Taking Time to Listen: An Opinion on Introverts and the Arts
by Kristine Rominski
I will bet that in your creative work you’ve encountered people who are quite different from you. Always a challenge. Perhaps, if you are like me, “different” equals more expressive, more talkative, louder. These more outgoing colleagues have more connections and receive more opportunities in their field – but mostly, to you, they seem to be good at getting more.
It’s no secret that society favors extroversion and extroverts. The recent, and paradoxical, success of self-professed introvert Susan Cain makes this point in her book and TED Talk about introverts, and makes another very important one: we should take time to listen to introverts. As Cain says, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” In the arts, this natural bias can prevent introverts from opportunities, and potentially from encounters with greatness. The topic of introversion in the arts – especially music, since it’s what I practice – has special interest to me, and I can’t help but wonder how it may help and hinder success in the field. Already in my career I am noticing certain advantages my open and gregarious colleagues’ experience in comparison to that of quieter and more reserved people. We all know that having the most words is not the same as having the best ideas, that the loudest and fastest player is not the same as the best, and the most prolific writer is not necessarily the greatest – so why is what they’re receiving much more accolade?
Music, like all art, is a subjective experience. Opinions differ, and we all accept that truth. Yet all too often it seems that opinion tends to tilt in the direction of the person who makes the most noise about their work, garnering success and attention by force of personality perhaps more than by force of artistic accomplishment. The reserved musician or artist, by contrast, faces a danger in their reluctance to share every single performance or achievement because they feel that the actual art – the painting, the novel, or the musical piece — must be deserving of attention. A deep passion is required to share this private slice of life’s work, and the creator of that art must deem the work to be at the highest level, and not just present themselves for the high of being in the spotlight.
Being a musician places me in a unique position. Making music fulfills my creative needs and is constantly challenging. Much of my time is spent in conflict with my own quiet nature because much of the presentation of my work is largely done in groups. Within these groups the necessity to be overly friendly, make connections, and contribute musical ideas is overwhelming to the point where the effort to be heard over other’s ideas is not worth it. And while to the normal person contributing thoughts and putting on a smile may seem obvious and easy and natural, to a person who is not so open with their thoughts, these actions thrust them into a position of vulnerability and discomfort.
This leads to a compelling question: How much art is hidden because the creator is too introverted? We may be missing the best work in some fields because an introvert has been too silent, perhaps too humble or too critical of themselves and their output. I wonder if we have to wait for another Emily Dickinson scenario to discover works of great breadth and brilliance. Emily produced hundreds of poems, but only ever published a handful – and did not seem motivated to even publish those few.
Sometimes excellence does rise to the top of the given field. However, in today’s world of social media, the pressure to self-promote at any and all hours of the day seems constant, and this apparent narcissicism of the social media age – which to others might just be extroversion – might just get in the way of artistry. Perhaps if the will to self-promote supersedes the work itself, then it could impede progress of artistic expression to its highest state. Our age, with its fascination with the cult of personality, may lose precious opportunities and work if it does not take the time, patience, and silence required for those of us who speak a little more softly.