Support Systems

hinges, photograph

“It’s hard to overemphasize the fact that the most difficult part of artmaking is not the making-a-living part – it’s the staying-alive-as-an-artist part. Without a support system, you not only lose a precious connection with your fellow artmakers, you also lose access to all those school experiences that have no natural counterpart in the outside world”.

Ted Orland

A friend of our just told us that her college-aged daughter is attending a 4 year art school program. Another friend recently completed her MFA at the same school. This brought to my mind a discussion Orland has in his book The View from the Studio Door in which he talks about the pros and cons of art school.

He observes that one of the differences between art school and the outside world is that there are not that many ways to be part of a community of artists outside of school in our world today. Art is no longer woven as tightly into society’s fabric as it used to be. It’s easy to find oneself working as an artist in relative isolation. I’m sure this can be a difficult change upon graduating from art school – a lot of the support systems are suddenly absent.

I believe that blogging and other social networking communities have given many of us a welcome means of connecting with others. It’s become an amazing window to a worldwide artist community. I’ve enjoyed participating in this but felt the need for something else, something more immediate.

A friend and I decided about 6 months ago to start a group composed of local photographers which meets monthly. One of the goals was to foster a sense of artistic community among our peers. We give ourselves an “assignment” each month, something vague enough we can each interpret it our own way, and we share what we’ve done that month at each meeting. This gives us an incentive to go out and do some art – often the assignment pushes us to try something we would not have otherwise done. We share our work, books we’ve read, shows we’ve seen, things we’ve been struggling with – and we top it off with a great potluck lunch.

It’s been a great success so far, and I think we’ve all been surprised at how revealing and inspirational the process has been. Interestingly enough, Orland shares that he has been in such groups himself for many years, sometimes more than one at a time and some for a very long time.

What do you do to find or create artistic community? What forms has this taken for you? How have you found it to be beneficial?
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17 responses to “Support Systems

  1. I’m involved with several different online writing groups (also quite a number of art-related groups). The connections we have made with each other have been delightful, productive, often inspiring. I used to write quite alone. I still cherish the quiet hours for my own writing and find community in the time online. Each feeds the other.

    • Maureen

      Yes, the best strategy is one of balance, sometimes tilting one way or another depending on your needs at the time. The online world has made the community aspect much more available, especially for those living in more isolated areas.

  2. I belong to a couple of formal and informal artist groups. I think artists have a way of finding each other though, and we share such similar mindsets that lasting friendships seem to happen naturally. It’s beneficial because we share some pretty unique challenges as artists that most other professional people simply can’t understand. It helps to have someone that recognizes these challenges to talk to. Benefits include networking, inspiration, and friendship with like-minded individuals.

    • Roberta

      One of the best parts for me of meeting with other artists is just what you say, the empathy we have for the challenges of being an artist. As in all things, the more similar our experiences, the more understanding we can develop and share.

  3. Another great and thought provoking post. I agree that online we can connect up with like minded folks, help each other out, and promote community.

    But like you I would like some in-person contacts as well. I haven’t done too well here, although it is one of my goals for this year. A while back I contemplated and discussed with a few people some type of “club” where we would go shooting say the first saturday of every month. Each person would work out a location, in rotation.

    I did attend one meeting of a local “camera club” but it was a sad joke.

    Alas, it has not come to be. For me, all I can say is that between the day job and family I squeeze in all I can. But I would like to do more. Hoping for it in 2010!

    • Thanks, Bob! My groups has talked about shooting together, though it has been fun to see everyone bringing in work that is very different. While we each would work a location differently, there still is some similarity. I’m sure we will do some shooting together also.

      I also am not a big fan of camera clubs but it’s a very personal choice. We have a good one in our area actually. Some of the members of our group are in that also. It’s just a different animal. I particularly am not fond of clubs that are focused on competitions, which many are.

