The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)
image: "Rainshadow" by Andy Goldsworthy, 1984
Chapter 10: A Community of Artists, finale
It’s time to conclude Orland’s book and, in so doing, consider the communities available to artists. The author writes: Successful artists’ groups can (and do) differ wildly from one another in size, format, purpose and duration – but in most every case they reflect the only structure that could work for that particular group of artists. The tricky part is striking the right balance between common goals and differing sensibilities.
Over the years, I’ve joined formal art societies governed by rules, informal art groups governed by chaos, and art communities where a significant part of the local residents are artists or support the arts. For me, the most important aspect of any community of artists is the acceptance and encouragement of the free exchange of ideas, philosophies, and perspectives. If the community is too like-minded then innovation dies. If the community is too conflicted then the seeds of ideas can’t sprout. There’s a delicate balance. I like the mellow, laid-back, hey-that’s-interesting-let’s-explore-it approach.
Orland points out that small groups support give-and-take discussions more easily than large groups. True. I’d much rather be part of a small group, or a sub-group of a larger group. Once, I was president of an art league with a membership of over 300 artists. One year of that was about all I could tolerate so I resigned. Whenever a group gets that large there are too many rules and too much narrow-minded thinking. Socializing becomes more important than artmaking, and cliques grapple for control. That makes me run for the hills!
But, art communities in which artists thrive do exist. As Tom Kelly put it, we may make art in private, wrapped in our own techniques and ideas, but a piece of art lives when it is shown. Often, gatherings of artists result in “show and tell” and critique, or larger communities that support the arts make available numerous venues for exhibitions and regularly attend them. It's the resulting dialogue about the art that's shown that brings it to life. This is why the larger community is important to the solitary artist.
There are towns and villages that purposely seek to attract artists such as Monhegan Island in Maine, or Provincetown on Cape Cod, and Oil City in Pennsylvania that openly advertises itself as an artist relocation project. Six years ago I decided to build a home in one of those communities where I spend half the year. It's wonderful!
The point is, we artists can make our own communities (large or small) or move to communities that support the arts. Or, we can remain in isolation and join communities online through emailing and blogs and other sites. Because of the internet, we always have access to the global community of other artists. You can't get much more diverse than that!
As Orland reminds us, ultimately, making art that matters is intimately connected with making life itself matter. Doing so within an understanding and supportive community makes it all the better.
What are your thoughts and experiences?