Yesterday, Candy Crawford Day posted on my Facebook wall, “Is it better for an artist to go it alone or is camaraderie advisable? Lately, I’ve lost a mentor who greatly influenced my work. Other influences don’t seem to have my best interests at heart. At what point, if any, should one break away and stand on her own two feet? And how would you advise one to garner the courage to do so?”
Thanks, Candy. Your decision whether or not to go it alone has a lot to do with your temperament. The good news is that the greater Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists works for both the extrovert and the introvert. Regarding influence, anecdotal evidence suggests that those who struggle privately tend to become stronger.
Funnily, many artists have a pile of friends who have interests and vocations other than art. For some, there is little or no artistic camaraderie. The best approach is to achieve a balance — work independently and play with others. The good life is both art and people.
We artists need to be travellers on paths less travelled. “What is genius but the power of expressing a new individuality?” said Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Iconoclasm and eccentricity may be part of the trip. “Certain defects,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “are necessary for the existence of individuality.”
Apart from hard work, craft, technique and the eager generation of ideas, artists need this independent personality. “If you have anything really valuable to contribute to the world,” said Bruce Barton, “it will come through the expression of your own personality, that single spark of divinity that sets you off and makes you different from every other living creature.”
As for the courage to go it alone, you need only look to others who have done it and are thriving. And what about the threadbare spectre of poverty? When the artist trusts her sensibilities, her creativity and her hands, fear is banished. The real fear needs to be for the mediocre life. I know of precious few individualist artists who have one.
PS: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Esoterica: I used to own a few rental properties. The painter Ruby Brown Shand was one of my tenants. As a young woman she had worked briefly as a teacher, only to decide she needed a life in art. Dining alone on wild mushrooms and dandelions, she paid her rent infrequently and indulged an outsized appetite for painting in pastels. She worked daily like a demon possessed. Known for her spontaneity and her flowing white cloaks, she regularly phoned her landlord to drive her out to some picturesque location where she might pay with a song. When she died she left two thousand works to the Lions Club. Though she’s now been gone some twenty years, the Lions and Lionesses are still selling them off for the love of her.
The gift of fellowship
by Kathleen Lenshyn, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
For me the question is who will paint with me? Years ago I was taking Chinese Brush Painting lessons from a wonderful lady who had lived in China where her parents were missionaries, which is where she learned her talent. She was a very generous lady and would invite her students into her home on Sunday afternoons to paint. She would never instruct us during these times. We would simply paint and socialize. Often it would be absolutely quiet for most of the afternoon then we would break for tea. I remember those times being very artistically creative for me. I wish I could have that same gift of fellowship now. I found that just being with people in the same room painting quite inspiring.
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Artists helping artists
by Susan Marx, Orange, NJ, USA
I think it depends on who the mentor/friend is and whether or not you and he or she are on the same artistic path, and if you speak the same artistic language. Think of the friendship of Cezanne and Pissarro and how each caused the other to grow. Think of Renoir and Monet painting together at La Grenouille. Their paintings are very different (because they were different people with different personal ‘handwriting’) but both helped each other in their attempt to try to paint light. Think of all the Impressionists sharing their artistic concerns with one another and learning from one another. Their camaraderie gave them the ability to stand up as a group against the Salon.
This happens throughout art history and there is nothing wrong with it. Of course, you have to be strong enough to reject a mentor or friend’s ideas if you want to, or that what the friend/mentor is saying is not correct for you. But conversation between artists can be very helpful.
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by Damaris O’Trand, CO, USA
In response to Cindy Crawford Day: If you are still undecided about “going it alone,” you might want to explore a 12 Step Group called A.R.T.S. Anonymous. A.R.T.S. welcomes all kinds of artists, not just painters: musicians, actors, writers, poets, composers (amateurs and professionals). Exposure to the thoughts, passions, ideas, work and challenges facing all artists gives one a sense of the common issues every creative person faces, given the cultural “myths” about art and artists that we are all exposed to.
(RG note) Thanks, Damaris. The A.R.T.S. Anonymous website is at www.artsanonymous.org
The problem with others
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
Others very often are:
a/ anchors, holding you back or down
b/ pillows, making it all nice, not what you need
c/ a waste of time
d/ a misdirection of resources.
