By the Practical Artist
When I started to take my art seriously, I knew that peer group association was important for me to grow as an artist, but finding the right art group to join was a little frustrating. Why is it so important to associate with other artists? Well, although you can create art in a vacuum, if your art is never evaluated by your peers, you may simply be stuck repeating the same type of art and art subjects at the same skill level forever. Peer groups challenge us to stretch our skills, reach for new goals and generally provide support when we are feeling down. Therefore, it is important to seek out those who are Sympatico with our ideals and feelings about our art. Local art groups can be invaluable in this area. Let’s face it, while our friends and family members may ooh and ahh over our art, they really can’t provide an informed opinion about it. In addition, most of us suspect they are praising our art because they love us, and not really because they actually love our work or are really interested in art. Close family and friends also seem to devalue our work as artists because they consider it to be of secondary importance to our place in their lives.
I was sure that other artists usually wouldn’t fail to recognize how important my art was to me in the way friends and family might, because their own work is just as important to them as mine is to me. Therefore, I went looking for other artists to spend time with. I found the easiest and fastest way to meet many other artists was to join a local art group. However, as I said, I knew virtually nothing about any of the local art groups in my area, so I simply joined as many as I could find. In fact, until I got to know and talk to some of the members of the first group I joined, I didn’t realize how many other groups there were in my area. I then went to as many activities sponsored by each group as I could to get to know how each group functioned. To my surprise, I discovered that while most of the same local artists also belonged to many of the groups, each group did have a different “feel” to it, depending on the group’s mission statement and who was actually directing the groups focus. In my area alone there are five or six art groups, all with different standards and goals. One of the coalitions is simply a painting group that gets together to talk, paint or draw and critique each other’s work twice a month. Another aims its standards for professionals and is very picky about what they accept in their shows. A third group is warm and welcoming to new and beginning artists and seeks to encourage its members to strive to improve their skills. A fourth group is a very loose association that tracks events from all the others and tries to find places for artists to exhibit and show. All of these groups have valuable insights into the local art world. While I do maintain my membership with most of the original groups I joined, I did finally find the group I consider my “home” group. Once you do find the right fit, you will also find the friendship and support you are looking for in your peers.
However, If you are not feeling the love in the group you joined, then you need to do some honest evaluation of that groups focus and aims and what you were looking for when you joined. You need to decide what it is about each particular group that makes you comfortable or uncomfortable. While only you can draw these conclusions, I do have some markers that can be used to aid you in making your assessment.
What are the goals the group has set for itself? Do you agree with them?
What were your goals when you joined this art group? Friends? Career advancement? Improving your skill set?
Has it met your expectations? If not, why not?
Have you been a member long enough to have made a genuine attempt to get to know the other members? Do you attend all their functions? Are you friendly and approachable to other members?
Are you comfortable with the majority of the group’s socio-economic status? Why or why not?
Are you comfortable with the majority of the group’s education level? Why or why not?
Are you comfortable with the age/sex of the majority of the members?
Do the other members respect you as an artist? As a person?
Do you feel the criteria used in selecting winners at the group’s sponsored shows are fair? Why or why not?
Can you find topics to discuss with members at group functions?
Are the other members friendly to you? If not, they why do you think they are unfriendly?
Are these people you would enjoy spending time with outside meetings and group functions?
After evaluating your feelings about the group, then you need to make a decision as to whether to stay with the group or move on. Sometimes you may find that it is not one, but several local groups that give you what you need. Once you do find the right group fit, you will also find the rapport and encouragement you are looking for in your colleagues.