“Oh please be careful with me, I’m sensitive
And I’d like to stay that way.”
– Jewel from “I’m Sensitive”
The very same traits that give many artists and other creative folk their vivid imaginations and rich inner lives can also cause almost debilitating struggles. Sensitivity has been studied more intensely over the last couple of decades with research revealing that fifteen to twenty percent of the population can be classified as highly sensitive. Researchers assert that this is not a learned response, but a condition seen from birth, equally distributed between the sexes. They also stress that high sensitivity is not a disorder and in many cultures is greatly respected.
Certainly not all artists are highly sensitive people, but those of us who are can be consoled by the new research. The common admonition, “You’re being too sensitive!” can be received as a compliment, for the definition of a highly sensitive person includes someone with a greater depth of processing, strong empathy as well as acute sensitivity to stimuli such as smells, sounds and light.
While highly sensitive people may struggle with public speaking and performing while under scrutiny, they tend to excel in creativity and fine art, and compassion, be detail-oriented and have an unusual ability to persevere (an asset when trying repeatedly to master oil painting techniques or see a painting through to the end we desire). We might assume that highly sensitive persons would tend to avoid too much stimulation and might even shy away from other people for that reason. Some do. However, research shows that thirty percent are extroverts. This fits with our experiences with many other artists who are friendly, out-going and enjoy painting gatherings and events. As in all things, balance is the healthiest path. Working in solitude in the studio is necessary, but so is connecting with friends and the energies and distractions of the larger world. We are acutely aware of getting “studio-crazed” through too much work-related isolation, especially in periods of bad weather. We try to remember to break up our work as throughout the week, to go into town and to see and interact with other people. This seems to “reset” our inner compasses so that we can return to our work revitalized and with fresh focus.
An authority in the field is Dr. Elaine N. Aron, a psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person.
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–John and Ann