school was sort of wonky. I didn’t have any sketchbooks to submit, but I had a 3-ring binder of design work to show. I was already “working” as a designer in Orlando; making stickers for my car, or creating visuals for poems I had written, but I wanted to “learn design the right way”. Because you know, the way that I had been doing it was too easy, and it felt like “cheating”. So I submitted two portfolios: a traditional collection of paintings & drawings I had done, and this right here:

ThaBinder

As if there were any doubt that this was a product of a 19 yr old. 

RM

A Rainer Maria song

JC

 An excerpt from a Jim Carroll poem

I wanted to show the Admissions guy I was serious about being a designer. I’m almost always too serious at showing people how serious I am- but that’s me. I’m serious. And goofy. Usually at the same time. Don’t ask me how that works, I’m only 31. I’ve still got ways to go.

It took me a bit to fully understand how all of this must come across, from the outside it probably seems like I am trying to out-best everyone, but I’m not. In my mind and actions, I’m simply trying to be myself. I’ve yet to reach the  limit of what I can do– either in terms of quantity of work in a tight deadline or tackling a style or industry that’s new to me. It all comes fairly easy, and the ocean of possibilities within enriches me rather than overwhelms. I think by now my colleagues get it, but at the time? Woo boy, they did not.

By junior year, though– everyone, including my professors had accepted that they were not really going to understand me. Or at least in an easily digestible way.

That’s just now how I roll; indigestibly.

And for the first time, I was loved for it.

By senior year, all bets were off. I conveyed a non-linear movie timeline through the grouping of algebraic equations (Magnolia!), and dealt with euphemistic language by juxtaposing transparencies, gold leaf , and stencils (Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants!). Meanwhile, my professors are telling me (or a variation): “I don’t get it, but I love it”.

{I am still undecided if this behavior was the best thing or the worst thing for me.}

My projects were ways for me to communicate a concept; usually fairly complex, but all of my ideas for executions were first steeped in concept exploration.

A project I was assigned junior year was really simple: design a deck of cards portraying a different era in time. I determined mine to be tarot cards, and my professor (who I affectionately call Higgle Wiggle) further challenged me to communicate the meaning of the cards through images- so that someone would get the idea of what the card meant without ever studying tarot.

This detail would make this my favorite and most fulfilling project I ever worked on in college.

Tarot2

I spent so much time selecting the perfect image to represent BOTH meanings (as the card meanings differ depending on whether or not the card is facing towards or away from you), I developed headaches. And people, whether you believe me or not is not important. I LOVED these headaches. They were the result of strong braining effort– something I had not yet touched in my entire life. It felt so good to exercise my mind in a way I had never done. It was addicting.

HM

The Hanged Man. The compliment I received from him about this card has stayed with me for 7 years, and I see no reason to get rid of it now. While laughing out loud, he called declared the card/me a Duchampian Masterpiece. And. that. was. everything. {It still is}

Eventually I designed all 78 cards in both the Major and Minor Arcana, giving up my holiday breaks- but it was worth it. I felt compelled to do it– much like how now I am compelled to chart The Shining.

TarotSpread

His comment about the eyes however, “Where are their eyes? That’s so FREAKY”, and while it’s true, all humans in these cards have no eyes– that comment speaks to another layer of me yet again.

I always perform little tests with my designs. How do they read? What feeling is happening there?Are people getting the message I am aiming to communicate?

I don’t argue with whatever response I get because I want to perfect the “how” I’m showing it with the “what” I’m saying. Telling my focus group “Hey Sorry, You Just Don’t Get It” won’t help me here, and it certainly won’t make my ability to communicate through my work any better.

With the tarot cards, I became perplexed by peoples’ inability to see a symbol represented through a person. Human beings require other human beings for understanding and recognition of themes. It’s why all things are anthropomorphized.  Gods, Animals, Toasters, Racecars; all made human-esque so we can care about them.  I needed to go the other way. Strip the images of their humaness so all that is left is the metaphor of message. Taking the eyes away solved that problem for me. I didn’t feel that creepy about it, but hey. opinions.

Unlike Junior year, where I won Best Of Show (Tarot cards! Thank you very much) and had every project placed in the show, senior year’s Best Of show sang an entirely different tune: a two hour long private argument with the Juror and the entire Graphic Design Faculty called “A fight over whether or not Jenny is a designer, an illustrator, or a fine artist.” If this were a movie, guys, this right here would be the foreshadowing moment.

When my professors exited the room, each one looked at me with disappointment in their faces! “We tried, Jenny. We really did”. And it may have been bizarre to them, but it wasn’t to me. I’ve never made clear cut sense and I know I never will. But I also know that I’m not wrong or weird or bad or a flake.

Knowing all of this it’s easy to see why I run my own business. My brain gets all of the varied stimulation it needs because I am wearing all of the uniforms. Full of all the accessories and accoutrements, not just simply wearing the hats. I’m a sponge of a polymath and as I continue to grow through my interests and push my capabilities, I’ve found I love most of everything. Like, actually, legitimately love it. I don’t care for how electronics work or how to fix them, accounting, or watching sports but really, most other things I will find something interesting and something to love in there.

Which I actually think is pretty great.

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