Building Community with Art
When you paint, it often feels like a solitary practice. But it isn't, and it doesn't have to be. We artists need a sense of community to create in. We need people who share our vision, politically, environmentally, spiritually, and creatively.
Studies from the Blue Zones Project have shown that people who commit to a challenge with a friend (like a diet) have a 95% greater success rate than those who go it alone. Art is no different. It's a community building practice that will enrich your life and those you practice with.
We all want to leave our mark on the world-be immortalized in the pages of history, indelibly inscribed on the memories of people, hanging on museum walls. For a few artists, this will happen, but most of us, will make our mark only on those we are closest to, and the place we are in right now.
There is great satisfaction in using art to build community. Right now, I'm teaching at Olana in NY which is the ancestral home of Frederic Church from the Hudson River School of artists. During his time, he was part of a movement; poets, painters, writers, philosophers, all worked together to preserve the American landscape and build a spiritual movement based on Transcendentalism.
Almost three hundred years have passed since then, and their words ring truer today than ever before. The challenges facing our landscape are different. It's no longer the steam engine, leather tanning industry, or denuding of trees. Now we face an even bigger challenge; climate change.
The challenges ahead of us, as a species on this planet, are terrifying, and make many people want to hide in a bunker with tons of canned and dried foods. This fear would doom us to failure. The opposite is actually true.
What will save us, as a species, and in our art practice is building a resilient network of friendships where we share information and resources. When we love and support each other, we bouy each other up and encourage success.
When I'm feeling depressed, or despondent, someone inevitably sends me an email with a painting to critique which instantly bouys me up. I get a chance to encourage this person. When we are down, an we offer someone else help-that is love.
Love takes many forms, and what I am speaking if here, is the love we have for members of our community. I have come to love many of the budding artists I work with, I feel invested in their careers and paths. I feel the same about many of my peers in the pastel world and plein air movement. Their success is my success. I celebrate them.
If this seems alien to you, I urge you to reach out and develop a community around your art-making practice. There are many ways you can do this:
Take a class (new semesters are starting in all the art centers this month) in class, make friends with at least one person and get their phone number. Meet outside of class and do something fun together-paint, visit a gallery or museum, etc.
Join a club like the Pastel Society of Tampa Bay or the Wallkill River School in NY. these organizations bring people together to form a community that bouys individuals and the group.
Go to events in your area where like-minded people will be. Art exhibits are great for making connections. If you are inspired by that artist others who are there will be like-minded.
Make your own group of 4-5 people who connect on a weekly basis in some form for accountability. I teach an online class on Wednesday nights and my participants have an email forum where they share their works with each other for feedback and encouragement. This group has grown artistically far faster than any individual by themselves would have. We need groups to grow.
The art-making process is a great opportunity to build community. You can engage at a spiritual level with people, and build ties that help us heal our lives, families, and larger community. We need this for the days ahead, and for our own artistic growth. I encourage you all to step out of the ivory tower and become part of a small group where ever you are now. Success happens in clusters.
Just as trees share information and nutrients through mycelium networks, we stand in a grove artistically and nourish each other in much the same way.