Master of (n)One

I see so many people tossing around words like “masterpiece” and talking about how many hours it takes before you “master” something (I believe 10,000 hours or ten years is the going rate right now.) But what does that really mean?

The term “masterpiece” originally meant the grand work that a journeyman craftsman would create to be judged by masters of his chosen craft. If this work passed muster, then he was deemed a master and that was his master piece. Just because a work is good, or if you like it, or even if it is the best work you’ve ever done (or will do) doesn’t make it a “masterpiece.” Just because you’ve worked in your chosen medium 10,000 hours (or for ten years) doesn’t mean that you are a master.

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Does everyone have to be a master at something?

Took this awesome action shot and then realized I'm wearing the same shirt as my avatar.  I really do own other shirts!
Working toward master level smithing…

While becoming what passes as a master in this day and age is one of my life goals, that doesn’t mean that it should be yours. I’m also not even sure that it is an attainable goal for me. I like the journey to become. I’m a journeyman craftsman. It’s the striving that keeps me going. Plus I’m sometimes drawn to other creative outlets.

You know that old saw “jack of all trades, master of none” right? Well, I like knowing a little something about many different things, but this runs counter intuitive to becoming a master. A master focuses deeply on one particular craft. I think that you can learn new ways of viewing your chosen craft by seeing how other mediums work. It helps you think differently, approach ideas from a new angle. It can also be distracting though.

So are you a master dabbler or expert novice? Or do you focus entirely on one way of working, one medium, one technique until you know all there is to know about it? I think both are valid and my journey lies somewhere in the middle. Where does your journey take you?


Image via Wikipedia

There is a lot of talk in the craft community about what makes one a “master_____.”  We hear about students, sometimes about apprentices, but no one talks about being a journeyman.  One does not simple take a class and then move from student directly to master.  There is an in between step, one where you travel from being an apprentice to being a master – journeyman.  Wikipedia has a wonderful description:

A journeyman is a trader or crafter who has completed an apprenticeship. A journeyman was a craftsman who had fully learned his trade and earned money but was not yet a master. To become a master, a journeyman had to submit a master work piece to a guild for judgment. If the work were deemed worthy, the journeyman would be admitted to the guild as a master.

This is the level I see myself at right now.  Yes, I will always be learning and taking classes, but I’m past the beginner phase of my career.  I teach now also.  But I know that I’m still not at master level.  I can see it in reach if I continue to put in the hours in my studio and keep pushing myself.  I don’t think that there is a specific number of hours (say 10,000 or 10 years) that will make me a master.  It’s the quality of my journey that will bring me to that level.

As yet untitled Collar VI ©2011 sterling silver, agate - This series of collars has helped to refine my soldering skills.

In this country, we don’t have one guild that judges us master.  The Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen has a system of judging members work into “juried status.”  This is probably the most similar to what Wikipedia was talking about.  In Europe there are still places that will decide if you are a master metalsmith.  I know that I am not ready for that kind of judgement yet.  But I will continue to learn new techniques, practice and improve the ones I know, and hopefully progress down the path to master metalsmith.  Won’t you join me on my journey?

What about you?  Do you have a particular idea of what makes someone a “master” in your (or any) chosen field?  Is it truly just the number of hours one puts in or is the quality of the time spent as Lisa Call suggested recently on her blog?  Leave your opinion in the comments and keep the conversation going.