Over the years I’ve read a lot about the lives of artists whose work I admire.
The shortlist of my favorites painted in the late 19th Century and through the mid-20th Century. They were instrumental in shepherding in bold new looks that defied traditional notions of the purpose of art for their day. Many of them worked with other artists and identified themselves as part of a group — a school of artists organized around a specific aesthetic mission. Sometimes these groups also included creatives working in different mediums — poets, musicians, dancers. In my opinion, collaborating with others’ shared aesthetic aspirations is the best way to work. The lone artist slaving away in a lonely garrett or studio for years, relying soley on his own internal resources seems utterly unsustainable to me.
Let’s face it, creating is risky business. Any attempt to transcend known limits so you can bring back something valuable from unknown realm is aided by the support of others who are there to witness and learn from you as well as share their finds. You may spend your day physically in your studio, but your imagination is exploring other realms. It is helpful to touch base with a group who understands the frontiers you are working to expand.
As a writer I have written the seeds of my most potent essays and stories when I was involved in a committed writing group. Not only did we workshop and respond to each others’ pieces, but there were times when we actually sat down and wrote our own drafts together. Composing in community gives me quicker access to my wisest writing voice. Perhaps it is similar to people who meditate in groups, often reaching deeper states of meditation. In each instance, the individual is involved in a deeply unique and personal experience. But this personal delving is supported and enhanced by the combined energy of the group. Just as I have reached deeper states of meditation when sitting in a group, I go beyond my accustomed creative territory when I write or do artwork with others committed to exploring the great creative wilderness. I still spend the vast majority of my time in the studio developing ideas, but the inspirations I have to work with are better. And the work that comes from these ideas is sometimes work that astonishes me, work I didn’t see coming.
Our current age has valued individual enterprise highly, and our current culture translates narratives of personal achievement through a “heroic” lens by focusing on the striving individual. These heroic stories edit out the myriad people who have supported and been involved in individual accomplishment. The stories of artists who have been able to transform their aesthetic passion into a lasting creative form often include teachers, peers, a muse or other committed friends. For many of us, it takes the community of other artists to help us produce our best work.
If you resonate with the idea of having a small cohort of fellow-creatives, then I encourage you to start looking around for people you’d like to work with.