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Looking for ‘right hospitality’
by Terrie Christian, Plymouth, MN, USA
A few years ago I had to leave an organization that I had been very involved in because they made rules that were interfering with my creativity. It was a large art organization and I was sad to leave. What I have learned about myself, though, is that I need to be in community with other artists. Fortunately for me, that group was not the only option. Another smaller organization that did not impose rules of how my art should be presented worked much better for me. I also have artist friends that I paint with and there is an art center here that has an open studio where artists paint together. I also was fortunate to be invited into a group that meets once a month for support and critique.
I also paint alone, but find that I am happiest when painting with others where each person is doing their own thing. This month, I entered two of my paintings in a show of the organization that I now belong to. A University of Minnesota professor was the jurist and he made up an award for me. “Dares to be Different.” This was very affirming and fun. Whether people like my paintings or not is not my objective. If they do, it is just an extra bonus.
I think that Candy will come to know herself and seek what she really needs. We should all give ourselves permission to leave the company of those who bring us down and seek to be with those who practice hospitality. I define hospitality as making room for others to be who they truly are.
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Yes, for the hard core
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
I don’t think anyone is fully alone anymore. I appreciate and work alone much, but I do venture out from time to time to see how the other half is doing. Working alone is for those artists who have a vision that isn’t compatible with the going trend. They need the solitary time to work without interference or input from others. Outside opinions can cause doubt if one is working on a personal vision.
I find most painters not looking for a career venture into painting circles with others and find a good fit. They are happy to work with others and share their experiences. If this is where you want to be, then certainly work in a group. You will find you will be happier with those of a like mind. But don’t expect to create groundbreaking artwork. This type of artwork is generally reserved for the hard core, who are not faint of heart. They are strong willed and secure in their ability.
Not a solo flight
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
There is a pervasive cultural myth about the lonely, cantankerous artist. The fictional Gully Jimson, portrayed in The Horse’s Mouth, is an iconic example.
This whole stereotype has always baffled me because in my experience the majority of artists have always seemed quite gregarious. I’ve read about The Canadian Group of Seven, The Taos Ten and many other gregarious groups. Contemporaneously, we here in Northern California had our Society of Six.
Within a few miles of my home, I can show you at least 50 artists’ live/work compounds, usually repurposed industrial buildings, where few non artists are to be found. In contrast, I have yet to see such a living arrangement set up for, say plumbers, or psychiatrists. These art communities make good economic sense. The artists share costly assets like kilns and forklifts. They share technical information. They thrive within a fellowship and a friendly sort of competition.
I find nothing terribly compelling about artistic isolation. I’ve never visited one of these art spaces and found the artists in thrall to any sort of art guru, or leader. They are generally quite democratic in operation. Several have an onsite eatery where one can hear lively art talk at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and drink some great coffee.
In my 20’s, I lived in a similar situation. I was the only painter, but there was a textile artist, two superb musicians, a writer/poet, and a filmmaker. The highlight of every day was our communal supper, which typically ended up with some live music, or a reading, or a slideshow, or a discussion of the latest film or exhibition. My son spent his first seven or eight years in this environment. I cannot imagine I could ever have provided a richer or more stimulating childhood for the boy.
When my kid was about 3 1/2 years old, I took him to a museum opening for a major Diebenkorn retrospective. His stroller was parked in front of an etching; I was talking with someone. An older woman, probably a docent, saw my boy looking at the etching and said something like, “Well, my young man, what do you think of this Diebenkorn?” He was a cute kid, but the woman’s tone of voice was rather condescending, and childlike.
I was really proud of my boy when he answered with, “It’s OK, but I think I like his big color paintings a lot more.” It seemed then as if the old docent almost swallowed her false teeth. She looked at me, and I gave her my short answer, “No TV.” But that was just part of the story.
The human animal did not evolve on a solo flight. We are social creatures. The rugged individualists could not exist without the village or the clan, which they often scorn. Of whatever age, one’s goal should be to become a sponge. Absorb as much as you can. Cultivate a network of friends of all age groups. You might just learn something.
