The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Community of Artists

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?


Anonymous said...

I love this line: "making art that matters is intimately connected with making life itself matter".

In fact, for me, that line says it all.
I would love to try out one of those artist communities for a few weeks!
Blogging and online communities have been a blessing for me. The people I've met have changed my artistic life for the better.

hw (hallie) farber said...

Pam picked the right line. I don't think my life would matter (to me) unless I made art.

I live in a small town whose hopes are pinned on attracting tourists to fishing tournaments, lake fests, and boat races. I'm a member of an art guild in the next county but am not very active; I admire the people who put in the hours. In the past I have belonged to organizations and been uncomfortable--believe it or not, in person I'm shy. The on-line community is perfect; I don't have to leave the house or get up early or attend meetings. Working in isolation is my choice; occasionally there's an exhibit.

Casey Klahn said...

My experiences here are limited. I am in a few online communities, but I don't do that well in the formalized ones. This one works well, maybe for me it is informality that works. I have experienced for=pay classes with chat rooms, and I participate with those.

The only non-internet one I am in is national, and I don't do much with it, except to put it on my resume.

One of my artist mentors lives in an artist-dense area on Whidbey Island, and I see the value of that. For myself, being isolated in the country is part of who I am. But, it is isolating!

Celeste Bergin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Celeste Bergin said...

What I have learned is that many many many people are "takers". They want "someone" to do everything for them and even though our art group has no dues..some artists get all bent out of shape if things aren't to their liking. It's tiresome! Nowadays I just say to them..oh, you don't like this? uh...then be the solution. haha shuts them up everytime. No one wants to do any of the work...but they show up in droves if there is a hanging opportunity. Reminds me all the time of the Little Red Hen. ("who will help me eat the bread?" "I will! I will!") I love my art group...but I am sick to death of the takers!...LOL...they think everything happens somehow by magic!

-Don said...

Right now this is my main art group. I have a few artist friends that I see occasionally around, but I get most of my art 'community' needs right here - and on my other art friends' blogs... Thanks everyone for being there for me.


Linda Roth said...

Right now this is my main art group too. Before blogging, I was going to a class at an artist's home and paying her fifteen dollars to just be in the company of some people who were interested in the same thing as I was. Problem was none of them--including the gal running the thing had ever been to art college or an art museum and had no clue to who anybody was in the art world. They were doing watercolor; I was doing colored pencil (easier stuff to shlep). I stopped cold when the leader asked me for professional advice on redoing her kitchen and refused to pay me my fifteen dollars back for my expertise. Before that I had been a member of a large community art association--lots of good ole girl crap. I'm best off alone. I frequent the museum and its home and its inspiring. Reading other artist's blogs is inspiring and comforting too. I do miss live art conversations though and should probably start my own a small group, but I won't.

Unknown said...

Hi Pam - I think it's great that you've reached out to so many different types of artists and developed a dialogue! It's always been important to me as well because it helps us gain a broader perspective of the arts and our place in it. It's been great for me getting to know you!

Hi Hallie - I agree. There's something comfortable about blogging and chatting online. It gives us the luxury of reading and thinking for awhile before having to respond. I can tell you have a very thoughtful and original approach to life and your art. It's great!!

Hi Casey - I know what you mean. My summer residence in Maine is rather isolated and yet, that's a part of me too. Like Hallie, my nature is to be shy. I work at becoming more outgoing, but need to put a lot of that energy into my artmaking. So, isolation is good but too much isolation isn't.

Hi Celeste - boy, you really hit the nail on the head! Takers. They really know how to latch on and suck the life blood out of us, don't they?? I like your approach.

Hi Don - and thank YOU for being there for us!!

Hi L.W. - geez, I don't blame you for being miffed! That wasn't a good or useful experience. I wish you lived nearer to me because I think we (and all my reader/commenters) would form a terrific discussion group!!

Mark Sheeky said...

I go to an art group each week and have been going for three years. It's changed my life in many positive ways and I can recommend setting up a group to any artist who's thinking about it, even if it's just a weekly art chat in someone's front room.

When I first went there I arrived in silence, painted, and left without saying a word to anyone, and back then there were only 8 people in the room! I'm still not one for doing what the club authorities say because my years of isolation and downright bad treatment makes me wary of trusting others, but lots has changed and I now help run the club, and it's an invaluably important part of my life, and my art.