Friday, February 5, 2010
Why Artists Must Be Vulnerable
It is so hard to be vulnerable - yet it is vulnerability that often distinguishes a great artist from a very good one.
We met with all of our clients in a group this week to go over a great creative evaluation tool called PHLOX, and as we were discussing the results - vulnerability became a huge theme.
I have struggled greatly with issues of vulnerability - but I am happy to say that I have struggled.
Which means I haven't ignored it, and I work very intentionally to improve on this area of my life.
I have always carried a great facade, and honestly my facade is that I have everything together.
I have always had the right jobs or positions, the right friends, the right talents, the right creativity, the right mentors, the right amount of female companionship, the right stories, the right places, the right education, the right style, the right connections, the right resume - basically the right everything.
Now most of that is the result of focus and hard work, a great amount of luck, and God's general blessings on my life.
And having so many "rights" helps fuel my confidence which is in turn attractive to other people, which opens up many opportunities for me, which because of the focus and hard work - I tend to take advantage of.
However, the truth is that I have failed many times - completely and spectacularly - and I am just as broken, hurt, and scared as anyone else - and in some ways a great deal more than most people.
For many years I hated this part of myself - the part that wasn't congruent with my outside image.
Thus, I developed great defense mechanisms - probably the best (and most harmful) one is what I am going to dub "The Angler Fish Defense Mechanism".
1. Basically, I would pretend to be very open and vulnerable (picking things that I knew would seem courageous to talk about it, but really didn't mean anything to me) and draw them in.
2. Then I would encourage them to be vulnerable and open - except unlike me they wouldn't be pretending.
3. Since I had just exchanged something that had little emotional resonance with me for something that had a great deal of emotional resonance for them - it created a power imbalance in the relationship.
4. Thus, I was able to engulf them - which generally led to some sort of tragic ending (usually involving tears).
Not a pretty picture. Stunningly effective.
I became a master of knowing everything about a person, and having them know nothing about me - I knew the right questions to ask, the right tone, the right way to listen, the right way to emote - and even though these are great qualities to have, I used them for a terrible purpose - to shield myself from ever having to truly open up and be honest.
The arts have been a savior for me.
In writing - I find myself able to become most vulnerable - and maybe it is because writing is solitary.
It was through a poem - "Who I Was Starting Davidson" - that I was able to finally admit that I had tried to kill myself.
Before that it was another poem - "This Is Not Light" - which was probably my first real cry for help for being manic depressive (it was still okay to call it that).
It was through a blog post - "Living with Bi-Polar Disorder: Three Lessons" that I first publicly discussed the challenges I experience from being Bi-Polar.
However, although the arts can be a medium in which to deal with issues of vulnerability - you still need to be vulnerable with real people.
I would have never been able to share the aforementioned blog post, right after I graduated from college, if I hadn't spent my entire senior year dealing with the issue of vulnerability.
A girl had asked me early in the year if I was strong?
And the journey to figure out the answer to her question caused me to redefine my entire definition of strength.
However, finally, towards the end of the school year, I was able to answer her yes - I am very strong, precisely because I am deeply vulnerable, and because I love.
And it is a process - exploring your vulnerabilities. I have been trying to be vulnerable since I was 16, and really kicked it into high gear at 19, probably started learning just what it means at 21, and now at 23 have an entire lifetime of growth to look forward to.
And every bit of the process has been hard for me. It has all been a struggle.
Even right now, I am intentionally trying to be open and vulnerable with this girl I like, even though I am pretty sure if I am, she is just going to hurt me.
However, it is healthier for me to learn how to be vulnerable with a person than for me to become scared of rejection and hurt her instead.
I repeat - having a normal relationship where I am vulnerable and open is extremely hard for me - it is much easier (and less painful) for me to get you to be vulnerable and open and then just engulf you.
Yet, I am struggling to do so - why?
Because wrestling with vulnerability always leaves you in a better place.
Being vulnerable frees you.
And even though vulnerability does hurt - sometimes intensely - the pain is just the price of freedom.
And freedom is always worth the price.
And for artists who want to achieve their full potential - vulnerability is essential.