Are You A Polymath?

Leonardo DaVinci the Polymath

A Polywhat? For My Artist Friends...

“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but often times better than a master of one.”

So, what is a polymath? A Polymath is defined as someone who excels in multiple fields of knowledge. Today, we might refer to that person as “a jack of all trades” — and some might suggest “a master of none.” I have to laugh at the master of none thought. I believe that a polymath is a person of many talents who also masters a few skills along the way.

The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da VinciThe term “polymathos” originates from Greek, meaning “one who knows many things,” and is often associated with Renaissance thinkers like Leonardo Da Vinci. As an anatomist, architect, botanist, city planner, chef, humorist, engineer, equestrian, inventor, geographer, geologist, military scientist, musician, painter, philosopher, and masterful storyteller, he was more than a “jack of all trades,” but rather, a “Master of many.” Still today, we look back on his work and are amazed at all he accomplished in creating paintings and murals, not even to mention his advancements in science.

Of course, there are others, but Leonardo’s accomplishments stand high above most. He would be what most refer to as a true Renaissance man.

Polymaths include the great scholars and thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment who excelled in several fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts.

More recently, Benjamin Franklin is one of the foremost polymaths in America’s history. Franklin was a writer, scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, printer, and political philosopher, along with being one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Today’s polymaths include the likes of Elon Musk, who is knowledgeable in many things, as opposed to a single focus. As most know, Elon is deep into design and development in aerospace, automotive and truck design and production, satellite communications, satellite phones, robots, and robotics, social media [X], boring holes and making tunnels from city to city, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and probably countless projects we don’t know about. And he doesn’t just own these companies; he understands what drives them and us. 


Most Artists I Know Are Polymath

I believe most artists today are polymaths by nature — maybe not on an Elon Musk level or even that of maestro Leonardo da Vinci, but still, they are polymaths. It is hard to be an artist today and not be a jack of many trades while mastering a few along the way, whatever they may be. Today’s creators keenly understand the importance of diverse knowledge and the benefits of having varied skills and interests, especially those learned by trial and error.

Speaking from the experience of myself and a few artist friends, I know that an artist must continuously develop several skills to succeed in today’s world or even locally. It takes a specific skill set to create the art and a different set of skills to share it with the world. For some, going beyond the artwork might include collateral design; for others, it might mean online exposure; and others might focus on creating videos. Some, myself included, will do all of that and more.

Eternal, 34″ x 55″, mixed media metal art, 2023

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

A polymath’s “can do” approach is essential to creating art; sharing it is paramount to an artist’s survival. If an artist is genuinely making art (as opposed to a product), then each artwork creates a new opportunity to grow new skills and be more than a “jack” or anything.

For my latest work (ETERNAL, above), my jack-of-all-trades bag of tricks includes photography, drawing, metal grinding and finish, airbrushing, traditional art techniques, website design and development, search engine optimization, video production, archiving and provenance, writing and story sharing, sales, artwork installation, and Social Media. And all of that is just for one project. Other undertakings might include sculpting or display design or whatever. That keeps it exciting for me because no two days are the same.

Speaking for myself, the variety of processes keeps me engaged in my work. I love art and technology, so I enjoy working on projects in my traditional studio of pencils, power tools, and paint, and then spend some time at my computer, writing posts and making videos. For me, it’s about the circle of creation: the concept-to-completion process for my art and sharing its journey and story along the way.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

Do you want your general knowledge to cross boundaries? Today, it’s easier than ever to become a polymath. In fact, anyone can, If they have curiosity and an Internet connection, you can learn virtually anything you can imagine.

A Polymath Factoid

In Western Europe, the first work to use the term polymathy in its title (De Polymathia tractatio: integri operis de studiis veterum) was published in 1603 by Johann von Wowern, a Hamburg philosopher. Von Wowern defined polymathy as “knowledge of various matters, drawn from all kinds of studies … ranging freely through all the fields of the disciplines, as far as the human mind, with unwearied industry, is able to pursue them.” Von Wowern lists erudition, literature, philology, philomathy, and polyhistory as synonyms.


Stock images for this post are copyright @ Adobe. Licensed for editorial purposes only.

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