An argument for empathizing more with artists

I was watching this interview with Brit Marling where she was discussing common traits that actors have. I’d argue that in her case, she’s exceptional and, one thing exceptional actors seem to have in common by her account, is having moved around a lot in their youth.

I want to expand on this, first by including all artists, not just actors, and second, by presenting what I’ve learned from the cognitive sciences when it comes to knowledge, language and curiosity.

Apologies if you’ve read this from my previous posts but, repetition is necessary when one is presenting ideas to potentially new people so I’m going to repeat myself and foundational concepts a lot.

When we’re young, we’re in a rather interesting state where our curiosity is on overdrive. We ask a lot of ‘WH’ questions, which Susan Engel speaks at great length on regarding childhood education. Moreover, neuroscience has allowed us to realize that, as children, we have twice as many neural connections available that fall off as we grow older. This is where we develop our foundations which inform our inferences.

For artists, they seem to have a stronger empathic connection, because of having developed in these diverse environments, having access to more peers than an average child. As a result, their creativity and curiosity increase as well as their drive to explore their imagination, which is likely due to having obtained more knowledge on the human condition. According to contact theory, the more time you spend with people, the more you empathize with them. And the more people you spend time with, the larger your sample and experience with what it means to be human, will be.

The method of expression is still a mystery to me though. How one becomes a painter instead of an actor for instance. One thing they all have in common though is that they all seem to rely on tapping into the mystique and meaning of human emotion. Which is directly relayed to an audience via their senses either through the universal language of music, a visual representation or an undetermined combination. They become experts at communicating the meaning of humanity.

As a caveat, I don’t want to dismiss hard work and techniques that go into developing and expanding an artist’s ability to elevate their creative process. Firstly, I’m still exploring my curiosity when it comes to these methods and secondly, I’m making an argument for what lies at an artist’s foundation and why I think it’s crucial that culture changes to accommodate artists to give them a more conducive environment to work in.

Foundations that we develop in our childhood are not invulnerable. Even memory is susceptible to change due to one’s experience and environment. If an environment becomes toxic, the result will be a loss of connection to what made them remarkable artists in the first place. And that’s primarily due to fame.

Artists require a constant connection to other humans and fame prevents them from achieving that. The reason is because there is no difference between a parasocial connection and a social one to the human brain. Even though we can categorize it, we still form bonds with those we respect and admire through their work. And, going forward, if we truly empathize, we need to change the way we treat artists so they can have access to what got them famous in the first place. Creativity and curiosity through empathic connections enhanced through their imagination and wanderlust.

People are under the impression that, because one is famous, that the riches that come from this, should be compensation for the negative aspects of fame. I don’t buy into that. Thanks to technology, artists are more accessible than ever and I think it’s time to put an end to certain practices, like obtaining a photograph without permission.

There should be a time and place for these kinds of interactions because, although our brains might see them as friends, to them, we are strangers and they can’t possibly fulfil the demand to have everyone become one of their best buds. So a compromise needs to be laid out.

I propose that we gravitate to interactions only in spaces like social media and conventions where artists give their consent. If you see an artist you admire outside of these spaces, at most give them a smile and a tip of your hat and be on your way. If you want a photograph, there are several they are already sharing through other mediums and, if you find there’s a lack of content, then you should still respect their privacy.

We have the luxury of being lost in a crowd. We can easily navigate the outside world without incident. If we were to suddenly become recognizable though, think of what that would mean. You have a goal in mind like doing groceries but now, you’re suddenly faced with being stopped every five minutes by people you’ve never interacted with before, even though their intentions are amicable. Not only that, when you get to the grocery store, that bag of chips you just want to tear into, well, people are going to take note of that.

When observed, it’s true that we are more productive however, this comes at a cost. Stress and anxiety. We’re put into a survival state. For a famous artist, this is true any time they navigate a public space. And, in the long term, this is not a healthy environment for human beings. The onus is on us to change that landscape and improve our environment for these individuals.

Artists need a connection to the world in order to maintain the foundation that got you to notice their creativity in the first place and what motivated them to hone their talents through various means. Let them keep the connections alive that got them started in the first place and don’t treat interactions as a matter for your own performance and validation. You don’t post a screenshot if an uncle liked something you said or responded to a comment. Treat them the same way.

They deserve way better for helping forge our own imaginations and allowing us to connect to our own humanity through art. Why and how this happens or how they’re so exceptional at it, is still somewhat of a mystery. What isn’t though is the toll it takes on people. And, on that, we need to be mindful and give artists more space.

Thanks for your time and curiosity.

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