The artist works alone.

I’m not sure if “pleased” is the right word but I share with others a relief of sorts knowing that I’m not the only introvert making a living in the creative ranks of Adland. Since my last post on the subject, a fair number of readers commented or emailed me directly stating that they too are introverts and that it has periodically caused them a fair amount of pain. But mostly they were just relieved to be acknowledged and, in turn, respected.

From Chad:

I’ve been an introvert trying to come off as an extrovert for most of my life. Perhaps this is the source of my internal conflict. Even in the company of my closest friends, sometimes my own head is a more comfortable place to be. Mine, too, can be a bad neighborhood at times. After all, it’s where the selfish and resentful things are. But it’s also where I find most of my inspiration. Like Luke seeking Vader in the dark corners of his mind, I face the demons, learn and emerge stronger in my resolve. As a creative, this is invaluable. Nothing, for me, is scarier than the blank canvas. And no amount of socializing will paint the picture. I have to go “upstairs”. Alone. Shut the door and create.

I can relate, Chad, especially with your last sentence: “I have to go upstairs. Alone. Shut the door and create.”

For years now the talk in our business has been about integration, unification and collaboration. Brought about by new media, we (not just ad people, all people) are connected in ways before unimaginable. Naturally, it was required the creative process follow suit. And so we are. Working in confluence with others, adding digital and new media specialists into our midst, building off each others ideas; these are becoming standard practices at agencies all over the world. At the Hyper Island Master Class (digital training for advertising professionals), we are told that even the writer/art-director dyad is obsolete. Two people are no longer sufficient for creating robust integrated marketing concepts. Hmmm.

These changes are almost certainly for the better but there is a wrinkle: the creative process is, and in certain respects always will be, a solitary one. Individuals conceive the vast majority of all artwork, be it books, paintings, essays, poetry, sculpture, plays, etc. Obviously, producing music, films and other forms requires collaboration but chances are the essence of the product belongs to one creator. And chances are that person was or is an introvert.

Introverted or extroverted, creating concepts has a deeply personal component that cannot be ignored. Even traditional teams worked apart and then “presented” ideas to their partner. As a copywriter I value privacy to “shut the door and create.” As a creative director I must respect the same desires from all who work for me.

One of my favorite pieces of Leo Burnett lore is the famous ad man’s salute to the “lonely man…the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan.” Darn near admonishing his troops, Leo tells them if and when “you lose your respect for the lonely man…THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.” ‘Nuff said.

For those interested, here is the transcript of Mr. Burnett’s speech, from 1967.


Thinker or stinker?

I went to a cocktail party the other night. Given I don’t cocktail anymore I’m pretty much there for chips and the occasional conversation. That means most every social gathering is, for me, a chore. Especially without the social lubricant. But, honestly, I wasn’t socially adept even when I was drinking. Neither a good time Charlie nor a brawler, I tended to hop from person to person nervously trying to make a connection. Failing that I would drink until it was time to go home and pass out, hopefully in that order.

Thing is I’m in an introvert. For myriad reasons –good and bad- I’m more comfortable living in my own head than most anyplace else. Consider my passions: reading, writing, running, cinema, working out, fishing; things I can and do all by myself.

Maybe “comfortable” is the wrong word. Frankly, my head can be a bad neighborhood. It gets pretty scary in there. Yet, I’m used to it. And it’s been my M.O. since I was a boy.

So, I’m at this party and I notice one of the children shying away from the pack. One of the other kids asks the little girl to play. She shakes her head no. Then the child’s mother intervenes. “Go on, sweetie, you’ll have fun.” Her daughter is having none of it. As I was nowhere near the adult party (see above explanation), I walked over and ask what’s the matter.

The mom says what moms always say when her child’s behavior is called into question: “She’s just tired.”

“I wonder if she’s an introvert,” I offer.

Aghast, the mother ruefully denies the possibility. It’s as if I accused her daughter of being abnormal.

Feeling guilty for exacerbating things, I tell the woman that I’m an introvert too, and that, after all, the world needs introverts. “Who would write all the books,” I joked, “if everyone were outside playing?” Not the best argument but it seems to make the mom feel better. Which makes me feel better, especially given how infrequently I add value to a conversation. I also think most art requires looking inward.

Driving home I thought about the incident and introversion in general. Tough being wired the way I am and having a large family. Moody and introspective, I am often seen by them as the bad guy: anti-social and self-centered. I’m working on it but isolating is a hard habit to break –even with loved ones, especially with loved ones.

At work, I make it a point to walk the halls even though my every instinct would have me in front of my laptop with the office door shut. Thankfully, I trained myself long ago to be more than capable presenting work, to the point where I genuinely adore this facet of the job. But it wasn’t easy.

No surprise I love email. With it, I can communicate without actually socializing. I’ve taken to social networks for much the same reason. My guess is the creators of many social media platforms are introverted, perhaps trying to get out! Certainly Mark Zuckerberg is.

While at times I rail against it, clamoring to be socially awesome, I am and always will be an introvert. And if that little girl’s fate is to be one too here’s hoping her mother cuts her some slack. After all, the little one might have some very big ideas cooped up inside.

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