Thursday, April 11, 2013

On an Artistic Temperament

Today, I read a fascinating article published in the Healthy Living section of the Huffington Post, Scott Barry Kaufman's "After the Show: The Many Faces of the Performer."

I felt as if I were looking in a mirror rather than staring at a computer screen.

The gist of the article -- that creative people are complex -- isn't new, nor is one of the authors quoted at some length: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Having read his book Flow, I find these comments from the article personally familiar:

"Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they're also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm...This does not mean that creative people are hyperactive, always 'on.' In fact, they rest often and sleep a lot. The important thing is that they control their energy; it's not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work.

"Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. We're usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show. In fact, in psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliability measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

"Creative people's openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment . . . . Being alone at the forefront of a discipline also leaves you exposed and vulnerable."

In summary, Kaufman writes, "These three seeming contradictions -- energy/rest, extroversion/introversion, and openness/sensitivity -- are not separate phenomena but are intimately related to one another and along with other traits form the core of the creative performer's personality." (my emphasis)

Not long ago, a friend refused to accept my admission that I'm an introvert. She laughed, in fact. What she doesn't know is the other me she doesn't see. I'm on when I have to be on, but I prefer to be off, "observing the passing show." I am not always the person she sees.

In addition, because I "exhibit both traits simultaneously," I am not considered as belonging to one of "the most stable personality traits." No news to me or to anyone who has known me. I have always had what my mother called "an artistic temperament."

With three degrees in theater and a long-time career as a teacher of writing and literature, I am well familiar with the contradictions of creative types. We're not always easy to live with or work with, but I'd prefer to spend time with an "unstable" type than with a pure introvert or extrovert. The complexities charm and seduce me the same way a weed's flower comes into and slides out of focus. 

Who's to say which makes it more beautiful.

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