Not wanting all her friends to know her concerns, an anonymous woman wrote yesterday: “What do you do when your art group falls apart? I belong to a group of women who met through an art course three years ago. After the course was finished we continued with our instructor, taking lessons in her studio. We have a show opening soon. One member has notified us by email that she is withdrawing. Another is just ‘going traveling.’ The three of us who are left are shocked, but we are proceeding with the show. I suppose art groups fall apart all the time, but ours seemed a special one. As you are the guru we all subscribe to, please tell us what we can do.”
Thanks, Anonymous. This sort of thing is indeed happening all the time — it’s part of a natural dialectic called “The Uneven Progress of Creative People.” In our game some feel the need and are able to move on before others — while others never want to move on at all. Clubs are always gaining and losing members to these cycles. A small group such as yours feels losses particularly badly.
The main reasons artists congregate into groups are friendship, education and opportunity. Groups ebb and flow with the increase or diminishment of any of these. I’ve noticed that many artists actually bloom when they abandon clubs. Similar things happen when people leave certain religious organizations — they can actually become more spiritual and happier than when they were in the comfort and security of the group.
There are four ploys you might consider: (1) Found the “Group of Three” and make people sit up and take notice. (2) Look around and invite replacement members. (3) Merge with another group — perhaps one that offers even more instructors, friendships and opportunities. (4) Dissolve your group and go your separate ways.
The last one may not be the most unthinkable. Art is really a job for rugged individualists. Artists thrive when they learn to stand on their own two feet. They often find it easier to access their own inner creativity, build a unique style, and activate the latent ego-force that’s necessary for growth. This doesn’t prevent people from taking workshops, participating in group shows, or having a regular coffee (or something else) with creative friends.
PS: “Don’t join an easy crowd. You won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform are high.” (Jim Rohn) “The things we fear most in organizations — fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances — are the primary sources of creativity.” (Margaret J. Wheatley)
Esoterica: Some people are joiners and others are not. Further, our extro- and introversion fluctuates daily and throughout our lives. It’s important to understand ourselves and our creative needs. Something else is to know and try to fill the needs of others. But that’s another kettle of fish. The condition may bring on the well known “Guru Syndrome” that some of us find irresistible.
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No support from other artists
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Like many single women who feel like they have been dating since they were 15 and exhausted from it, I feel the same way working and trying to have relationships with other artists. I lived for a decade in a building with 75 other artists. I work very hard, I am prolific and produce two exhibitions each year. I have photographers coming and going as well as graphic designers, website builders, framers and clients. You would think there is creative support and understanding. All I ever got was resentment from the others. If you find a little painting clutch, enjoy the ride as it simply won’t last. Some can’t keep up, others want to travel, some find a lover and that pretty much seals it. A very wise mentor told me once that life is one letting go after another. The most important thing for an artist to do is let their own voice come out in their work. A gallery will never respond to a group of artists. But when one is chosen from a group, look out. It is like the sister who came between me and my man!
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Moving forward to greater horizons
by Claudio Ghirardo, Mississauga, ON, Canada
I know how this woman feels because I went through this twice. I was part of two groups that had gotten together for the purposes of doing shows, sharing costs, and getting out there so we could get noticed. As time went on, both groups dissolved. Being part of a group was bittersweet for me: while I enjoyed having other artists to hang out with, trying to organize shows as a group proved very difficult and tensions between artists started. I found that when I went out on my own, my art improved and I grew as an artist. I recently got together with some other artists and we have been doing some collaborative work that is helping me push the boundaries of my imagination and loving it. What I would say I have learned is that there are times when being part of a group is helpful, but there comes a time to move on despite the emotional difficulties. But if you are willing to move forward and grow, you will meet others you can connect with. That is one of the great things about art, the highs and lows will always make you move forward to greater horizons.
