It doesn’t really matter where you are on your art journey but being a part of some kind of art group is really valuable.
You know that saying ‘no man is an island’? Well, that really applies when making art. If you only have yourself as a reference, then you won’t grow. How can you if all you have is what immediately surrounds you?
Visiting galleries and exhibitions is clearly a great way to find inspiration and expose yourself to other artists’ work but being part of a group will help you even more.
As a beginner, by joining a local art group you will start to see how others approach a subject, which in turn can open you up to try new techniques and improve the work you make.
Even if you have been making beautiful artwork and are really skilled in your approach, you can still learn from watching others make mistakes or work using a different approach. The most successful artists have a support group around them.
If you take a look at my website you can read my story about how I came to be an artist, so I won’t go into it here, but having started my ‘full on’ art practise over a decade ago now, I have really understood the importance of having other artists around me.
I lived in the USA for six years and during that time I joined two art leagues, (called art groups in the UK), I formed two support groups and I took lots of art classes and taught a few too.
The two support groups were the most important to my journey. Through them both I learnt to look objectively are other people’s work and give my thoughts on it in a non-confrontational or very supportive way. More importantly for me was that I learned to be on the receiving end of those ‘crit’ sessions where I learnt how to take the advice, use it, or not, and without getting upset. Generally other artists want to help you improve.
I did have a bit of a shock when I moved back to the UK and went to study art at university, the ‘crit’ sessions were designed to break you down and the tutors seemed to glow with pride when they had managed to make you cry. Says more about them than it ever did about the students.
Back in the real world I took classes with people whose work I like, and I used the classes to make connections with other artists. Once involved in this world you start to find out which art groups are worth joining and which are not – you get a feel for what would suit you – and what you how you like to work.
It is important to understand that wherever you are in your journey, what I am sharing here applies to you. It is also important to understand that not all groups are the right group for you, just as not all teachers are the right teacher for you. If you feel unhappy, negatively judged or just miserable after attending a class or group session, stop. Don’t do it anymore. It won’t help you improve and could make you give up all together. So be prepared to work at finding the right fit.
Personally, I belong to two local art groups and I am on the board for one of them. Both have artists visit and teach their techniques, both have ‘crit’ sessions and fortunately for me, both are really caring friendly groups with which to be involved.
I also belong to a local support group where five of us meet up once a month to talk about what we are doing, any difficulties we are facing and to share news about art shows to take part in, as well as arranging our own group show.
On-line I belong to a number of support groups. The first one I joined consists of just three of us. One lady produces the most exquisite hand-embroidered work and the other produces beautiful bright paintings. One lady lives in Denmark and the other spends her life travelling between her home in Switzerland and her other home in Italy. In this group we support each other through the struggles of trying to get our work seen and find people who might be interested in owning one of our pieces. We meet on average every six weeks.
The next group I joined consists of seven female artists. We work together to support each other through marketing, advertising and presentation of our work to the outside world. We have an on-line gallery called ‘gallery7wa’ which you can find on IG and FB if you would like to know more.
We meet twice each week on-line via Skype or Google hangouts. Having seven of us checking out the best way to advertise or the newest marketing ideas means that we can gather far more relevant information which we share, hopefully, to improve our on-line presence. The ultimate goal of this group is to help us to find the best way to sell our work on-line.
Recently I joined, but left, a marketing group designed for artists. I didn’t enjoy turning up on-line each week, the group is based in the USA and there were many ideas which I didn’t feel would work in a European market, so I moved to a UK on-line group which provides that safe haven to discuss how to improve your artwork and how to organise your life around becoming a professional artist. So, it pays to do your homework.
Now if you are just starting out or only want to make art as a hobby, please don’t be put off. Everything still applies. You really do need people around you to bounce-off in order to make stronger artwork and if you can gather a few artist friends around you and meet on a regular basis to discuss your work, ways to improve it, visit exhibitions together and generally support each other through your art, you will make friends for life and have great fun along the way.
The saying ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’ applies to being an artist. Many people won’t understand you and the work you produce, but by surrounding yourself with a community of like-minded people you will acquire the skills and knowledge from different backgrounds to provide the rich wealth of knowledge needed to support you in your learning.