  4. My son, Matt, who is a painter in NYC, and works for Jeff Koons as well– also works with a group of friends who work on an auction from time to time– in which they auction off photographs to raise money for a cause— their last auction was for Haiti. My son had a quote in an article which I will send to you– about being an artist in his studio is so isolating and alone– that this volunteering for such good causes connects him to a ‘broader community.” their website is They raise on average $10,000 to 15,000 per auction. For myself, I volunteered for so many years for art groups, even being president twice, that I am currently enjoying my isolation in my studio.

    • Donna

      What a great idea! One thing I hope to accomplish over time is for the group to develop an identity with respect to the larger community so that we can do things as a group, such as shows.

      I belong to a couple of local art organizations and it’s a different beast. Our group is small, we all know each other and it’s more of a peer support group. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

  5. I’m lucky enough to be a new ‘member’ in the group that Bob is writing about here – and I’m honored to be in it and plan to give it my very best to be at the meetings and to make pictures for our monthly ‘assignments’. I was so inspired after the recent meeting, and seeing the work of everyone else on one subject. what a great eye-and-mind opener this can be. I encourage all of you to reach out to a few select friends and colleagues in your area and see if it can work for you in this way. Bob Towery, don’t give up – I’m sure there’s some people wanting this too in your area. Just plant the seeds – perhaps on your own blog…

    • Brenda

      I’m glad we’ve chosen to take the approach of monthly “assignments” – it is fascinating to see how each of us interprets it.

      From what I’m hearing, a lot of people do wish to belong to a group and, you’re right, I suspect if one puts the word out, it can happen.

      I’ve heard of people doing this remotely and that it can work out just as well. The blog network we participate in is a great starting point for something like that.

  6. How I wish I could be part of this new group that you’ve assembled Bob. Having a community is essential for me. I still belong to a local club but it does not fill my needs and as such I don’t tend to attend meetings. A group such as yours with the talent (Brenda) you are assembling seems like a winner. I have a dear friend (it sounds like you know Dan Sniffin) who is invaluable to me as both friend and mentor. I’ve spoken of his influence in my recent blogging so I’ll not carry on here.

    What I do want to comment on is the Hinge image. I LOVE this image. The color, composition and texture is wonderful. Great job.

    • John

      It’s been an interesting process to get the group going – it’s a pretty organic process. Having a close collaborator like Dan fills many of the same needs, I’m sure.

      Thanks for the feedback on this shot – I love “industrial” shots. Ran this one through Adjust, if I recall correctly.

  7. I used to belong to a local camera club that has a lot of very good photographers in it and a lot of nice folks. Although I liked the social aspect of just getting together with other photographers just to talk shop, but main purpose of the club revolved around competition. The entire meetings were spent viewing and assigning numerical scores to an image. Very little discussion about the insights and whys of an image. So I have stopped going for quite some time now, it just didn’t seem to fit what I was after.

    I suppose I reach out online more than anything now just because it fits my time schedule better. Your group sounds quite interesting, wish you were local! 🙂

    • Mark

      I think one of the challenges of a camera club is sheer size. It’s hard to spend any time on an image when there are so many to go through.

      Online opens possibilities. I know a lot of photography workshops are now held online with integrated chat, image galleries, etc. I wonder if the same mechanisms could somehow be used for people to create remote peer groups like this?

      Thanks for the feedback about the shot above!

      • True, it does make it difficult in time constraints. I even find that in the online scene as well. I always appreciated the in-depth comments and feedback that Craig Tanner provided over the years at Radiant Vista, and now Mindful Eye. Part of the community also tried to support that by critiquing images in such a way. But there is only so much you can keep up with in a day!

  8. This is a gorgeous image. And a terrific question to consider. Like Mark, I tried the camera club thing, but it seemed to be all about technique, not about what I would call “The Theology of the Camera” — the mysteries around what we photograph and why, what works and why. So I am very grateful that my excursions into the blogosphere have unearthed other artists (like you and your wife) who seem willing to explore the whys and wherefores of what we do. I do agree there are only so many hours in the day to explore what’s out there, but I do try to make time for this because it definitely feeds me…

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