The Strength of Artists as a Community

I struggle for ways to acknowledge this solemn anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Should I ignore the date on my calendar, or try to write something profoundly moving?

©Gail Haile, Setting Sun Mandala. Photo collage. Used with permission.
©Gail Haile, Setting Sun Mandala. Photo collage. Used with permission.

Usually I ignore the date in my emails and on my blog, which seems more appropriate for my audience. This year I had an idea to use this space to focus on one of my top values and priorities: community.
Community is a value I absorbed from my mother and is something we cherished following September 11, 2001.

The Strength of Artists as a Community

I am inspired by a quote from Christy MacLear, Executive Director of The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. In a 2012 article in The New York Times, MacLear said of Rauschenberg:

Bob wasn’t all that interested in just his own voice. He was a big believer in the overall strength of artists as a community.

Artists as a community. Strong.
It’s not often that I miss my college days, but I am nostalgic about the daily routine of stimulating lectures, discussing art, making art, and sharing struggles with my fellow students. We benefited from community.
Since 2002 I have tried to get as close as I can to this environment in my online classes, my blog posts, live events and, especially, my membership programs as community is one of my top values.

©Emilia Van Nest Markovich, Pond Rings II. Pastel collage, 22 x 22 inches. Used with permission.
©Emilia Van Nest Markovich, Pond Rings II. Pastel collage, 22 x 22 inches. Used with permission.

My Definition of Community

To me, community is a place where people are supportive of one another. They might share a geographical location or a common interest, but these alone don’t result in community.
Members of a community share a concern about something that is bigger than themselves – something that contributes to a better quality of life for other community members. They are willing to help one another achieve that goal.
An artists’ community centers on the cause of art and nurtures its transformational qualities in its members.

Deep Thought Thursday

What does an artists’ community mean to you?
What does “strength of” artists as a community mean? What can be accomplished by acknowledging artists in numbers?
Does it or should it have anything to do with politics?
How does an artists’ community relate to neighboring communities of non-artists? How should it?
What role does the Internet – or can the Internet – play regarding community?
Join our community of artists who are building their businesses with the support of one another.

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42 thoughts on “The Strength of Artists as a Community”

  1. Artists’ community is the no.1 reason I am making art today. I fell into it by accident, art has nothing to do with my major or my career, though this is something I am slowly working to change. But it would never have become anything more than a passing interest if I hadn’t encountered an overwhelming wave of support and camaraderie extended by every online art community I’ve come in touch with. All the techniques I use have been learned from tutorials people painstakingly put together just so a bunch of other people would get a shot at learning more easily what they had to learn the hard way. I have been pointed to free resources, given great advice, given sometimes harsh but always well-meaning and useful critique, given pat-on-the-back encouragement when I was feeling incapable, alerted to competitions or job opportunities that might fit my style – often by people who planned to enter them too. The fact that artists are on the whole willing to let their work speak for themselves and that they will generously invite other people to be their direct competition in contest they themselves are hoping to win defines for me the essence of what it means to be an artist. Artists seem to genuinely delight in other artists’ success, even when they envy it on some deep dark level. Those two feelings are somehow not mutually exclusive, because while we may get that pang of ‘damn, why him and not me?’, the next second we’ll be thinking ‘woohoo! If he made it, then next time so can I!’ We are, in a very sweet and positive way, The Borg. Resistance is futile.

  2. Oh yeah I just realized I didn’t touch on any of your questions 🙂 I’m part of a few artist (mostly illustrator/ surface/ pattern designer) groups that look out for each other in terms of battling copyright infringement, exchanging information and discussing the terms and conditions of various buyers/ clients/ PoD sites, offering each other objective critiques and support. I’m not sure where politics would come into it, but that’s probably my own myopic world view. A lot of applied art is open to abuse like copyright infringement (sometimes even by huge companies who should really know better), preying on young/ inexperienced/ hungry artists through ‘competitions’ with terms that benefit solely the client and completely disempower the participating artists, low licensing fees etc. One artist seldom stands a chance in a face-off with a corporate client, but a bunch of artists together can at least raise a whole lot of awareness and negative press, which sometimes turns out to be power enough to make a difference. I’m sure everything is different in the world of fine art, but I’m no expert there.

  3. Community is essential to human beings. Artists are no different, but I do believe artists in particular, need to be supportive toward one another as they are so often seen to be living on the margins of society, and outside a self absorbed, corporate mainstream.
    As artists we can will never benefit society, culture, in a world in isolation or by being competitive with one another. Otherwise we serve two masters; one of materialism, greed and self serving. The other, an attempt to live a creative life. We cannot serve two masters.

    1. Catherine: I’m not sure I like the idea of artists living on the margins of society. I’d much rather that art be seen in the mainstream – part of everyday life. Will it ever?
      What about the ENORMOUS sums of money being spent on contemporary art these days by hedge fund managers and others in the rat race? How does that play into community?

