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Artist as Introvert

Updated on May 9, 2014

Expected Extroversion

I would be happy to admit that I am an introvert, as long as I don't have to do it in front of an audience.

Only until recently (and with the help of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, an invaluable book for the introvert) have I been able to come to terms with my own tendency towards the introverted.

Anyone who identifies with the traits of introversion can understand the type of pressure our culture puts on the individual to be extroverted, and what it feels like to be other than. We glamorize and celebrate the wild lifestyles and larger than life personalities of celebrities, begin quite young to punish students for displaying reserved behavior in the classroom (participation points anyone?), publish self-help articles on beating shyness, reward gregarious personalities, and generally consider endless sociability to be the norm.

Truly, it seems we are told, if you aren't outgoing there is something wrong with you.

Unfortunately there is this existing discrimination towards those who might rather stay in on a Saturday night, refrain from speaking at every opportunity, draw attention away from themselves, or would generally rather be reading, painting, gardening, or programming etc.

An Introvert at Work
An Introvert at Work | Source

How Artists are Understood

Being both introvert and artist puts one in an interesting position. There is a type of double standard that plays a hand in how artists are understood on a larger scale.

You can be one of two stereotypes (both of which utilize the ever persistent "mentally unhinged artist" trope). Your first option is the hermit, the recluse, the mad genius who squirrels their art away, probably rejected by their peers to a degree and never lives to see their own success. Van Gogh is the ever-popular poster child for this type, as are "crazy" outsider artists like Henry Darger. This type embodies an extreme version of introversion.

Option two is the wild artist, passionate and fiery with a raw animal magnetism, usually it helps to be a man (even better if you are a womanizer), an artist with an larger than life personality and tumultuous personal life that adds, by extension, color and implied meaning to their art. The prime examples are Picasso and Jackson Pollock.

These are persistent notions that are familiar to artists and non-artists alike. Obviously the vast majority of people fit into neither category, extreme introvert nor extrovert; however, introverts experience greater discrimination from being neither.The introvert/hermit is not respected until after his demise, really not expected to be successful at all during their lifetime, and unlikely to get noticed lacking the right personality. The introvert is punished doubly: one demerit for falling closer to the "hermit" end of the artist spectrum and another for being far away from the passionate artiste. The behavior of the extroverted artist has no negative, is excused and reinforced by way of praise, rewarded for being free, a fount of unbridled emotion.

The flamboyant artist reaps rewards
The flamboyant artist reaps rewards | Source

The Benefit of Being Extroverted

In the art world, as in everyday life, a contemporary artist who is an extrovert will most likely be favored over one who is not (except for in rare instances where the work speaks for itself).

Dealers and galleries are attracted to the big personality types, socially adept smooth-talkers who will charm them and thereby charm the buyer. An extrovert has no problem weaseling into art circles (the first step towards any representation). It is easy to wonder what percentage of work by gallery represented artists is shown based on artistic merit and ideas, or rather the ability of the artist to schmooze. As Susan Cain states in Quiet, "the artists whose work adorns the walls of contemporary museums strike impressive poses at gallery openings."

Introverts, on the other hand, are poor liars, often struggle to verbalize their thoughts and feel uncomfortable in social situations, a perfect storm of networking failure. Being able to talk your work up, but really yourself, is an invaluable skill that any introverted artist will tell you is a struggle.

It is a shame that artists who are introverts are susceptible to these types of setbacks because of their personality.

Abraham Lincoln - he was an introvert.
Abraham Lincoln - he was an introvert. | Source

The Benefit of Being Introverted

What makes all this so unusual is the relationship to the nature of creativity, the way ideas are formulated and expressed. Isolation and individuality are necessary in the production of art, and thereby the existence of an art market. Artistic creation and discovery is impossible without possessing the traits that characterize introversion: intense focus, deep thinking, individualistic modes of thinking, sensitivity, and personal conviction.

What is ironic is that the art market that punishes introverts relies on the tenets of introversion for its survival.

An artist who is an introvert can find redemption in this. If you are a creative, success-driven introvert, you may not be the best at garnering sales and press (there is always room to improve), but you can take solace in your gift of sensitivity, expression and often incorruptible creativity.

Do you think a person's place on the introvert/extrovert spectrum can influence creativity?

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    • profile image

      Kristamatic 3 years ago

      I am a very introverted artist, but I am able to turn on the fake extroversion in order to sell my wares. The difference for me is, it is not exhilarating, it is exhausting. Thank heavens for the internet where I can schmooze from the comfort of my hermitness.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I have a better understanding now of the spectrum from introvert to extrovert.

      I found it interesting that it takes a little bit of being an introvert to be creative, because an introvert can spend the time alone to focus on his or her creativity.

      I also found it very interesting how it takes being an extrovert in order to successfully market one's creations, because they need to get out there to make themselves known.

      All this makes sense Rosie, and you explained it very well.

    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 3 years ago from Texas, USA

      This was very interesting, rosalocke. I would categorize myself as an introvert, and I can identify with what you describe as the pressure to change one's personality to "fit in" and to succeed in the classroom and in life in general. I think the current craze of "social" media feeds this pressure. I am an artist, and I work hard to do the "marketing" of my work. I have gotten better at it, but it is a challenge.

      I appreciate this hub for pointing out that there is value in quiet, contemplative people. Thanks for writing this excellent hub.