Plein Air Florida going like gangbusters
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
It’s been my experience that the most successful groups are those who make few demands on participants. My friend David Johnson and I created Plein Air Florida some years ago. We started with a dream for two, which extended to 24 painters and then mushroomed into what we have today, a statewide, regional, and International group of painters who love to paint in Florida. Our format is simple. We do not interfere in each PAF group’s business. We do not have a committee, we do not have a board of directors. We do not have meetings. David runs the web site, I run the blog, and we support other painters with information. The two of us are benevolent dictators in that we decide on the basic structure of the group and what we will sponsor. We have been going strong now for a long time, with few problems and have about 600 members.
Who needs a group?
by Diane Rabideau-Wise, Jacksonville, FL, USA
Just like my not studying with someone else when in nursing school, I don’t paint with anyone. It takes time to set up painting events and discuss the work, etc: My philosophy is – just do it, alone, enter it, the “proof of the pudding” so to speak is in how you feel about the work, being juried in, and/or winning an honor and/or selling the work. Who needs a group? If it happens and is comfortable fine, don’t make a job of it. We are not in Arty Paris at the outdoor cafes, smoking, drinking, and discussing. Life is different now.
Toastmasters training for groups
by Bill McCaffrey, FL, USA
Toastmasters is an organization for people who want to become comfortable with speaking in front of groups. The way it keeps going is simple. As a group each member is always trying/encouraging others to join. If the group grows to over 50 it splits into 2 groups. If it shrinks to small, it merges with another group. It’s a great group from which to learn how to organize a group. They have manuals, meeting formulas, and lots of printed material explaining and teaching how to run such a group. It is well organized and provides great training.
Members getting sick and tired
by Jean Belluz, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Our “Group of Twelve” has been active for some thirty five years and now some of us are getting sick and tired and not feeling too much like painting. Some members attend meetings regularly while others just show up with paintings for the ‘hanging.’ It takes all kinds and, while it is frustrating at times, the artistic merit of the few hangers-on is still needed for a good show.
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Sorry to leave
by Linda La Rue
I belong to a large group of painters, and have seen that ebb and flow. I wondered why some left a supportive group of pals and moved on solo, and now that is happening to me. It’s not that they matter less, it’s just differently… a time to concentrate, and yes to develop my own style. But yes, it is important to find a challenging group… one of the ways to try out new styles and such. I am sorry to leave, but know it’s time.
Broader definition of ‘group’
by Paul Kane, Bloomington, IN, USA
There are two sides to this. Artists are and must be individualists, but art history demonstrates that the support and ferment of a group is also crucial for artistic development. Part of what makes this dynamic work, when it works, is that groups can take different forms. An intense rivalry is a group, even though there may never be meetings or encouraging words. One of my favorite examples is the Beatles — does anyone really think the Beatles ever really broke up? Does anyone really think John and Paul ever stopped writing together? Or to choose the most famous example from Art History, where would Michelangelo and Leonardo have been without each other? Yet, so far as I know, they never spoke more than five sentences to each other.
Put out the word and carry on
by Joan Polishook, New York City, New York
The art group that I founded eleven years ago is stronger than ever. When I first had the idea of asking a few artist friends to join me en plein air, I could never have imagined or predicted the interest that would be generated, mostly by word of mouth. Where it is true that people do come and go for various reasons, by keeping in touch and doing a little advertising through local art organizations and community events calendars, the idea of painting in the outdoors sparks the attention of artists. They literally come from far and wide bringing with them a broad range of talent and expertise which is usually generously shared. My program is non-instructional, but so much is gleaned from others’ experiences. So, if the group described in this week’s article is down to three and wants to continue, all that has to be done is to put out the word and carry on… make the program interesting by providing a time, like a lunch break for getting to know one another, gently critiquing each other’s art, asking questions and having friendly discussions. Wait till you see how rewarding this kind of activity can be.
Leavers are ‘growers,’ not ‘traitors’
by Carole Ann Borges, Knoxville, TN, USA
While groups can be constructive and inspiring, they can also be more limiting than we realize. Living in our comfort zone isn’t always the best thing for an artist, so being left out in the cold and alone from time to time definitely has the possibility of helping us grow. After a few experiences with groups, I have come to realize that counting on them to stay together for any length of time is usually counter-productive. The person who is first to set forth on a new and singular path should not be considered a traitor and every effort should be made by the other group members to remember they are quite capable of proceeding alone. I see the “break-up” of a group now as a sign of growth. It might not be my own awareness of this that brings it about, but looking back over time I can honestly say a period of growth followed the ending of any group I belonged to.
