Making art may be a solitary endeavor, but being an artist doesn’t have to be. In fact, artists have always benefited from the company of fellow artists. We need people to share our ideas with, to help us develop our concepts, and to allow us to see our work from fresh perspectives. And although we can meet some of these needs through the internet, I know of no better way to achieve all that than face-to-face contact.
A little more than two years ago, I had the good fortune to be invited to be part of a new group of women artists who intended to meet regularly to discuss art. Two friends and artists---Monica Achberger and Marcia McMillen--had decided it was time to realize a longstanding dream of theirs to create a contemporary “salon,” which is partly how we arrived at the name of our group: Salon 11. Meetings take place one Monday night a month, sometimes at restaurants and sometimes in a member’s home or studio. We’re a very diverse group in terms of art-making styles and subjects, encompassing a couple of seasoned professionals as well as various stages of emerging artists. One of our members is also a professional musician!
What I love about the group, in addition to getting a monthly creative jolt and making some wonderful new friends, is how much I learn from the other artists. Quite often, our meetings revolve around discussing a topic, but we have also invited guest artists to join us (we buy them dinner so we can pick their brains), gone to art exhibits and lectures, and watched art-related films. We’ve even had some “let’s all try a new medium together” events and some “let’s all do a themed project,” such as our Cezanne-inspired still lifes.
If you feel like you could use some consistent real-time interaction with other artists, I would encourage you to put together a discussion group like ours. I asked my fellow members to help me identify our secrets of success so I could share a few tips with you, and here’s what we came up with:
1. Create a vision before you start. What do you want to get out of this? Should it be all women, all men, or a mix? How many members do you want? (We think 10 is the max for our purposes.) Then carefully select who you’re going to invite to be part of your core group. You only need two or three to get started because each of them will probably know at least one other artist who will mesh well with the group. And by the way, you don’t need to be friends when you begin--feel free to reach out to artists in your community whom you would like to get to know. As Marcia says, the law of attraction brought us together naturally!
2. Make a commitment. Believe me, we have plenty of fun and laughs and socializing at our meetings, but one of the main reasons the group works is that we are all serious and committed to advancing our art careers. This is not just a social outlet for the members--it’s an opportunity to learn, share, and support each other’s work. This is intellectual stimulation in the pursuit of art. Because we take it seriously, we all make an effort to show up to every meeting unless something really important keeps us away.
3. Pick people who have something to offer and are generous enough to share it. Most of the discussions are generated within our little core group, and we’re able to keep that going because every member has both artistic and other professional experience she is willing to share. Marcia is an expert on branding and marketing, and Monica has done a ton of PR work for various organizations. Tina has studied art history in depth, Maureen has her finger on the pulse of art competitions and local galleries, and on it goes.
4. Ensure dedicated leadership. Someone needs to step up and take the reins so that the group stays on track, overall and during the meetings. Marcia is our leader, keeper of the schedule (we try to plan topics at least six months out), reminder of meeting times, and discussion facilitator. But she happily welcomes the other members’ contributions, so no one person is responsible for it all. For example, we all contribute ideas for future topics and organize guests and outings.
Generally speaking, what happens in our studios happens in the confines of our own hearts, minds, and hands. But there’s no need to live our whole artistic lives going it alone. Maybe it’s time to reach out to your fellow artists and start up a discussion group. Like me, you’ll probably be amazed and delighted at the amount of inspiration and motivation you get from this activity.
And if you're already in a group similar to ours, we'd love to hear your secrets to success!