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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What’s the Difference?

gesture, photograph

“The work was important because it was good, not because it was different.”

– Ted Orland

I just finished reading Ted Orland’s excellent book, The View from the Studio Door, and particularly enjoyed his discussion of artist communities and how challenging it is to create such a thing in today’s world. The quote above is in the context of how the value of artwork long ago was that it represented and supported the community it came from and was, therefore, good. Today art making is much more disconnected from the community we live in and figuring out how good it is requires a whole different set of criteria.

One of the more popular criteria seems to be if it is different. We are inundated with so many images today, exponentially more than people were a hundred years ago, that it had become harder to do something new and different. So I suppose there is some value in being different, if only because it is so much harder to do so now and the artist had to at least put some effort into achieving that. But there is a tendency to rely too heavily on this single quality as the primary criteria for whether work is good.

I see a lot of work that seems to me to come from a place of just wanting to be different, to shock the viewer with its newness. There is an immediate impact upon seeing such work and grabbing one’s attention is not a bad thing in itself. But there needs to be more, there needs to be a reason to return to the work time and again.

While I haven’t really figured out for myself what qualities in my work will make it compelling to myself and others, I know that difference isn’t what I should focus on. I do try to do things that I haven’t done before (so I don’t get bored) but, if someone else has done similar work, so be it. Mine won’t be exactly the same and there’s just too much work out there to avoid some overlap anyway.

So my search for good hasn’t settled on different

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