This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
Quiet people hear this one all the time:
Generally, the tone of the observation mimics that used to say, “Your skin is green,” or “You have an extra foot protruding from your forehead,” or “You’re drunk.”
In other words, it’s not a compliment.
Rarely does the attacked person reply, “You’re loud and obnoxious,” “You make boorishly inappropriate personal comments,” or “You’re clueless.”
This is probably because -- despite our culture’s inclination to regard quiet, reserved people as aberrations, -- quiet, reserved people tend to observe first as opposed to blurting out completely inappropriate comments on someone’s appearance, demeanor, or hair style. And for this, they are considered abnormal.
So people slap a label on us (yes, I’m quiet and reserved; no, I’m not shy), and when this happens enough, we label ourselves – “I’m shy” – to the point that we limit what we can do, or how we do it.
“I can’t sell my art. I’m shy.”
“I’m no good at receptions. I’m shy.”
“I’m awkward with people. I’m shy.”
You can do this, but in the same way you do everything, including the artwork you create, you will do it your own way. You probably won’t sound like a used car salesman (funny how we think they’re all the same, isn’t it?), but you will sound like you, communicating with and talking to another person.
It won’t necessarily be easy, especially starting out, but then nothing is easy when we first start. With practice we improve, and with failure we finesse.
When I was 13 years old, I made a decision. After six years of agonizing isolation in grammar school, tongue-tied around the “popular” girls and comparing myself unfavorably by their standards, I determined to make a fresh start in a new school, surrounded by people who hadn’t known me since I was in kindergarten.
After gym class, toweling my hair, I approached a girl I had never met who was standing by herself. She looked friendly enough.
“Mind if I drape my towel over your locker door?” I asked. “I’ve forgotten the combination to mine and I’ll never get in it for the rest of my life.”
She smiled; we started talking; and that began a friendship that lasted, up and down, for the next six years. Later she told me,
“I’ll always remember your asking about putting your towel on my locker door. I was so shy, so scared about being in a new place, and you were friendly and open and you made me feel relaxed like everything was going to be alright.”
And I, in the meantime, was pretty darn close to hyperventilating.
But -- I had taken a major step in a new direction. Other steps followed, and I learned that many people are awkward in multiple situations, and it rarely takes more on my part than a smile, an extension of the hand, and the statement, “I’m Carolyn; how are you?” to start a conversation and break the ice.
It’s no different at an art reception (you’re the star!), outdoor booth festival (if you can’t speak, just smile), social function (even if you don’t drink, get something in a glass and hold it so you don’t feel like a gorilla with your arms hanging down), or gallery (the owners and staff are human – take a deep breath, smile, and speak more slowly than you think you should; you’ll probably wind up speaking a bit faster than normal).
You’ll never be Jim Carrey – because only Jim Carrey can be Jim Carrey. But you’ll be you – thoughtful, reserved, friendly, approachable, not-outwardly-hyperventilating – and the people around you will think,
“I wish I could be that relaxed.”