The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Company We Keep

The Ten

The Ten American Painters, generally known as The Ten, resigned from the Society of American Artists in late 1897 to protest the politicalization and commercialism of that group's exhibitions, and their circus-like atmosphere. They were: Childe Hassam, J. Alden Weir, John Henry Twachtman, Robert Reid, Willard Metcalf, Frank Weston Benson, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Joseph DeCamp, and Edward Simmons. When Twachtman died in 1902, William Merritt Chase joined in his place. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

An art student should read, or talk a great deal with those who read. His conversations with his intimate fellow-students should be more of his life and less of paint. (p. 83)

Do you think that is this because a greater understanding of oneself leads to greater authenticity in art?

He should be careful of the influence of those with whom he consorts, and he runs a great risk in becoming a member of a large society, for large bodies tend toward the leveling of individuality to a common consent, the forming and the adherence to a creed. And a member must be ever in unnecessary broil or pretend agreement which he cannot permit himself to do, for it is his principle as an art student to have and to defend his personal impressions. Somebody, I think it was Corot, said that art is "nature as seen through a temperament."

There are, however, societies of a very few - little cliques which form by sympathy and which believe in and sustain the independence of their members, and which live by the variety of individualities expressed. Such was that coterie of which Manet, Degas, Monet, Whistler and others of special distinction were the outcome. (p. 84)

It's interesting how a blog partially fulfills this important role. In particular, I've grown from this wonderful group of regular commenters who are willing to share and discuss most any art-related topic. At one time, I presided over an art society with over 300 members. The people were lovely, but I couldn't bear the stifling aspects and had to leave it entirely. My art greatly improved after I left.

What are your thoughts and experiences??


-Don said...

I think that when too many people get together politics and opinion start getting in the way of intelligent discussion. Regrettably, it's those human elements of crony-ism and power-trips that often come to roost in a social environment. I personally do not find more than a small handful of people discussing art at any given time very conducive to a fruitful conversation. Strongly voiced opinions have a tendency to take over. Each person is "lovely" in their own right, but once the crowd mentality becomes part of the equation I really feel that art suffers for it.

It's easier to pick and choose those we would like to "chat" with on the blogosphere. We have time to think out our comments and responses with that wonderful backspace bar which we don't have the luxury of using in conversation. Also, if we don't agree with the opinion or style of delivery of any given individual we can either not take part in the discussion, choose not to visit any more, or even block them from commenting on our blog.

Personally, I've grown through our conversations here and on other blogs. I've also learned a lot through those who have been willing to leave comments on my blog. I feel my work is stronger for it, and my understanding of art is more diversified.

I'll admit that I've been a bit of a lone-wolf in regards to my fine art experience. I had "hidden away" what I was doing with fine art until a couple years ago. My late arrival on the local scene has made it a challenge to create one-on-one relationships with other artists in the community. But, I'm trying...


Tonya Vollertsen said...

I've moved around so much in my life that I have depended on art groups to get info on what's going on in a new area. I tend to be such a hermit if given the chance that I really depend on drawing groups with models to get out of the studio.
That being said, I have to admit that I haven't found much stimulating conversation about art in art organizations. The most interesting conversations came from the artists that dropped by my gallery to hang out and get their art fix for the day. I miss that, but of course I had to move! LOL!

hwfarber said...

I agree with Don. Every group or organization has expectations; I'd rather not deal with that.

Blogs are great--no meetings to attend and letters of resignation aren't required.

Mary Paquet said...

I agree with you, Hallie, and Don, that the blog world is great way to learn and grow.

I very much understand the statements about art organizations, but I am active in two. One small group of a half a dozen artists have painted together once a week since the 90s when I began to paint. Our styles are very different, and we critique each others work. Having a group of like-minded friends helps me continue to paint when I get into a period of self-doubt. We also do Silicon Valley Open Studios together at my studio (think home :-).

The second organization has over 400 members. I joined in order to attend a great workshop with Arne Westermann. When I retired, I took a more active role helping to coordinate the workshops, which gives me the opportunity to become personally acquainted with great artists like Gerald Brommer, Betsy Dillard Stroud, George James, and Myrna Wacknov.

Being a member of the society has given me venues for displaying my art, a group for plein air, education, a critique group, and some lovely friendships.

Perhaps in some ways it depends upon our personality and our goals. I don't have a major desire to lead the organization, because that can be a big time sucker. However, I do find that I benefit from being connected to the local art scene and having become a known quantity among Bay Area artists.

Sandy Maudlin said...

