Every few decades an artist is unearthed who worked away so quietly and privately on their craft that their work remained a secret - even to those around them.
Henry Darger taught himself to draw as a young man and over decades he created a complex, fantastical world that he guarded closely. Shortly before his death, Darger's landlord of 40 years discovered his vast horde of illustrations, murals and writing. 15,454 pages of writing; this was no idle hobby. By some turn of fate, his work caught people's imaginations and now is on display at several of the largest museums in the world including MOMA , and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Franz Kafka - well known today - was just another salary man in his lifetime. He never finished any of his novels and burned about 90% of his writing. Before his death, he instructed his friend Max Brod to burn the remainder of his work. Max presumably ignored that request and rather than pitch them in the fire, he helped them to be published. Among his books destined for the furnace was, The Metamorphosis, which today is considered one of the seminal works of the 20th century.
Vivian Maier led a quiet, unremarkable life working as a Nanny in Chicago in the 50s. Around the time of her death, a stranger bought the contents of her abandoned storage locker and found over 100,000 negatives from her photography "hobby". The man who found the prints championed her work and and shared it online. Today, Maier is known as one of the greatest street-photographers of all time.
Kafka, Darger and Maier were all discovered by chance; someone's interest was sparked on the right day - and in the right moment of history. A lucky and precise combination of curiosity, hard work, connections and technology had to dovetail for their work to be known to us.
Did they want their work to be discovered and shared? It's impossible to know.
Why did they keep it private? Were they silenced by their inner critic or society's rules?
Did shyness paralyze them or did they simply not need public validation?
For every intensely private artist that is discovered - how many others will never be found? How many manuscripts will be tossed into fires? How many film reels wheeled out to dumpsters? What if no family, no landlord, no curious eye stops to consider the mysterious contents of a dusty old box?
Some would argue that all art is created with an audience in mind. But perhaps some creators don't need an audience. Maybe outside eyes actually hinder rather than help the process? Does having an audience strengthen or impede our work? I imagine for some people. their ideas are like seeds planted deep in the soil, and can only germinate in the dark earth. Perhaps Kafka, Maeir and Darger's works could only be born in isolation; its raw strength may lie in the fact that it was never meant to be seen.
Today technology lets us share ourselves like never before: our thoughts, ideas, dreams and doubts. The online world is a merciless witness that tracks our lives with little digital bread crumbs that may be eaten, but never disappear.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; I post, therefore I am.
How does this hyper-sharing affect our creative process? Do we grow by sharing and become stronger in numbers like a murmuration of starlings? Or do we sabotage our own delicate ideas and ruin them by peeking into the creative oven too often?
A 1954 self-portrait by Vivian Maier.