  4. My artist community is GREEN, genre Epicurean Art and products made in USA. I have been giving this a great deal of thought and now doing all I can to make it happen. Yesterday when I stopped by a Ma & Pa art store here in Annapolis MD, I discovered Acrylic paints made in USA. It is then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I did not pay any attention to this before and have been using ‘Winsor & Newton’ for years. Well, from this point onward it will be ‘Chroma’s Jo Sonja’ made in USA. This is my way of building my community stronger by investing in what has given me everything. I have made a vow to stick with everything USA as of today. I was unaware of how strongly I have felt about this till I started my Patriotic Series this Summer. Being American and buying American is now part of my brand besides being a Chess Painter.

  5. Mary Reilly Mathews, LCSWR

    Great Post! This is precisely why I started a creativity club five years ago. Five years later, with the example and encouragement of this group (we call ourselves Juicy People) I went on to write a book to encourage others to do the same. (The Creativity & Camaraderie Club Handbook: Have More Fun, Live More Wholeheartedly, Encourage Each Other.) Our group support and enthusiasm has rippled out into the community in so many diverse and exciting ways. Find your tribe! Gather your allies! We are better together.
    (By the way, the spectacular photo mandala on this post was created by one of our group members, Gail Haile!)

  6. Mary Reilly Mathews, LCSWR

    oops…. I overlooked your questions! I’ll only touch on a couple…
    Our Creativity & Camaraderie Club focuses first on the “politics” of what creates a sustainable, respectful, encouraging circle of creatives. We follow a definite structure to insure that. As a result, people feel safe, witnessed, and heard. People blossom in that sort of container. World politics might shift when we learn how to master interpersonal politics first!
    I see an artist’s community (community of creatives) as an incubator or springboard that would naturally bring a more conscious vision into the broader community. As a result of our creativity club support, members have gone off to pollinate the larger community with their creative acts and offerings (SoulCollage workshops, Energy healing trainings, NIA classes, Community Photography walks,, Conscious Elders projects, etc. etc. etc.)
    The internet is a tremendous resource for finding information, educational opportunities and networking with a tribe. It will never be able to offer what real-live human presence creates in my view. Something very different happens (even in our bodies) when we share space, smiles, meals and touch together.

    1. I loved your posts. I have been sort of re-reading as I have been checking email. I like the idea of gathering the tribe, the allies and so on. Seems hard to do some days but I do think that is the best way to go. Thanks.

  7. I love the Penny series, which started with “Still Life”. The little fictional town of Three Pines is the epitome of community. And it takes in all sorts of diverse characters, tolerates them well, and the group takes care of each other. A great series. Artists communities are very different from each other. I think it is wise to assess what kind of community you are considering entering–some can be detrimental to your self as artist. It is important to find one that is creatively open to different ways of doing things rather than locked into rigid rules applied to each work regardless! A good one is supportive of the artist’s goal and vision, even if that is very different than other members’ goals or visions. Helping people be more and better selves as artist needs to be the underlying premise. These thoughts come from experience–some very good and some very harmful. But the Penny series, YES!

  8. Politics: depends on the particular artist group. My only artist community is the one connected with Alyson, herself. It is fluid, housed in a mansion of fluidity wherein the participants flow from room to room and subgroup to subgroup. For example, when I was doing the Bootcamp we were a subgroup. The online subgroup of the ABI is another subgroup. Alyson’s Gold group (did she change the name?) is another subgroup. And so forth. Few of us share the same politics, I think. It rarely comes up. Perhaps we may share views pertaining to politics as it pertains to being an artist.
    But I doubt it.

    1. Alyson- I have recently been asked, along with another friend and neighborhood artist, to be an “artist in residence” at a local elementary school. I am meeting with the teachers soon to see what that might look like and will keep you all posted on the experiment.

  9. Community is basically based on “common.” Person who share something in common either strong like family or weak like people who own an XB Scion. A community must as a whole must give back more than it’s individual members put into it. Otherwise, it starts to lose relevance. How can community total output be greater than its total input? The answer is simple: growth. Growth cause the community to increase it’s potential synergy.
    Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. The term synergy comes from the Greek word synergia συνέργεια from synergos, συνεργός, meaning “working together”.
    Take for example the fungus and the tree. They work together to supply nutrients to each other. They have different jobs but they synergistically increase their total potential output.
    Now how does that figure for a group of artists?
    Two artists as I have experienced for 9 years have better output working together as plein air painters than one painting alone. See: philandtimpaintoutdoors
    How can this work in a larger group of artists say in different parts of the U.S. or world for that matter? I will stop here and let someone else take the floor and imagine for a moment how this might work…
    Best of Luck on your great ideas……. share them with the rest of us.
    I will share mine a little later. It involves and a different kind of “publication.”

  10. I wish I could find some sort of community but I can’t seem to here in San Antonio, TX. This is very odd for me, as I am a social person and have never had trouble finding kindred spirits. I am learning that it is very difficult to break into the culture of San Antonio and even more difficult to find “community” as an artist and transplant to this tightly knit small town. Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . it’s one of the largest cities in America, but it’s actually just a small town with a zillion suburbs. Sprawling. I’m going to move. That’s how important I think community is. I am willing to move to another city/state to find it! Maybe in the meantime I will follow Patricia’s lead and find a community here in Alyson’s world. 😉

    1. Robin: I have found that same barrier in another city. It’s because they didn’t know what to do with outsiders. People rarely moved there. Very lonely. But I would think that artists would be more welcoming than the general population.

