Your needs and goals as an artist will change and grow throughout your life. You will constantly gather the people you need to you.

And you will also periodically leave people behind.

I started this mini-series with a sort of Ugly Duckling story, as one reader noted. I told how my dog tries to be a cat, and why it’s a good thing he isn’t very good at it. When we find out we aren’t really “bad bankers” but are actually “really excellent artists”, it’s an amazing epiphany.

The second article talks about how to find your own tribe.

Interestingly, some people took that to mean searching out other artists who work in the same medium. Some took it as how some artists learn techniques from a master, then never really develop their own style.

Some even found their new “family”, but grieved when it, too, became contentious, confining and restrictive.

While some of us will be fortunate to find a wonderful, cohesive, supportive group of like-minded folks, others will struggle to maintain that in their lives.

Sad to say, but it happens.

The day may come when you have to leave your bright new tribe, and find another.

There are lots of reasons why this happens.

Sometimes the group is just too big. There’s no time for each person to have a turn to be listened to. You can feel lost in the shuffle.

Sometimes there aren’t enough “rules”. A few folks will take on the role of gadfly (aka “jerk”). Or there are too many rules, too much “business”. The lively group dynamic is strangled with too many procedural stops and starts. (I left one craft guild when the business reports began to take up almost half the meetings.)

Sometimes the group narrows its own dynamic. It can be subtle but powerful. You’ll start to feel constricted. Here’s a true story:

Years ago, a quilting guild I belonged to brought in a nationally-known color expert for a workshop.

During it, she commented that there were definite regional color palettes, patterns and technique preferences across the country.

I asked her how that happened. She said when members brought in their projects for sharing, some would generate a huge positive response from the membership. Others, more eclectic or “out there”, would receive a lukewarm reception. “We all crave that positive response”, she said. “It’s human nature. So slowly but surely, we begin to tailor our work to generate the bigger response.”

It hit me like a brick. Another quilter and I did more unusual fabric work. The response to our “shares” was decidedly in the “lukewarm” category.

And I had begun to do more work in the “accepted style” of the group.

I left after the workshop, and never went back. My fellow fiber artists were a great bunch of people. But I was not willing to “tamp down” my vision in order to garner their praise.

Sometimes, our course changes. We find ourselves in pursuit of different goals. Or we find our own needs sublimated to the needs of the group.

Or we simply grow faster than the rest of the group. You may even outgrow your mentor. If our work fosters jealousy–if our work becomes more successful, attracts more notice–then professional jealousy might raise its ugly head.

It can feel even harder to leave this new tribe that gave us so much joy at first. In fact, it’s brutal.

But it has to be done, if you want your art to move forward.

You cannot control the feelings of others. You can make yourself, and your work, as small and mundane as you can. But if someone is determined to nibble you, nothing can stop them.

Take heart in this knowledge:

This group served your needs for awhile. Enough for you to gain confidence, and to take a step forward.

And you will find another tribe. It may take awhile. But your peers are out there.

Consider that they may not even be working in the same medium. They may not even be visual artists. They may not be “artists” at all.

As long as they share the same values, or can support and challenge you in constructive ways, you can benefit from their company.

It may even be time for you to walk alone. Just for awhile.

Just long enough to really hear what your own heart is saying.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

15 thoughts on “TRIBES #3: LEAVING THE TRIBE”

  1. I have relatively few groups, but several 1-1 friends I have lunch with often. Most of my closest friends are self employed. It’s hard to find those in my field, but self-employed women understand my challenges, at least day to day, if not with my creative work. I am lucky to have a few good knitting/artful friends, too, but if I had only that, my relationships would be mostly online.

    An old friend once said “people in our lives change every 3-5 years.” It seemed shocking at the time. now she is not in my life. Many people do rotate in and out, though some are more steady. I have one friend I’ve known 45 years. Lucky me.


    1. I think this one is more difficult than finding your tribe, for sure…it’s more frightening, as sometimes we feel a piece of our success has come from being a part of a particular tribe….and there is worry involved in the notion that without that life raft of support, we could sink….yet, more often than not, once the waves settle, it really can allow us to fly to the next level…and if not the next level, a place that meets us where we are at this very moment….
      great post Lu!


