The Incompatibility of the Extraordinary Artist

I stumbled across an interesting article, “The Alienation of Extraordinary Experiences,”by Tom Jacobs in Pacific Standard. In short, it cites three studies that find while people get an initial rush from extraordinary experiences, these experiences in turn cause them to be separated socially from their peers, and in the long run, instead of feeling special, they feel left out.

Now, we can make exceptions for the Narcissist. They will blather on ad naseum about their “great holiday” and inundate their peers with details never realizing how it separates them socially. But for the rest of us, while friends may be initially delighted at your two-week trip to France, they will likely spend more time talking to their peers who slaved away in their work holes.

“You got a sunburn on the beach at the Rivera? That’s nice. Wish I could do that,” they say. Then, they proceed to discuss the latest HBO death-sex-athon with your other so-called friends, while you sit feeling left out because you didn’t see it. One study cited 17 groups of 4 people, one of whom saw a 4-star film, while the other 3 saw a 2-star clip. Despite having had the better experience, the 4-star viewers reported feeling “excluded during a subsequent social interaction,” which left them “feeling worse than participants who had had an ordinary experience instead.” To make matters worse, while participants expected to feel great during the extraordinary event, they did not expect the negative feelings after, and so, were wholly unprepared for them.

In short, we are such social monkeys, chattering fearfully here on the ground, away from the safety of our trees, that we’d rather be ordinary and socially cloistered than extraordinary and alone. According to the study’s lead psychologist, Gus Cooney,  the results demonstrate humans’ “incompatible desires to do what other people have not yet done, and to be just like everyone else.”

1-DSCF7403By itself, this explains Post-Holiday Blues. We expect to crash when we leave our holiday apartment and have to walk around clothed instead of making naked love on the balcony … er, I mean … you know what I mean. It’s a drag coming home and we know that. What we are unprepared for is the lack of positive feedback from others when we try to share the experiences. Perhaps they are jealous; in all likelihood, however, they simply can’t relate. You want to share how it felt to hang glide over the Andes with all your naughty bits jangling about, and the only stories they have for that week were when the cat puked all over the kitchen table.

So you slink about, feeling like you’ve been brushed out of their lives just a bit. It’s exacerbated by the fact that they don’t seem to give a damn about your life-altering experience that you’re anxious to share. Sound familiar? Of course it does. There’s a reason why celebrities fall prey to depression, drugs, suicide. It’s fun as hell to be rich, but few things are more isolating. The only alternative seems to be the “posse” approach, where you drag your loved ones along for the ride, only to end up as broke as M.C. Hammer at a parachute pants bazaar.

This all felt intuitive and obvious, once someone pointed it out to me. However, being in a Cathartic State of Mind (that’s 50 miles SE of New York, if you’re interested) this also explained ALL of my issues in being an artist. I try to share my art with loved ones, and with almost perfect results, have none of them able to relate. In fact, the more artsy I become, the less they can connect with me. Since I started writing, my closest friends and I stopped being close, and all my new close friends embraced the artist right away.

The new, Artsy me. Just odd, that fellow.

Perhaps the artist’s struggle isn’t the separation, but that we are disappointed that we still wish to belong. Famous people hang out. Writers hang out with other writers, not readers. Bloggers hang out with … computers. But we  artists find few who can understand why our latest photo, poem, song, or performance piece is an expression of whom we are inside. When they cannot relate, we die a bit, and when we find we can no longer attach ourselves to their ordinariness, we die again. It is only in the art that we are able to shed these feelings. Perhaps that is why so few gifted souls generate great art throughout their lives. It’s the failure to connect that’s the creative engine. Success breeds acceptance and the desire to produce the mundane works that allow patrons to feel equal to, part of, and not beneath the art.

Shit is good; great is weird.

I suppose I should take solace in that. I do not. I, like most artists, simply wish to be loved for who I am — and my art is precisely that. Accept me or my art, but not both?

Hard to relate.

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6 thoughts on “The Incompatibility of the Extraordinary Artist

  1. The awareness and acceptance of being an artist are almost two different states that take their own time to come together. You can be an artist for years, and not realise that you are an artist. Accepting it, means that you like what you do, for the most part, and that you recognise your style, your limitations (or at least how far you are willing to take it), and where if anywhere you could diverge and improve yet further. Acceptance of being an artist however, does not come from other’s approval, but from the knowledge that you could do what you do standing on your head and to order. That you are so confident in your art that the opinion of others in terms of the execution of your art, matters little. That isn’t the point of art. Approval that the art is worthy of being regarded as art, is not the issue at all. Like you say, the desire to share your art with others is what matters, and if you can do that in your preferred medium, then that’s even better, because that seems to justify the art in the first place. Problem is, if you don’t speak a language that others understand, then you are going to encounter translation issues. Even if people do speak a similar language, they may not understand your particular dialect. The possibilities of finding matches becomes truly slim if you think about it. The only way then of getting other people to understand your language, is to teach them, to let them know that having your art in their lives, albeit brief, may just be exactly what they need. How do you do that? Good question. But I’m just another artist with my own language, and my own regional artistic dialect.

    You tell yourself with conviction that it’s time others learned your artistic language, because it’s going to do them some good, and in return you’ll learn theirs too. How many people would you like? I already know it needs to be more than just one.

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    • Understand that at the end, I am speaking figuratively, to an extent. Personally, I don’t need anyone outside of my tight, 4-person inner circle to accept me. Everyone else is optional. Similarly, the only ones whose acceptance of my art matters is a subset of those 4, and I’m including myself in both.

      However, what I do need, before I can accept someone as my friend is that they accept that there is no “me” without my art. If you want to be in Bill’s life but ignore Bill the Artist, that’s not happening. I have no desire to connect to anyone under those rules. This is who I am; the other is who I was.

      That being said, as you aptly suggest, it would be great to find people who speak my artistic language. Part of the struggle of coming to art so late in life is that it takes a few years to figure out precisely what language you speak. I’m not griping at that, but wonder if there’s time left to find the people who speak it. Given that, I openly wonder if I should–as someone suggested–switch to traveling and writing and photographing what I see. Maybe there’s not enough life left to risk it on failure. Instead of crashing my head against walls, I’m thinking I should explore open roads ahead instead.

      If the Universe doesn’t want to help me be a popular writer, then I’ll go where it points me. Last time I did that, it pointed straight the hell at you. 🙂

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    • That’s probably what I struggle with the most–I’m actually a big fan of my work. I love the last 3 books I wrote. I really liked the 3rd book and my short stories. I think some of my photography is really pretty cool, and I don’t feel conceited in thinking so because I’ve never seen photography as me. Rather, I’m lucky enough to see cool stuff and the camera remembers it for me.

      I really, honestly, truly don’t need any validation of any of my art from anyone. I just want people to see it, read it, and feel what they feel. The hard part? Getting them to see it.

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      • Most forms of art are solitary pursuits. The sharing with a wide audience is therefore going to be the hard part. Although as much as my brain wants to give you a logical response to this, such as going from insular to mass social contact is a big leap. I’m not really sure that’s true. I don’t think there is a straight forward answer as to why some artists seem to land on their feet and others don’t. I find that the obvious logical answer, is more often than not incorrect.

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