While I see some positive benefits for emerging artists in 'art clubs, etc,' I am seldom active in any art membership I join. It seems they become institutionalized quickly.
Although I've served in leadership capacities in nearly every art organization I've been in, it's a huge relief when my responsibilities are finished. I find that I care deeply for the people, that they love and learn more about making art, etc., but usually discover that the institution itself sucks the life out of those wanting to create.

Guess I'm just not much of an administrative person and don't like meetings at all. Doing art is so much more fun.

Casey Klahn said...

The sub culture certainly is a way to find your kindred spirits. I guess the smaller, the better for finding one's voice (usually - but there are those who rise up even among large groups).

I have been a part of many sub cultures throughout my lifetime. Even some where I didn't fit in well.

Is the art community a large or a small subculture, I wonder? The 10 you illustrate practiced painting in a much, much smaller world and community. What about now?

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Kathy said...

Hi ALL - your comments are really great! I'm mining lots of gems from them and think that you've all contributed so much to this discussion. Thank you!

Don's comment about someone inevitably taking a dominant role in a group is so true, and one of the biggest reasons that I have trouble remaining with a group. Pretty soon, everyone is marching lockstep because of a single dominant individual that needs to have everything his/her way and a group of people who don't want to challenge.

On the other hand, Tonya makes a good point that art groups are useful for learning about the art scene in a new community when you move. I agree - the connection is important!

Hallie's perspective really made me grin, especially the part about resignation letters. Been there...

And, Mary's right when she says that it really depends upon our individual personalities and goals. After all, the reason I joined an art society years ago was because I needed the experience to help me achieve some goals. For me, it was important then, but not now.

I had the same feeling as Sandy, that the art society sucked the life out of me. It wasn't intentional, it just happened and, for some reason, after you take on a lot of responsibility in a group people won't let you slack off. It's almost parasitic.

Casey's question about the present art world is interesting. It seems like we're becoming one large group because of the internet. On the other hand, if artists continue to bypass physical galleries in favor of their own personal online galleries, there's less chance for small groups to meet and form in a physical setting. This is something worth thinking about some more.

Kathy said...

Hey Pam ... have you ever noticed that we post comments at exactly the same time in the evening!! I just posted my comment and then yours popped up. That's happened to me many evenings in a row so we must be on the same wavelenght :-) Wow ... thanks for the nod, but I feel like I've little to do with it. You're a woman on a mission!

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Dan Kent said...

Late again. Here to me is what I have found so fascinating about the artist blogging community - it bridges all boundaries - age, race, social strata, professional status, appearance, accents, etc.
It's almost as though we reach across those artificial barriers, and reach into each other's souls (or the souls we would want to present). Could I walk over to a 70-something artist and discuss art? Or a 20-year-old? Maybe. But these things happen all the time here. It's the most inclusive group I know.

My non-art professional life and family life (primarily because I am the parent of an autistic child), keeps me from getting involved in any local art organizations. I've thought about it from time to time, because I feel totally disconnected from the local scene. Never done it though and don't know if I'd like it or derive any benefit from it.

Stan Kurth said...

I absorb myself in what I love. I don't like getting caught up in politics in organizations, so I'm active in them but avoid the politics as best I can. Sometimes it is impossible. I could share some horror stories.

I've only been blogging since the beginning of the year. It has broadened the arena of my love immensely.

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Dear Katharine,

I consider myself an isolationist and only the last year and a half in which I have stepped out of the house. Having said that, I have sought not to be with an organization or large group, rather a small select few artists with whom I could be friends.

However I have not been successful at this.

Those who I have met through blogging have been supportive but what is not experienced is the quality time and getting together in person, sharing refreshments and a relaxing time. This I greatly long for.

I feel that as an artist one needs contact with other artists but that some art groups have an agenda that can be counter productive to ones identity.

I had joined a group only to discover that it was more about socialization then art and the range of art was not all high caliber and professional.

Thank you for sharing.

Wishing you a wonderful Easter weekend,

Kathy said...

Dan adds an interesting element to our conversation by pointing out that the blogging community is barrier-less. I agree that this enhances our conversations and makes the sharing of opinions much more meaningful and deep.

And, Stan reminds us of the danger of politics when we get involved in groups. That reminds me of blog etiquette that's posted for us to read as we set up our blogs. I think that code of conduct suggests ways to avoid being political and devisive if we follow it.

Egmont expresses something that I also feel strongly about: blogs are great but there's also a need for being in the physical presence of other kindred spirit artists and sharing a cup of tea over a lively discussion. Egmont - if you lived near me we'd do just that!! And, I feel that way about ALL of you :-)