There is something profound in the perception that artists are “mystical unicorn-like beings”. Artists and what artists do are viewed as being enigmatic and often outside the community’s standards of normalcy, but how on earth can that be possible? Didn’t we all paint and draw as kids? And isn’t that what professional painters and drawers still do? How can we fail to make that leap in understanding? And didn’t we all sculpt with clay, play dough, and mud? As kids didn’t we build sand castles on beaches and riverbanks? Didn’t we all sing unabashedly and dance with unbridled enthusiasm? Didn’t we all stage performances with Barbie dolls, toy soldiers, plastic dinosaurs and Hot Wheels cars? Weren’t we all in fact natural artists once upon a time ourselves? Just how have we forgotten that? Just how did we grow up and lose sight of the fact that a person’s imagination is an intimately explored terrain? Just how did we forget that creativity is our natural birthright? How did we come to believe creativity was the birthright of Unicorns?
So to me it seems the problem is less a matter of introducing ourselves as adult artists (and staking our claim on normalcy and citizenship) than it is of not forgetting as we grow up that we are all inherently creative beings. Professional artists are simply those among us who paint, act, or sing for a living. These are not the activities of aliens. We too did them as kids. And we are not ‘strangers’, because in fact everyone IS an artist deep down inside. The reason we seem enigmatic is simply that most people have had this truth beaten out of them. They have forgotten it, and they have disowned their own childhood artistry in the process. Just what else has society sometimes made us forget about ourselves, I wonder…?
As I said in the first instalment of this two part post the appearance of physical and social distance seems to bother our extroverted society’s sensibility. And since we often take the extrovert model as our standard of normalcy, artists are often blamed for hiding away in their studios as a source of the public’s misunderstanding. The public doesn’t ‘get’ artists because artists aren’t making like ‘normal’ citizens. But I would say that this gives more credit to an extrovert-centric point of view than is necessary. Its not that artists are “mystical unicorn-like beings” because they do their creative thing in private. Rather, studio practice that involves devoted solitude often seems to draw folks that are naturally inclined to introversion. Privacy and solitude are not abnormal or things that need to be fixed. Its sometimes just who people are.
Maybe this is what introvert artists look like to an extrovert. And the slogan that “Art doesn’t help people. People help people” is obvious code for the view that solitude is useless and community is what counts. How absolutely blind to the real needs of introverts this is! And if you’d like a counter argument you need look no further than the Einstein quote from the last post. If anyone has the smarts to see important connections I’d put my money on him. And I might then rephrase the slogan above as “Real people need solitude. And society needs introverts”….
So it seems that our society barely recognizes people that prefer or sometimes need solitude for what they are doing. And its not that all artists are introverts. But claiming that there is something “wrong” or “counter productive” with being introverted dishonors the reality that somewhere between a third and a half of us actually DO have strong introvert tendencies. Other introverts understand this. Its only the expectation of glad-handing salesmanship that discolors our perception. Its only the belief that solitude doesn’t help people but gregariousness does. It asks introverts to step up and be understood rather than asking the oblivious extrovert dominated culture to slow down and pay attention to what it is that these sometimes private people are doing. And its not all cultures that have this stigma against the less outgoing, the deferential. So why are we so sure that quiet people need to ‘man-up’?
If the correct model for normalcy is in fact that of extroversion, then maybe we do all need to be wearing lamp-shades and raucously flinging ourselves into the mosh pit of life. Maybe the ones sitting quietly on the sidelines of our daily spectacle somehow are defective. Maybe the quiet introspective ones among us really are strange incomprehensible beings. Maybe the best society can do is to begrudgingly suffer sharing its extroverted air with them, and shunt them into corners and dark alleys whenever possible.
Quiet people can make extroverts nervous. Their social blundering is the incomprehensible behaviour of strange beings. Our extrovert choices are to simply ignore them, make them pass the test of ‘citizenship’, or maybe put them in public cages for our amusement and entertainment. Like other exotic wild animals. Not that we need to understand them. We can have reality shows that display their bungling social ineptitude to a howling mob. Perhaps one day advanced medical science can fit them with extrovert homunculi to govern their social interactions. Won’t that help them fit in and solve the problem? Won’t that be doing them a favor?
If this is the sympathy quiet people can expect, no wonder they are often seen as starry-eyed impractical faeries or glum and unsociable trolls…..
But that seems wrong. Rather than trying to change artists to something they may not be, it seems more important to educate the public that there are these people who DO need solitude, that even some among us may not recognize this about themselves. Such is the extrovert pressure on us all, and such is the force with which society demands we all get along with casual outgoing bravado. But it is simply not who some folks really are or who they want to be. It may even be less efficient for certain practical purposes. It may turn out that society also NEEDS people who spend so much time in introspection and observation. Artists and scientists and a whole host of socially responsible and forward thinking activities require this personality. And, most importantly, there is nothing wrong with the people who need their down time and privacy. These ARE normal people. They don’t need fixing….
Its not that introverts are complete social misfits, that they are relational lepers, inarticulate drooling apple-knockers, or morally hunchbacked creepy crawlers. But neither are they necessarily the best, the most fluent, ambassadors at large. They best work their persuasive magic in small circles if at all. Not on stages in front of podiums. Not in stadiums clutching their junk and pumping their fists.
They can sometimes learn how to function extrovertedly in support of their convictions. They can mimic pseudo-extroversion. And introverts put on these masks and assume these more animated roles all the time. But its not always a natural fit. And not every introvert can do it equally well. At heart the introvert best knows the loneliness of the long distance individual. At heart most artists need the loneliness of long distance studios. Is it right to ask them to be someone they are not?
So it seems important to nurture those quiet individuals who make a life of introspection, of mining the ore of their own imaginations, and who need great privacy to do so. And if we made this more welcoming for the children in our schools, don’t you think there would be fewer kids who lost the dream of their own creativity and who traded out their imaginative inner lives for the externalized shallows of extroversion? Just because our culture seems to lionize the extrovert, applaud celebrity, and insist that we sell ourselves, do we all really need to step this far into the limelight?
Its not that extroverts are somehow wrong to be the people they are. They have as much right as any. Its just that we can’t base our ideals of normality just on this one model. We need to open our understanding of what interesting and diverse kinds of people there are out in the wide world. Are society’s wallflowers, introspective quiet types, listeners, observers, and all other stripes of introvert not regular people too?
Did any of that make sense?
At least, that’s how it seems to me….. And if this post struck a chord, PLEASE share it, repost it, link to it, or talk about it on your own. Please talk about it on your own! There are probably as many unique stories as there are artists and introverts. And the more this issue gets talked about openly the less it will be the dirty little secret of quiet people. We don’t need to yell it from the roof tops, but a heart to heart with someone you know would not be amiss….
(This post was encouraged by the awesome work that Susan Cain has done to publicize the issues facing introverts in our society. Follow her blog and read her new book “Quiet” if these issues reflect on your situation or that of someone you may know. She’s waaaay smarter than me, and she’s done the research to back it up.)
Make beauty real!