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When Solitude Isn’t Enough

January 24, 2011

Most artists work in isolation. It’s necessary in order to focus on who we are and what we want to say in our art. But unless you bill yourself as a self-taught artist, there will be times when solitude isn’t enough.

Some of us are lucky to have spent some time in the company of other artists working side by side in a classroom, a residency, or shared studio space. This is a rewarding way to grow as an artist, because we absorb from each other much more than is immediately apparent. We even store things away for future reference, not realizing that we need them until later.

These nurturing environments allow us to share with one or two other artists a decision about how to proceed with a passage in a painting, listening politely to their advice and going ahead with what we were going to do anyway, or just sit for a half hour or so studying staring at a piece we are working on without feeling pressured to talk at all. In real time, we gently suggest alternatives, question the use of a particular color or thickness of line, whether to abandon the whole thing and start fresh. These are the situations that teach us what constructive criticism means (and does not mean.)

Another great way to stay plugged in is to join or start a support/critique group of a few artists who can meet every so often to share a “show and tell” of recent work, residencies and workshops attended, shows to do, and other opportunities for artists. I miss that here in my new town and hope to start one here. It’s important that these groups be artists who have similar backgrounds but hopefully widely different styles, mediums, and approaches. They can be a mix of artists with degrees and those with no degree but plenty of life experience. The growth potential of this kind of group is invaluable.

There is no substitute for regular face time with other artists, and a distant second would be through social networking and blogs. I hope my blog gives little glimpses into the daily struggles of doing my art. I don’t pretend to know very much, and gladly share my areas of vulnerability. It’s how we all grow.

In that spirit, I’d like to share just one past link from this blog and also take a peek over the shoulders of some of my favorite artists who blog about their process and their thoughts about how and why they create. If you notice, you will see a recurring theme of “struggle” but not in a negative sense. It’s all part of the process. After reading some of these blogs, I hope you won’t feel quite so alone.

Here’s one of mine, Can This Painting Be Saved? from August 2010. This is by no means the only time I have spilled my angst in a blog post.

In this post, Catherine Carter shares her battle with the canvas in Trials, Tribulations, and Finally Success! I love how Catherine stays focused and determined to get to that “aha!” moment. I can so identify!

And from Catherine’s blog, we go to just about anything Rebecca Crowell has to say about her day-to-day process. She is generous in her sharing of thoughts and motivations. Here is one eloquent example from January 16, 2011 titled Struggles with New Work.

I loved Cheryl McClure’s post Good and Bad from this past Saturday. This one made me smile with recognition, as Cheryl usually does. She sounds like she’s working away, just across the room from me, and muttering just a little under her breath.

Lynne Taetzsch is an artist whose work I enjoy. I also admire how she freely shares what’s happening on the canvas on a regular basis. Just one quick glance at her blog and I found this great post titled Ongoing Struggle in the Process of Making Art.

My thanks to all these artists for sharing their process.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2011 3:26 pm

    I certainly wish we lived closer to one another Martha so that I could share in that artist community!

    It is indeed reassuring to know that each artist goes through their trial and error periods and each painting has it’s own birthing process. Thank you for sharing both yours and these other wonderful artist’s creative processes with us.

  2. January 25, 2011 11:59 am

    Thank you so much for this insightful and open expression of how you like to share being an Artist. I read your post after teaching and sharing at a local gallery and found myself agreeing with you. I often find to you learn
    more than you can ever share or teach. This leads to new exploration in our work in those times of separation.
    Thank you got sharing your creative artistic life.
    Best wishes,
    Jane C

    • January 25, 2011 4:37 pm

      I so agree, Jane! I always get so much inspiration from students when I teach. It’s nice to reach some kind of balance between the isolation and the mingling. I don’t thrive for long with too much of either!

  3. January 25, 2011 8:17 pm

    Thanks Martha for this post. It has helped. I realize it is not just me out there spinning my wheels. My biggest mistake is judging myself to harshly. I have spent a couple of hours today reading your suggested passages and they have made much sense. I sometimes want things to develop quickly. I will be more patient and let things unfold as they are supposed to. I still feel intimidated to join workshops but I am now saying to myself “Get over it. What is the worse thing that could happen?” I am off on a holiday next week and have bought myself three art books to take along and enjoy in the sun. When I return I shall begin by searching out a workshop, making a friend who likes to make art like me and relaxing and enjoying the process rather than think everything I do should be good. Thanks, Karin Lynn

    • January 25, 2011 9:01 pm

      Karin-Lynn, I am so happy you found this useful and possibly inspiring. Your upcoming holiday sounds wonderful. I know that after kicking back with some great art books you will be ready for the next thing, whatever that turns out to be! Enjoy! (I’m envious!!)

  4. January 27, 2011 4:15 pm

    This is such a wonderful tribute to the importance of community for artists — thank you! I have had the pleasure of a regular studio mate for almost 10 years, and am transitioning now, sans studio, to a larger community of local artists. Classes, too, have been great for feedback, company, and structure in addition to the learning. I am pleased that the online community is so supportive as well. Thanks for expressing so well what I appreciate about my fellow artists.

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