In a funk
by Sonia Gadra, Frederick, MD, USA
What do you do when you’re in a funk? Can’t seem to find anything interesting to paint, can’t go out to paint landscapes because of the day job, and haven’t sold a single painting all year. Perhaps it’s lack of interesting works or the economy. I’ve always been eager to get home to my easel to create something interesting. Opportunities for exhibitions or competitions generally excite and motivate me but lately the enthusiasm seems gone, not interested. Looking around for necessary household chores is an excuse not to get back to that easel. I take instruction from a wonderful teacher and have a great group of artist friends who are inspirational and supportive but being in a funk makes you feel like everyone is getting ahead and leaving you behind. Perhaps this is why wonderful creative groups break up. One person drops out and it seems to be catchy, like the flu. Any suggestion on how to cure this ailment?
(RG note) Thanks, Sonia. It’s been my observation that the solitary ego can generally self-motivate and become inspired. On the other hand, some groups can become downright toxic. You bet it’s contagious. Quarantine yourself.
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Art group of supportive mothers
by Karen McLaughlin, Philadelphia, PA, USA
I found the benefits of “grouphood” outweigh the negatives. There have been some small issues to work through, but I have learned to put them into perspective in light of what I’m gaining. Few curators will give you the nod if you have little on your resume to back up your talent. My 20-member art group offers the chance to exhibit, as well as practice in dealing with the egos and brilliance of other artists and curators. Besides the enjoyment and camaraderie of like artists, I have also learned so much about the business of art. Ours is not a “create together” art group, yet critique and encouragement abound. We are a group whose common thread is motherhood. As mothers, getting together to create mostly doesn’t work into our schedules.
Flight from group lacking creativity
by Lyn Lynch, Phoenix, AZ, USA
I’ve just let go of a group that hasn’t worked for me in a very long time. It was a group that I have outgrown, not in terms of paint application or product knowledge but in terms of creativity. I’m just not stirred by seeing and hearing gushing commentary on endless works looking like the photograph from which they were copied. But why did I insist on hanging in there, even kicking and screaming, when it so obviously didn’t work for me?
Teacher’s students moving on
by Mario Kujawski
My group of watercolor artists is falling apart. I am the teacher. At first it was hard to take but I slowly accepted it as “there is a time for everything.” The time was for us to part. I am grateful that my students are now friends. It has been a subtle change. I now teach several new individuals on a one-on-one art class. Change is inevitable and a growth opportunity. I need to celebrate it.
The Nightly Unfolding of Mme. de Loynes
original painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Carole Munshi who wrote, “I thought it might be good to join an art group so went to an art club meeting yesterday… arrived late due to not re-checking the time. This made a very bad impression certainly… so back to my cave. I am happier as a clam.”
And also Katherine Harris of Bracciano, Italy who wrote, “We have to be autonomous now and then. Creativity requires solitude and silence, after the impact of activity.”
And also Amy Markham of Hilo, HI, USA who wrote, “If people decide to move on, then fine, so long as you can keep creating. Maybe others will show up, who knows. Just keep working.”
And also Beth Mahy of Dallas, TX, USA who wrote, “There comes a time to leave “school” too. I was always hanging around class and sometimes being made miserable. I finally got into counseling about it, left and got picked up by a gallery. I have never been happier in art.”
And also Joe Rosenblatt who wrote, “To Anonymous I say tough it out, become self-reliant. In the larger scheme of things, I, too, am anonymous. I am not a joiner myself–but I believe artists should help each other out. This can be in the way of intelligence work: what galleries to approach and what galleries to stay away from.”
And also Maxx Maxted of Nimbin, Australia
Enjoy the past comments below for Breaking up is hard to do…