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Evaluating method of painting
by Barry John Raybould, UK/USA/China/Italy
I have for a long time been looking for an objective way to evaluate paintings that I see in museums and a pattern seems to be emerging to me now that is consistent with a great many master paintings. I also use these same criteria for looking at my own work even though it sets the bar rather high. The questions I asked were, “What are the qualities that make a painting a masterpiece and ultimately determine its long-term value? Why are some paintings so much more rewarding to look at than others?” Over the years, as I learned from the teachings and writings of many great artists both past and present, a picture has emerged that now forms the basis of my thinking about painting.
Master paintings seem to share two key characteristics. First, they accurately represent a subject and are focused on communicating an idea or emotion. I refer to this aspect of a great painting as the “poetry” of a painting, or the content the artist is trying to convey to viewers. When you look at a master painting, you are moved in some way, and the memory of it stays with you. Master paintings, of course, demonstrate great drawing and color skills, but those expertly handled skills are focused on presenting an idea.
The second key characteristic of a master painting is a strong abstract design that is independent of the subject matter. I refer to this as the “music” of the painting, or the sensuous, non-intellectual part. It is created with rhythms and harmonies in shapes, lines, edges, and colors and is analogous to the rhythms in music and the harmonies between individual notes. This aspect of the painting is completely independent of the subject matter.
A purely abstract painting has music but little or no poetry. A painting that is merely illustrative has poetry but not music. Great paintings, to my mind, find a place somewhere between these two extremes. Great masterpieces integrate both music and poetry. It is tough to do because the more poetry you put into your work (by making it look like something), the more easy it is to lose the music. Conversely, the more music you put into the painting, the more easy it is to lose the poetry (because as you develop the design, you can easily lose the realism that creates the poetry). As an aside, interesting brushwork creates a different kind of music, music that you can only see close up, and that is why I think this is a key element of a great master. Velasquez and Titian both realized this a long time ago, and set artists down a path that led to master works by great artists such as Sargent and Sorolla.
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Where to buy art?
by Carter Thomas, San Jose, CA, USA
My wife and I would like to purchase more original artwork for our home. We have a budget of say $1,000 to $3,000 per piece. When we visit our local galleries we frequently see pieces priced considerably more than that. We can find giclee prints in that price range but I’m not crazy about buying a copy of a picture at that price. I guess I’m looking for artists that are earlier in their career but they haven’t made it into a gallery yet. When I look on eBay, it is hard find what I’m looking for and I’d like to see the real thing anyway. How can I do a better job of finding what I’m looking for?
(RG note) Thanks, Carter. Consider going to the Premium Links on our site. About 260 artists are presented there with eight of their works shown. Many of these artists are in early and mid career, many are not yet represented by galleries.
Here are some thoughts before making a selection or contacting Premium Link artists: Besides choosing art that you love and can relate to, use your better taste and filtering mechanisms to try to decide which art might have lasting value. As you have suggested, unless you’re merely interested in decoration, you need to avoid giclees and other reproductions. In my books, originals rule. But you need to ask yourself, “Is this an expensive souvenir or an inexpensive investment?” By inexpensive investment I mean that the work shows signs of having long-lasting life-enhancing appeal. Fact is, quality is always in style. Funnily, a souvenir may be cheap, but it can be more expensive than an inexpensive investment.
Every year, more and more art is being sold online. Ten years ago, many of us said it would never happen. Now it’s definitely here to stay. But you need to try to make sure the work is right for you, just as you would if you were buying in a gallery. If the image online is not big enough, ask the artist to send a larger image. Many artists are happy to make direct sales over the Internet, and many are willing to send the actual art on approval. If you’re not sure online, ask to see the real thing in person.
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Enjoy the past comments below for To go it alone?…
Notre Dame Bay Fjords
oil painting, 30 x 40 inches
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 Candy Crawford Day of Ellijay, GA, USA who wrote, “Thank you, Robert, for these responses to my query. I tentatively put it on your Wall… and then took it off, so I was surprised to see it referenced. And what you wrote was just what I needed to hear — and something I already instinctively knew — but your words are positive reinforcement.”