dot 19: introversion

Without introverts we wouldn’t have the Apple computer, the theory of relativity or Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

– introduction to Susan Cain’s book Quiet

Let me begin by admitting to being an introvert. Or, perhaps, I ought rather to admit to being a Closet Introvert.  By saying this I am inherently implying that I am trying to be something that I am not, which is being a creative extrovert.

In Quiet, Susan Cain explores the notion of how the Extrovert Ideal shapes much of our lives.  Cain argues that in spite of introverts constituting one third to one half of (American) society, the balance remains tipped towards the Ideal of the Extrovert. This, according to Cain, is perhaps because we are taught to equate greatness with boldness, and happiness with being sociable. Such are societal expectations which can create pressure on the introvert to ‘pretend to be extrovert’. Based on her research, Cain states that it is the confident – even overconfident – personality in the Sciences that will get the funding. Likewise, in the art world it is the artists who ‘strike impressive poses at gallery openings’ whose ‘works adorn the walls of contemporary museums’. It is highly likely that an artist’s career will be accelerated if s/he has an extroverted personality.

Where does this leave me as an artist with an introvert personality? I think the crux of the issue is remembering that confidence does not equate extroversion. As an introvert artist, I have qualities at my disposal that I need to acknowledge and use to my advantage. Cain references the work of the research psychologist, Dr. Elaine Aron whose life-work on sensitivity and introversion challenged accepted tenets of personality psychology. As I see it, the attributes of sensitivity held by the introvert are certainly pathways to deep creative exploration:

  • keen  observers
  • sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, pain
  • philosophical / spiritual in orientation
  • dislike small talk
  • creative / intuitive
  • dream vividly
  • exceptionally strong emotions
  • notice subtleties
  • responsiveness to beauty
  • highly empathetic
  • strong consciences

The process may be slower and take longer to achieve for an artist that is an introvert. Cain summarises this:

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration.

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