This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
Socializing is good, it’s good to be social! But not all social, all the time.
(7 minute read)
Last week, I introduced you to an artist support group blueprint I learned from Deborah Kruger decades ago, which I call The Four Questions.
A reader commented they’d recently created their own artist group. They’ve worked their way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and will now move on to other art book projects and discussions.
Any opportunity to meet up with fellow artists and creatives is good. Especially if you respect/like/enjoy/adore them! And they make a good apple pie, too… Well, then! (Otherwise, I just hide out and save my energy.)
The Artist’s Way workbook is an excellent way to explore your hidden fears, your own obstacles, the “faux thinking” that keeps you from moving forward with your art, especially if you don’t have an artist support group. It’s fun. It’s all about YOU. You can do it on your own, too.
Over the years, I’ve seen a few major drawbacks, though, with TAW and with purely social groups:
*Doing the Artist’s Way work can be a great excuse not to do your OWN work. One artist used it for a year. They loved it! Yet they didn’t do one thing to move forward with their own art. The exercises became an excuse not to go to the studio.
*It’s based on writing. Me? I thrive on writing through many of my issues. For others, not so much.
*The Four Questions is based on saying your truth, finding what works for you, and the power of being listened to. Everyone takes turns, everyone gets a chance to speak.
But don’t let that take away from the social aspects of group activities! Socializing is a powerful force for good in the universe. There’s nothing like hearing someone else express their doubts and fears, and thinking, “Wow! I thought I was the only one who felt that way!”
In fact, the first part of a Four Questions meet-up is social. It’s called “checking in”.
You take turns catching up with what’s going on with all of you, in all the worlds you’re in. Art. Family. Day job/income work/whatever. Health. (Deborah’s original group would have dinner together first, and do their check-in while dining.)
There’s no set way to do this, except make sure everyone has a chance to share what’s going on, and what’s coming up. When I was home with my two wee ones in a new house in a new state, sometimes this would be the very first time anyone would ask me how things were going—and listened!—in days.
I also noticed when I was given this time to update everyone, it got the “buzz” out of my brain and on the table. (Er… figuratively, of course!) As I listened to myself, I could see where I had needless worries, and where I had trouble moving forward.
I’ve come to believe that a “check-in” process is a healthy addition to ANY artist group meeting, depending on the size of the group.
It will help to understand why someone seems a wee bit snarky or distracted.
It will help the speaker, and the rest of the group, clarify what they want to talk about during the “working” part of the meet-up.
And when things get hard in life, it will help fulfill another important facet of this group’s support system:
Your artist self will be held and remembered for you during difficult times, until you can return to it.
Betty Friedan, noted advocate for women’s rights, said it all: “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Whenever life steps in and deals us a major blow, it can be extremely difficult to find the time and space to make our art.
We may become ill, or injured. We may be called to be a care-giver for someone else who becomes ill or injured. We may have young children to care for: Our own children, our grandchildren, maybe even someone else’s children. We may be dealing with disaster: Divorce. Loss of job. Loss of home, or safety, or car.
A good network and support group holds the memory of who you are, until you are ready to take it up again. And if you should choose a different path back, they will honor that, too.
There’s another reason that other meet-ups, such as The Artist’s Way format, art discussion groups, art road trips, etc. have their place:
Over time, you will find who your true peeps are: Seeing who might be a good fit for your support group, and who would fit better into purely socializing.
Sometimes you find your peeps at a group show.
As I’ve always said, I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way. Friendships that worked fine…until I realized the other person always…ALWAYS…had to have their own way.
I realized there are people who need more support, perhaps even professional therapy, than untrained friends can offer.
There are people who are so out of touch with what they want, they will fight and push back every single step of the way. It’s normal to “push back” with some of the Four Questions. But for an ongoing support project, I like the people who eventually push through to their place of power and creative growth.
There are a few people who are charming and charismatic, but also manipulative and destructive. To place yourself in a position of vulnerability with them is not only unproductive, it can be dangerous.
There are people who are just not ready, nor willing, to move forward with their art. And you just can’t make them do it. Nor should you. It’s their choice, their journey, not ours. But that also means they may not be a good fit for your support group.
So your homework for next week, if you haven’t already done so:
Get out there and meet up with other artists!
Go to open studios, opening receptions for art shows, gallery talks. If there’s an art organization in your area, volunteer for events from time to time. It’s amazing what you can learn about people working on the kitchen crew for potluck dinners! I used to volunteer for fundraiser events for a hospice organization. Some people show their true colors when they think you’re just a nobody working on the sidelines.
Some people show you who they are—believe them! If someone treats you badly, pay attention to that. It might just be envy or insecurity, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. We ALL have a lizard brain. Grown-ups work on it. Btw, “ grown-up behavior” isn’t necessarily related to age. I know many wise younger people, and many idiot, know-it-all oldsters who simply don’t. Know it all, I mean.
On the other hand (OTOH), it pays to triangulate. Check in with others who know more about that person. If someone’s behavior is awkward or off-putting, find out if there’s a humane reason behind it. People with Asperger’s Syndrome, or reading disabilities, or who are just ‘nerdy’, can be “different”, but they can be just as sensitive, and even more insightful human beings, because of it. Me? Sometimes it takes me awhile to “play well with others”, especially if I feel I’m not in a group that’s good for me.
Gather together as prospective small groups. See who’s respectful, who’s helpful, whose words resonate. Note who’s whiny and full of self-pity. See who’s open to new ideas and new opportunities. See who wants to be more empowered by making better choices. THEIR choices.
This will be the family you CHOOSE. Make it a good one!
(N.B. If you are truly physically isolated, it’s possible to reach out to others you’ve come across online, on the internet. Group emails, a discussion forum, even conference telephone calls, can help you connect. And of course, TAW is amazing for a solo adventure, provided you USE the work to do YOUR work. Let me know what issues separate you from this process. Maybe together we can figure out a unique way to make this work for YOU.)