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Shaken, Not Stirred. Not Shy, But Reserved

by Carolyn Henderson on 6/12/2012 7:45:18 AM

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:


“You’re shy.”


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.”


Stop. Please.


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.”


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Topics: advice for artists | Carolyn Henderson | exposure tips | FineArtViews | inspiration | sell art | social networking 

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Sandy Askey-Adams,PSA
Dear Carolyn:

Thank you again for an inspiring and helpful article.

When I think back to school, I was so shy and felt less than everyone else from grammar school on thru High School.
Funny thing, after High School graduation, a couple of years later, a FEW of the other people I wanted to be friends with in H.S. or to be like, I found out that they felt the same way as I had. Which surprised me.
Howwever, this also taught me not to assume everything. What we think or judge may very well NOT be the real way we think it is.
But, it takes a bit of courage to make that FIRST Step forward and to put yourself out there.
ALTHOUGH, also, there were still those who were a bit snobby and were still that way after H.S.
Perhaps by now they have changed...or maybe I have in my thinking.
Then again, we might want to re-examine ourselves because we could be our own Wall preventing us from meeting others.
It does all begin with a kind or thoughtful SMILE.

I have to admit, After attending an art reception at a juried show last weekend, it was difficult to talk to the other artists. Many of them did know one another. It was my first time entering that juried show, and it did feel good to have my piece accepted.
I saw one artist I knew and approached to speak to him. It was a nice conversation...and I congratulated another one who had won an award. After looking at the art show, my husband and I left.
I was feeling shy and wanted to leave. How many others may have felt that same way and all they needed was a smile???
Perhaps even a smile from me would have opened up some conversations. I will try better next time.

A Jim Carey I am not.

Charlotte Herczfeld
Another good article, Carolyn! (They are *always* good!)

I'm reserved. I look before jumping. Mr Carey enervates me (in some films).

I'm reserved, but
- I can sell my art, selling is a learned skill.
- I can do receptions, it is a learned skill.
- I can make people who feel awkward more comfortable, because I know how to as I used to feel awkward.

I'd like to say that we may *feel* this and that, and it is not truly who we are. We can be quietly confident with people, we can do a selling style that is very comfortable for people as we don't push them into what they don't want (oops, used car salesman stereotype, he does keep popping up, doesn't he?) or irritate them.

There are benefits to being "shy"!

And a smile really helps. Walking into that reception room smiling, nodding to people who happen to meed your eye, and approaching another artist with a compliment about their work really does the trick.

Whodathunk it was that easy?... If only I had know years earlier.

Nayna Shriyan
As someone who can be a little reserved, I really appreciate what you have written Carolyn :) So often people will comment on every thing, including technique when they are clearly not familiar with the same and not realise that just because I am not arguing with them it does not mean that I agree with them or their label :). I too have found that a simple smile and hello works wonders !

Donald Fox
Believe it or not there are many guys that are quiet and reserved. I've always considered myself an observer and really hated the idle chit-chat the often went on at parties. But get me on something related to art and you'd better strap yourself in. I don't do bathroom breaks either.

Charlotte Herczfeld
@Donald. Of course, about 20 percent of all men are quiet and reserved, and deeply feeling and really well worth the effort to get to know you, as you often are deep thinkers too.

Marian Fortunati
You're right, of course. As with everything else in life, it takes time and practice to develop the skills and to learn to talk about your art without sounding lame or (in my opinion, worse...) full of one-self.
So glad you're such a thoughtful person and a great writer!

Carolyn Henderson
Sandy: I have never been anything but happy that the high school experience is over, never to be endured again! And I commiserate with you regarding the show -- it is difficult, in any situation, to be the lone wolf amongst people who already know one another. It sounds as if you handled it very well.

Charlotte; I like you observation that many things are learned, and that we can all do them in our own way. And yes, a smile works wonders!

Nayna: You are wise in knowing that one never argues with a potential customer.

Donald: a reserved disposition is gender neutral. There are female and male loud mouths, and female and male observers, and everything in between. I look forward to talking art with you, sometime when we're at the same reception together!

Marian: How gracious and kind -- thank you.

I am anything but shy; it just doesn't run in our family. I once made the comment to my boss, "that I was a little assertive." and he said" a little?" I thought he didn't think that I was but he quickly straighten that out with that is why he hired me and I was a tiny bit more than a little.

Okay I have been in sales for years and I am not shy, love to talk. Except when it comes to my art then I freeze.

I am trying hard to get over it.

Donna Robillard
Carolyn, I agree with you - glad the high school experience is finished! I can remember being accused of being shy just because I did not do the chit-chat stuff. I, also, am more of a listener and observer, but when I want to say something, I will.

