Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Odd World of the Introverted Artist

The Art

Art, by its very nature, wants to be seen.  That's the whole reason it exists.  If something is created that serves no practical purpose, then to hide it away takes away its entire meaning.  Art is a painting that someone hangs on their wall, a song that brightens someone's day, a book that makes someone think about things differently, or a movie that helps someone realize that yes, there are people out there who understand me.  Art is a beautiful singing voice, a unique sense of humor, or an amazing talent for dancing.  All of these things can make a wonderful impact on the world, but only if they can be seen and heard.  Without an audience, art might as well not exist.

The Artist

The artist is the person who creates the art.  Artists want their work to have purpose, therefore they want their work to be seen.  Some artists may choose to hide their art away, but it is most often not out of a desire to keep it out of the world but rather out of a fear that it will not be well-received.  Many artists, however, do not suffer from this fear and bravely put their work out there for all to see. 

Quite often artists yearn for the attention that their art can bring them.  When they are told as children that they dance beautifully, or that they have a talent for poetry, that good feeling stays with them for a long time.  Many people, whether they be artists or they belong to some other profession, spend their lives looking for that kind of validation.  For many people, gaining that validation is a major motivation for everything they do in their lives.  This can lead down some very good roads or some very bad roads, depending on the decisions that are made along the way.  For the artist, the hope is that the road will lead to recognition, applause, and acclaim.  That it will lead to awards, fans, and, of course, money.  Not every artist has their sights set on being a celebrity.  That status comes with stresses that most people would not want.  But a little recognition here, a little praise there, is what drives many an artist in their quest to find their place in the world.

The Introvert

The introvert values, above anything else, privacy and personal space.  This does not mean that they are antisocial.  In fact, many introverts have friends and enjoy spending time with them.  But they don't put their entire selves on display for the world to see.  They keep some parts hidden.  In many situations, they will go to great lengths to avoid drawing attention to themselves.  Quite often they worry what other people think of them, and their natural reserve is a way of protecting themselves from judgment. 

The Introverted Artist

Okay, rather than try to speak for anyone else, I'm just going to tell my personal story here.  I very much consider myself an introverted artist.  For as long as I can remember I have been driven by a need to show off.  In school I was the annoying student who always had my hand in the air before the teacher even finished asking the question.  I did it because I knew the answer, and I needed everyone else in the room to know that I knew the answer.  When our class did plays and skits, I was disappointed if I did not get the lead role.  When I played in the school band in middle and high school, then later in college, I was upset that I didn't get as many solos as I wanted.  The truth was, I wanted all of the solos.

However, I am an intensely private person.  As a child the most dreaded question in my sheltered little world was my mom asking "What are you doing?"  I never wanted to tell her.  Not because I was doing anything I shouldn't have been doing, but because I didn't like having other people in my head.  If she knew what I was doing, she might ask why I was doing it, or if I was enjoying it, or what I liked about it, or any number of questions that I found utterly humiliating.  I still go through this today when my children catch me dancing to my favorite song, or my husband walks up behind me while I search for something on the internet.  My first instinct is to hide all of that away where no one can see it.  Not because it's bad, just because I'm embarrassed.

The artist in me needs to express myself.  I need to learn how to dance.  I need to write stories.  I need to sing.  And I need the world to know that I can do all of those things.  But telling the world about it absolutely terrifies me.  The singing and dancing bit is odd because I don't get stage fright.  If someone else puts me in front of an audience and tells me to perform, I feel right at home.  Performing makes me deliriously happy, and afterward I'm on a high that lasts for days.  But if someone puts me in a room of people and says, "Hey, Greta, why don't you sing a song for everyone," my response is going to be, "You want me to do what?" 

Here's an example.  Film-making is the newest hobby that I have developed an interest in.  Don't misunderstand me here--I'm not thinking I'm going to be the next Spielberg.  I have no delusions that the couple of little short films that I've made will ever lead me to fame and fortune.  But just the same, I want to show them off.  This led to a very awkward experience at my in-laws' house one day.  I had my first little movie saved on a flash drive, and I discreetly tucked it into my pocket on the way to their house for dinner.  Quite a few members of my husband's family were there, and I was very excited about showing them my accomplishment.  When a lull occurred in the conversation, I thought, "Okay, here's my moment."  I opened my mouth to try and say, "Hey, who wants to see this little movie I made?" but nothing came out.  My heart started racing, my palms started sweating, and I couldn't do it.  I still desperately wanted everyone to see it, so I ran to get my husband.  I whispered in his ear that I wanted to show everyone my movie, but I couldn't make the announcement myself, and I begged him to do it for me.  Which he did.   Afterward, I was left with mixed feelings.  A couple of people had complimented the movie, which made me feel good, but at the same time I felt guilty for having so blatantly called attention to myself.

This is a constant struggle for me.  There are things I want the world to know.  I want them to know that I've written a book, that I've won medals in dance competitions, that I am (almost) fluent in Spanish, and numerous other things.  But when I try to show the world those things, I often find that I can't.  I'd love to say that it is humility that holds me back, but the truth is I am not quite that virtuous.  After all, if it were true humility, I would not have this need to show off in the first place.  No, the thing that holds me back is fear.  I'm afraid that I will annoy people, or that they will think I'm strange, or that they will criticize whatever it is that I'm doing.  I am perpetually pulled in opposing directions by these two drives that are fighting inside of me.

This is my story.  I would love to hear yours.  Have you had an experience similar to mine, or do you struggle with different challenges altogether?  Whether you consider yourself an introverted artist or not, feel free to leave a comment telling me about your personal experience.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter if you would like updates on this blog or any other project I'm working on.  Remember, I'm dying to show off to you!


  1. I understand completely! I remember getting the part of the Crocodile in our high school performance of "Peter Pan." I was crushed! I wanted to be Peter, or at least Wendy. But the Crocodile?! Looking back, I realize that not only was it a great part, with a surprising number of lines, but I was the one who got the big laughs as I chased Captain Hook around the stage. At the time, though, I was devastated.

    Now I write novels. I never talk about them with people I know. I'm happy to Tweet about them, email about them, blog about writing, whatever, but ask me face-to-face what my novel's about and I'll change the subject. So embarrassing! I've been asked to participate on author panels and attend book signings. No way! I'd rather drill my own teeth. And you're absolutely right - nothing but fear holds me back. It's not the fear of failure - I've failed in things before and I will again and I accept that failure is part of trying something new. It's fear of being IGNORED - of putting my efforts out there and having people shrug and turn away disinterestedly. That's what I fear.

    Nice to know there's someone else out there with the same fear. :) Viva all introverted artists!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. You have the honor of being the first person to comment on one of my blogs since I started doing this a couple of months ago. I am glad to know that someone identifies with my story. That is part of my reason for writing these. So often people who are a little different from those around them go through life with the feeling that no one understands. My hope is that other people like me will read these personal posts and realize that I, at least, understand.

      I am glad you shared your own story, and I definitely identify with telling everyone online what you are up to, but keeping it silent from those who know you personally. I share this blog on Twitter and Facebook. On Twitter, I hit share and think nothing of it. But on Facebook it terrifies me because the people who will be reading it are people I actually have to interact with in real life. I think that, even at 36 years old, I still haven't outgrown that teenage fear of being called a nerd.

      I hope that you and all others like us will find the courage to step out of ourselves and show the world what we're made of. Until then, I'll be seeing you on Twitter.