The Reluctant Traveler Celebrates Introverts

Film is one of my favorite arts which is why I spend so much money and time streaming movies. This morning I watched Personal Shopper—in her re-invented career, Kristen Stewart is starring in French films and is as remarkable as always portraying haunted characters. There was a reference in the film to an artist I knew nothing of, and in finding out more about her, I noticed a similarity with some others.

This artist has something in common with two others I will name here; women who toiled for years at their different works in secret. Their fame came to them post-mortum because they hid their treasured productions from view. These women remained single; while two were not reclusive, one was. They were not contemporaries. One worked in the mid 19th century, another during the turn of the 20th century, and the third in mid 20th century.

Hilma af Klint (1862 – 1944) was born and lived her life in Sweden. A rare working female painter, she made her living painting landscapes and portraits in oils and aquarelle. But she had a private mission. Deeply involved in seances with other women artists, she painted 193 paintings at the behest of an entity named Amaliel. She thought of these works as the Paintings of the Temple; she did not claim responsibility for them and said she didn’t know what they meant; she was compelled. She hid these works away, believing that they would not be accepted by the theosophists, and after her death she stipulated that the stored works not be revealed until 20 years later. The public never saw them until 1986.

Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) was a nanny. She produced “100,000 to 150,000 negatives, more than 3,000 vintage prints, hundreds of rolls of film, home movies” throughout her lifetime, and kept this astronomical output hidden until 2007 when a writer bought the contents of her storage locker at auction. The writer, John Maloof, was unable to identify who “Vivian” was until he Googled her death notice in 2009. Not a recluse, she was certainly eccentric, as shown in the fascinating documentary, Finding Vivian Maier. Never married, she lived a nomadic life and was fiercely protective of her space—pad-locked—from her many employers.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830 – 1886) lived a disappointed life. Enveloped in Amherst intellectual society, she felt that as a woman she would be given no opportunities to exercise her own intellect. She shunned 19th century New England manners, except for gardening. She yearned to become a poet – not realizing she already was. Only a handful of her poems were published before her death; her family discovered hand-sewn books filled with 1800 poems, and published a collection some years later. However her complete works did not hit the shelves until 1955, nearly 70 years later.

There are more examples of hidden artists, and it’s interesting to consider the ones building portfolios and pages in secret even now, only to be discovered too late for their own notoriety. Maybe notoriety is not what they want. They work in the darkness, for countless personal reasons. Wanting to express oneself artistically is derived, I think, from emotion. It is important to translate feeling into the physical, whether it’s to a canvas or via quill pen or chemically-treated paper. It was important for Klint, Maier and Dickinson. It’s important to me, too.

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About Jill Zeller

The author of numerous short stories and novels, Jill Zeller lives near Seattle, Washington, with her patient and adoring husband, two English mastiffs, and one self-centered tuxedo cat. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination were as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Maybe it is because she was raised as a Christian Scientist. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison
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8 Responses to The Reluctant Traveler Celebrates Introverts

  1. How many truly good writers are there in our society whose work will never be finished because they are afraid of failure? I know a couple. The usual excuse is that the research isn’t finished. They could write a doctoral dissertation on their research but never finish the novel. One that I know of has written 15 novels but they will never be finished to the point of submitting them anywhere, or even self-publish. Perhaps his family will make them available to the public after his death.

  2. I know a couple of writers like that, too. One keeps saying “It’s not ready, it’s not ready.” This was accepted when were all young, but now, as peers die of age-related things, another friend recently said, “You mean perfect.” And the writer admitted to it.

    But what is perfect? It varies so much from eye to eye. I guess one can affirm that the work in question is perfect to that writer, which certainly supports the “Write what you love” rubric. The question then becomes, will anyone else love it? For whatever reason, they don’t want to know. It was enough to create the art.

  3. The classic example is Austin Tappan Wright. He wrote ISLANDIA; his heirs found the ms in his desk drawer after he died and got it published.
    There’s also writers who don’t get the book out until very very late in life. I forget how old Helen Hoover Santemeyer was when AND LADIES OF THE CLUB came out, I think she was in her 80s.

  4. Tina Black says:

    My brother was an introvert artist. He has a few shows in the 1980s, and at least one London gallery approached him — but he4 was a true introvert. Lewis Lanza Rudolph. My sister has a web site LLR on facebook with some of his work.

  5. Zena says:

    I think part of it might have to do with maintaining artistic integrity. The few poems that Dickinson submitted for publication were horribly mutilated by her editors, and that might have made her reluctant to subject any more of her—admittedly esoteric—personal vision to that kind of treatment.

    And sometimes, artists create simply for the sake of creating something—whether anyone else ever sees or reads it is secondary. I have a stash of written work that no-one else has ever read. I once dreamed of achieving recognition for my writing, but I’m not sure that matters so much to me anymore. I might eventually put it out into the world, or I might not. It would be nice to think that there could be people out there who would be interested in reading it, but it’s not what drives me at this point.

    I’m still up for the business of creating, but not so much for the business of marketing/distribution…

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