Marian, I find that it does take time and practice to talk about art or anything else for that matter.

Thank you for this article - it is encouraging.

Sandy Askey-Adams,PSA
Hmmmmm Carolyn...

Perhaps one of the other reasons I was a bit shy in elementary school and High School was because I had a Lisp.

One of the first things I did after graduation was train myself to talk without a lisp. It was not easy, but I was determined.
Once in a blue moon it slips out when there may be a th or s in the same word or sentence....but, there are not that many blue moons at all. Plus, when it does,if it does, I can laugh about it.


Cathy de Lorimier
Have you noticed that many of the comments made on this post are people who consider themselves shy? I wonder if artists, GENERALLY speaking, are the observant, quieter type who like to take things in and study them, without feeling the need to talk about them. I really enjoy being an observant type, because watching others is fascinating and even entertaining to me. I also used to be labeled as shy in school, but was also labeled as "the artist" in the class. I don't really care for labels, because they can be limiting to what we believe about ourselves. You are right, we are all individuals, including Jim Carrey. Even he could probably learn to sell art, as Charlotte suggested. Wonderful, relevant article Carolyn!

jack white
My mate Mikki was without question the most "shy" person I had ever met. Today she is a better salesperson than me. It's difficult to do, but with effort I believe most people can learn to deal with that shyness.

Carolyn Henderson
Delilah: I made a comment once to a friend, "It's not like I'm competitive or anything --" and she stopped me with a snort.

"You're the most competitive person I know!"

Funny the impressions we have of ourselves and those we make on others . . .

Donna: I love chit chat. My area of extreme difficulty are groups of 10 or more, all of us sitting around in a cozy circle looking at one another, obligated to share warm and fuzzy thoughts and ideas. Yech.

Sandy: I applaud and admire your hard work and determination in overcoming this obstacle.

Cathy: I suspect that if any of us could actually sit in a room and talk with Jim Carrey, we would hear stories about his turning to slapstick comedy to overcome a sense of shyness. He wouldn't be the first one.

Jack: you're right -- it's difficult, but anything worth doing, and doing right, is difficult. It also doesn't have to be done in one day. Bit by bit, as you describe Mikki's journey -- but as we keep at it we keep progressing. What an encouragement!

I think everyone is shy - deep down. We're all concerned about our image and about how we appear to other people. I'll bet that Donald Trump, the Queen of England, Mick Jagger, anyone at all - are all shy in their own way.

But the one advantage that we all have is that we're passionate about our art. Selling is nothing more than the transmission of enthusiasm and we all have that.

There's nothing wrong with being shy and there's nothing wrong with admitting it. If you're talking to a potential client there's nothing wrong with saying "I'm sorry, I'm a terribly shy person. That's why I'm blushing / groping for words / stammering (or whatever the manifestation of your shyness is) but it's lovely to talk to you about my artwork". Then get them onto the topic of themselves.

People will love you for your honesty and for being human. They are shy too, underneath.

jo allebach
I guess I am shy because I do not put myself out there except with my art. It is difficult to talk about most subjects but if I get going I can sustain a conversation.
The fact that I do not talk a lot is because I want to learn from what is going on around me. I don't need to hear what I think.
I will get over this fear of making a fool of myself, too.

Virginia Davidson
Shy?--never. I tend more toward flamboyance! Who cares if sometimes I look like a fool?!! :) Besides, it is in expressing my thoughts that new ideas coalesce. Sometimes that expression is color, sometimes a smile, sometimes verbal. Often verbal. If I don't feel unsafe, I'm a fun person.

But I *can* be shut down by hostility or confrontation. In an altercation, I need to realize the other person might not be happy with it either, try to understand their viewpoint, and seek a solution of peace.

Or go find someone more pleasant to talk with.

Sometimes working through a difficult conversation has to wait 'til later, when in a quiet moment I can assess the problem, the individuals involved, and the various responses, and decide how or whether I could have handled it better.

I really appreciate what you have written this article. Just an another great article Caroline. So often people will comment on every thing, including technique when they are clearly not familiar with the same and not realise that just because I am not arguing with them it does not mean that I agree with them or their label :). I too have found that a simple smile and hello works wonders !

This article is just so usefull. I really appreciated the way you write is. It is just so helpfull to me. Once again thank you.

I've just found your website. I've really appreciated the way you write this article.
For me, i think that teh reason that I do not talk a lot is because I want to learn from what is going on around me. After that, I don't need to hear what I think.

velo d'appartement
As with everything else in life, it takes time and practice to develop the skills and to learn to talk about your art without sounding lame or (in my opinion, worse...) full of one-self.
So glad you're such a thoughtful person and a great writer!


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