Talking About One's Own Work and the Fear of Internet Vanity

Many years ago, my mother (who graduated from a French school, speaks four languages, and did the above painting, though she would hesitate to call herself an intellectual or an artist) explained to me that the true intellectuals she had met in her lifetime, teachers and authors and artists, not mere "academics" but "great minds", did not feel obliged to show off to others that they read books or had remarkable talents, did not feel obliged to manipulate others into liking them or thinking them definitively intelligent or well-read. As she put it, only miserable people would act so vain as to become pedantic bigots-- they purport to offer something "higher" to society, but simply combine the worst aspects of narcissism with a few books they have read by, say, a trendy philosopher like Foucault. A true talent, a true thinker, a true artist, would quietly and contentedly go about his work, then find polite, inspiring, and appropriate ways to share it, not pompously hold his supposed knowledge and opinions against everyone else.

This having been taken to heart, I am often puzzled by the notion of social networking sites and personal websites (which on one hand can serve as useful tools/conversation starters and on the other hand can be the epitome of self-obsessed vanity and socially-awkward solicitation). I find myself wondering how to balance the knowledge that I can share my art and career with others particularly efficiently on the internet and my belief in modest behavior, which suggests that I should let my work and other people do the talking. Yet many others are perpetually "busy" with their "hectic lives" and might not notice something relevant to them in the midst of the chaos-- with so many advertisements and media figures trying to tell whole societies what to look at or care about, it is hard to say whether anyone would notice a local artist or craftsman, a great teacher, a fine writer, or a brilliant musician if such people never spoke up and said "The priorities of this society are being manipulated and seem to be out of line." While I suppose that this internet and youthful culture of bragging are now such a part of North American (and no doubt global) life that I should not be surprised, I remain reserved and skeptical.

In time, I would like to write extensively about the philosophy of art in general, and I find writing about my own paintings, though a bit labyrinthine at times, to be a good way to work toward that goal. Yet at this point, I still find myself continually posing questions about how relevant my posts are to readers and how to make them more worthwhile to myself and others. I like to think that writing and learning are connected-- but putting good writing skills to non-optimal use is merely another way of falling prey to "Internet Vanity".


Mary Reid said...

Christina, thanks for this entry. I'm so very tired of what you rightly refer to as "internet vanity." You pose a very interesting argument. How do you balance modesty against what is essentially advertising? That one has a very personal answer in the case of your blog and your work, but it speaks to the larger problem of intellectual modesty in general -- particularly on the internet.

I loved the story about your mom. She sounds like a neat lady. My kids and I had a very animated conversation the other day about how example is the most powerful teacher. They had reached this conclusion on their own, but I had always believed it to be true. It was good to here them not only say, it but defend it too.

I came by your site through EduFire.

- Mary

Christina said...

Hi Mary--

I appreciate your comment and can certainly agree with you (and your children) as to the power of a good example! I hope you have been enjoying Edufire. . . I really appreciate the site for its content, community, and the fact that the platform has never spammed me with advertising or irrelevant feeds!

Best regards,