  11. Community is being a whole. When 11th of September put fire in the sky, I was so touched by thousands of souls searching for home. I am living in Montreal and New-York seemed to be so close. As I was coming for Leadership Training Seminars in the towers each month, I was feeling closer. But when tsunami destroyed asiatic coasts, I was feeling the same turmoil of souls searching for homes. Community is being a whole. As I cultivate gratitude for life, I participate to open this gratitude to anyone connected to my soul. I am sending love to myself knowing that community is receiving it at the same time. Community is a whole… we just forget it sometimes. When I feel alone, I forget that I am part of community. When I paint, I am connected to artists all around the world. And we speak about telling our true selves, our true love, our need for self full expression. Community is being a whole, a whole containing everything. And it does need from me lots of acceptance and compassion. Lets be a whole of LOVE and PEACE. Nadia

  12. Following an invigorating class at a southeastern art school, several in the class discussed ways to keep our development progressing. We decided to communicate via email the problems we encountered and the success we mustered. AND we agreed to meet in person for one week annually to learn and share in a collaborative mode. After five years everyone still participates and comes prepared to present their new learnings. Outside instructors are sometimes invited to a day within a session to offer instruction in a topic of interest to the group. Not only have our individual skills improved, so has the skill level of the group.
    This community of artists is geographically dispersed over about a 500 mile area of the southeast and distance is not a hindrance to success.

  13. You asked about politics, I think some artists do find like minds in their creative communities and many have strong voices that are politically bent in one direction or the other. Being part of local creative arts center that is comprised of a vast array of people from all different backgrounds has brought a diverse assortment of people into my world that often have much more conservative view points from my own and at the end of the day a love of art and creating is much stronger than our differences.

  14. In Nashville I’m part of a group that has a strong Facebook community but an equally strong “real-world” counterpart. It’s Nashville Creative Group, and while there is always healthy Facebook discussion, we have monthly meetups where someone comes in and talks for a bit, and we socialize and hang out. Afterward people go get drinks/dinner somewhere. The Nashville creative community is really starting to grow, and it’s pretty exciting.
    Also, this past weekend we had Art Camp which uses something of the usual BarCamp format but it is geared toward artists. Artists are geeks of a different stripe but dress way better than programmers. 😉

    1. BarCamp is similar to PodCamp. I think you’ve been to one of those. Anyway, ArtCamp was a lot of fun and great to interact with other artists in a learning environment at a local art college. We did a big map of where in town everyone was from, and voted on what we thought should be emphasized in our community: funding, education, venues, etc. The mayor came and spoke; Nashville is known for its music but there is a burgeoning visual arts scene as well.

  15. Totally agree, Alyson. One of the myths of the artist is that he or she has to be a loner, working on their masterpiece in solitude. The work you do to train and teach and that brings artists together is a solution to this wrong type of thinking… we make much better stuff when we bounce ideas off each other and share our energies.

  16. Theresa Grillo Laird

    Artists community to me means being part of a group you spend time with who have an understanding of what makes artists tick. These would be people who get why you get excited to see a purple sky that everyone else says is grey. who understand why it’s absolutely necessary to stop to mine the happenings of a moment that will never pass again. who understand the desperate lows of the work not going well and the pure joy of time spent enjoying the company of like minded souls.
    The current climate of politics and anything else that serves to divide people shouldn’t be a part of it.

  17. I am so envious of the people who have community groups that are working for them. I am a member of an artists community but there is no cohesiveness and not much of helping each other. I’ve gotten some work and haven’t even gotten a thank you. I feel as if it’s more of a reason to have a griping list serve than anything else. I can’t make them something they are not so I need to look somewhere else.
    Is anyone interested in forming a thinktank group in the Northeast where we can discuss things via the internet and occasionally get together?
    I would love to see this happen!

    1. Yes, I basically have at this point. I’m just getting what I need out of it but would like to find some new, renewed inspiration and support (given and taken).

  18. This is a very interesting thread. Late in joining as I have been out on a week long hike in Southern VA, near Damascus and the Greyson Highlands. Despite the low numbers of hikers at this time of year, I felt very much “in community” with those I met, and spent a lot of time thinking about art, MY art, the concept of community and the overwhelming need for all of us to figure out how to be in some kind of community to save the fragile natural world that we share. Politics? Touchy. Met a guy who was a strong environmentalist on the one hand, all about protecting the Commons of soil, water and clean air, but who was convinced that Obama was not an American citizen. Ouch. Where do I go with that? And how do I take the ART of the place, the mountains, the streams, the animals and birds, into the populated world and make it into something that allows me to make a living (how very boring and mundane)? I will be interested to see if this posts.

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