Jaclyn Johnson

Actors like to make plays. I feel most comfortable and alive in rehearsal. All artists presumably feel this way, within their own genre.

You see it in books—the artist as a mysterious neighbor locked away in his workshop for hours or living in an artist colony and never associating with the “outside world.” Perhaps this mystery served us well for a time. But that day has passed.

In my first post, I proposed that if what I see in my peers is any indication, the next generation of arts leaders will be incredibly unique and will have a few common characteristics—who we are, how we work, and why we will do it.

How will we work? Not as mysterious neighbors locked in studios and rehearsal rooms. When not busy with DIY projects, these arts entrepreneurs are engaged, active citizens.

The Nashville songwriter is the best example. Let’s call him Bill.

Bill works in his community garden, teaches a class at his church, watches the Titans down at the local bar with the guys, and hangs out at Dragon Park with his kids. And everywhere he goes Bill shares proudly about songwriting—his publisher, his process, new songs, and upcoming gigs.

As a result, the Nashville songwriter is not a mystical unicorn-like being. He’s just neighbor Bill. And suddenly, he is a hard-working, well-loved part of the workforce, just like everyone else on the block.

Bill may not even know it, but advocacy for the arts sector has become his way of life. Sure, this is a great marketing tactic and many successful arts leaders know the rule of community involvement—becoming a member of Rotary as an obvious first step.

The future arts leader takes this one step further.

We are working and living alongside our neighbors. As a result, the conversation is changing and the creative workforce is becoming a known and celebrated part of Nashville’s identity.

2 Responses to “Unique Leaders, Common Characteristics: How We Work (Part Two)”

  1. There is something profound in the perception that artists are seen as “mystical unicorn-like beings”. Artists and what artists do are viewed as being enigmatic and often outside the community’s standards of normalcy. How on earth can that be possible? Didn’t we all paint and draw as kids? And isn’t that what professional painters and drawers still do? How can we fail to make that leap of comprehension? And didn’t we all sculpt with clay and play dough as kids? Didn’t we all sing unabashedly and dance unashamedly as kids? Didn’t we all stage performances with Barbie dolls, toy soldiers, plastic dinosaurs and Hot Wheels cars? Weren’t we all in fact natural artists once upon a time ourselves? Just how have we forgotten that? Just how did we grow up and lose sight of the fact that a person’s imagination is an intimately explored terrain? Just how did we forget that creativity is our natural birthright?

    So to me it seems that the problem is less a matter of introducing ourselves as adult artists and staking our claim on normalcy and citizenship than it is of not forgetting as we grow up that we are all inherently creative beings, and that artists are simply those among us who paint, act, or sing for a living. We are not strangers, because in fact everyone is an artist deep down inside. The reason we seem enigmatic is simply because most people have had this truth beaten out of them. They have forgotten it, and they have disowned their own childhood artistry in the process.

    The other point I would make is that you seem to blame artists for hiding away in their studios as a source of the public’s misunderstanding. The public doesn’t get artists because artists aren’t making like ‘normal’ citizens. But I would say that this possibly gives more credit to an extrovert-centric point of view than is necessary. Its not that artists are “mystical unicorn-like beings” because they do their creative thing in private. Rather, studio practice that involves devoted solitude often seems to draw folks that are naturally inclined to introversion. Its not that all artists are introverts, but that claiming there is something “wrong” or counter productive with being introverted dishonors the reality that somewhere between a third and a half of us actually DO have strong introvert tendencies. Other introverts understand this. Its only the expectation of glad-handing salesmanship that discolors our perception. It asks introverts to step up and be understood rather than asking the oblivious extrovert dominated culture to slow down and pay attention to what it is that these sometimes private people are doing.

    If the correct model for normalcy is in fact that of extroversion, then maybe we do all need to be wearing lamp-shades and raucously flinging ourselves into the mosh-pit of life. Maybe the ones sitting quietly on the sidelines of our daily spectacle somehow are defective. Maybe the quiet introspective ones among us really are strange incomprehensible beings that can at best be suffered to share our extroverted air. No wonder they are seen as starry-eyed impractical faeries or glum and unsociable trolls…..

    But that seems wrong. Rather than trying to change artists to something they may not be, it seems more important to educate the public that there are these people who DO need solitude, that there are even folks among us that may not recognize this about themselves, such is the extrovert pressure on them. It seems more important to nurture those quiet individuals who make a life of introspection, of mining the ore of their own imaginations, and who need great privacy to do so. And if we made this more welcoming for the children in our schools, don’t you think there would be fewer kids who lost the dream of their creativity and who traded out their imaginative inner lives for the externalized shallows of extroversion?

    Did any of that make sense?

  2. […] that is perhaps at the core of society’s misunderstanding of artists. You can read that post here. The claim it made is that because artists frequently spend so much time tucked away in the […]

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