    2. So true, Lynn, about the 3-5 years thing. I update my refrigerator phone list every five years or so. I’m always astonished how many people I cross off, and how many new ones I add. And moved by the ones that stay the same. I’ve always loved this little essay by Brian Andrew Chalker called “A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime” It just seems to ring true.

      Hey, hope you & I make it to the 45-year mark! :^)


    3. I love what your friend said, Lynn. Our times are changing, and the nature of our friendships is changing, too.

      I’m learning to celebrate the fact that I HAVE friends, and to be grateful for everything I receive from all friendships–the long, long ones, the very short ones, and everything in between. Because every single one has given me something precious. (Even if it’s just knowing when it’s time to get out!)


  2. Thank you for saying this with such clarity and compassion. Finding a tribe has been an ongoing struggle in my life, and I’ve blamed myself each time a friend or community has ceased being a good fit for me. It’s reassuring to hear that others also have that experience, and that it might even be “normal” in some way.


    1. Sonia, I felt the same way!
      Sometimes it isn’t about us. And sometimes it is. I found an insight during my hospice training earlier this year that gave me a little understanding about what *I* brought to the problem, which you can find here:
      But sometimes it’s just what Jeanne Beck says below–we aren’t willing to give up something important, in order to belong. And that is something only WE can determine for ourselves.


  3. Tribes seem to engender conformity; maybe that’s how they maintain stability. You get admission and “belonging” in exchange for adopting the practices of the group. As much as I’ve always longed for belonging somewhere, I never do well with the hierarchy of power and influence. And so I’ve always been at the edges of most groups, liking the people but not the politics of tribes. And my being thoughtful AND articulate seems to intimidate SOOO many people, so I am relinguishing that old yearning for a tribe to find and cultivate a few good — what Julia Cameron calls — “believing friends”– upbeat, encouraging, realistic, helpful, believers in what you are attempting to do. That’s one of my intentions for 2010!


    1. Jeanne, yours is a very perceptive reply. This way of thinking, and describing what one sees, feels and does, is true to my soul, and traces my experiences, also. Thanks to Luann, Jeanne, and the others who commented. So often I feel “different” from others around me. I’m aware of my own views, and thus am on the fringes of collective efforts. I must be true to my own needs and values, and that stance has both enriched my life, and enforced a rather alone existence. Sometimes, I long for another kindred soul, sometimes I just need alone time. I sincerely appreciate you articulating this struggle, and describing it. The push/pull I feel in my need for others, and need for just my own voice and vision, is a balancing act I’ve yet to master, but it’s coming. I know that because I’m more comfortable when leaving the tribe(s), and savouring my time alone, or choosing to spend quality time with a kindred spirit. While I still need my friends with similar needs and values, I am much more selective about how I spend my time.


  4. Love this whole line of thinking. About 9 years ago I formed a women’s artist group loosely based on a friend’s group in Ann Arbor. We meet once a month for breakfast and it’s kept very loose. We are all in different media but most make their living doing art fairs.

    Last month we all brought something new we were working on. A new direction we were going. It could still be in the thinking stage, the drawing stage up to totally done, it just needed to be different than what we were currently doing. It was so exciting to see what people were doing. This month we bring our goals for the year. Primarily art related but they can again be anything you want. We revisit them in June and laugh at them by January.

    There are core members of this group but others come and go as it fits their life. It’s not for everyone since peoples needs are different at different times but it’s a good tribe for now…


    1. Bonnie, I LOVE this!
      Sounds like you’ve all found a way to make the group serve each member’s need, rather than vice versa. Takes a lot of conscious effort, but the rewards are incredible.


  5. Luann,
    At first I thought that you hadn’t really ‘gotten’ what I meant about leaving this group of artists. I didn’t leave because I wanted to; I left because I had no choice. They behaved exactly as you describe, insinuating that I was just awful for refusing to give in to the control freak. I would have loved to maintain a relationship with some of them, but could not because I was ‘wrong’ to bring this problem out into the open.
    I am somewhat more reassured and less heartbroken to know that this is not unusual. It still doesn’t completely erase the sting, but it’s better. In retrospect, I think there probably was an element of jealousy there.
    How did you get so wise for someone who is so young?!


    1. How did I get so wise? I GOT OLD!! :^D
      Seriously, now that I better understand what happened in your group, I can REALLY feel your pain. And you’ve given me an idea for yet another post. YES, this has happened to me, and I’ll share how I got through it.
      How did YOU get so wise?? ;^)


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