Artists don't run and hide

Ever wonder why most (if not all) of us have a fear of creepy-crawly things, great heights, and darkness? It is because we are descended from people who were afraid of creepy-crawly things, great heights, and darkness. There did exist people who were not afraid of these things. But most of them died after they were bitten, fell, or suffered a misfortune in the dark of night.

Bravado in the face of potential danger appears laudable because that's what we want to be. But it is not what got our ancestors through difficult times. They won the battle for survival by running and hiding. Running-and-hiding is a rather underrated skill these days.

It is not as if we are not afraid anymore, but modern life does not often provide us with situations where we are faced with the presence of wild animals and hard-to-survive scenarios. Our fears therefore, stem from social and cultural pressures — fear of failure is a big thing, so is fear of public shame — like what we experience when faced with the prospect of speaking on a stage in front of a few hundred people.

And there is a very real basis for this fear of public speaking. Human beings are wired to care a great deal about what those around them thinks of them (don’t take seriously anyone who says they don’t care what the world thinks of them). Rejection by society could literally mean death in earlier times. If, in a small tribe of a hundred people, you had no friends or supporters, you could get sidelined to the extent that resources would no longer be spent on you. And in an age when resources like houses and food were limited, such exclusion could very easily end your life. You would become the disposable runt assigned to the most dangerous tasks as more confident and more favoured members of society remained inland, surrounded by supporters and devotees who would kill and die for them. If you ever wondered about the function of religion in society, there’s your answer — it provides a social framework for people to belong to.

These days, when someone goes on the stage to speak before a large audience, or when someone puts their work out for comment and criticism by the public, the same fear of exclusion gets to work. I would be willing to bet that this fear is a large reason behind the depression that artists and creators often suffer.

Our culture puts artists on such a high pedestal that it becomes difficult for any human being to remain there without making great compromises on their well-being. Musicians ruin their health trying to remain relevant. Writers lose themselves to alcoholism. And most tragic of all, many never try because they fear they will fail at being “the world’s greatest” or the next big “superstar”.

To be sure, bombing on stage is most certainly something that can kill you if you are a performer whose livelihood depends on being liked or if you are an artist or writer who needs a bestseller to pay your bills.

Artists don’t run and hide. It’s unnatural behaviour. It goes against the grain of what we are as a species that survived by running and hiding.

I hope that we build a world where artists don’t feel like they have to run and hide.

If you are a reader, a viewer, or a consumer of art, know that the way you react to your favourite artist’s work can make or break them. Most of them are fighting an epic war on a daily basis. A war they hide by pretending they don’t care about what people say. They do care. You wouldn’t believe how much they care! They care so much, it could kill them. And often, it does kill them. You hear about it on the news all the time and wonder how someone so successful could be so unhappy.

Show love, support, and encouragement. And if you must criticise, do it with kindness. It’s not impossible.