I am guilty.
I have committed this sin several times without thinking.
I am not the only one to have done it.
I have used the ‘T’ word.
I have used it on numerous occastions.
I have been known…
…when talking about the value of exploring theories and models…
…to use the phrase…
…’more tools in your toolbox’.
However, the more I think about it, the more I am annoyed by the limitations of the toolbox metaphor.
If you want to tighten a nut, you use a spanner. If you want to unscrew something, you use a screwdriver. Each tool has a specific, limited purpose. OK, if you need to bash in a nail and you don’t have a hammer, you could use a heavy spanner, but you wouldn’t be able to use the spanner to cut pieces of wood.
Giving career help to people is much more complicated. You don’t usually face a simple task for which one tool or approach is the best and only answer. Career problems are multifaceted and we often have to deal with a number of different issues simultaneously. This calls for something more sophisticated and creative than a mechanical ‘fix it’ approach and the toolbox metaphor that goes with it. Perhaps it’s time to swap the toolbox for the artbox.
Using the image of artist materials introduces the possibility of creativity, versatility and flexibility. The more materials you have in your artbox, the greater range of images you can produce, However, if all you have is a pencil and a sufficient amount of skill, you can still create amazing things. Even though everything you draw will be in black and white, you can create light and shade, form and texture. Even with a limited knowledge of career theories and models, you can still produce good results with a client, if you are creative and skillful.
Of course, there are special tools for particular jobs. There are brushes specifically designed for use with oil paints and ones that are best for watercolours. However, even if you don’t have the right brush, you can still paint. You may have to work a little harder to achieve the same results, but it’s not impossible. You can improvise with the materials you have available. There may be clients for whom particular theories would have special relevance, but if you don’t know the theory, it doesn’t mean you can’t help them.
You can read books on art techniques and they will help you to learn from the experience of others. You can find out about which materials will produce certain effects. You can learn that pastels work best on rough paper and ink works best on smooth fine paper. You can learn about perspective and colour theory. However, you can still be creative and produce attractive results using the wrong combination of materials and without knowing the theory. Guidance models will tell you what should happen in ideal situations, but real life is more flexible. As with any craft, some knowledge only comes with experimentation and careful observation.
- Do you see yourself as an artist or a technician — van Gogh or Bob the Builder?
- How do you go about improving your craft?
- Does the toolbox metaphor annoy you as much as it annoys me?
Related post: What makes a theory useful?