Recent studies of more than 5,000 people by social scientists Dr. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler show that happiness is contagious. The happy people you know are party to your own happiness. Moreover, the happy people you do not know and will never meet also have an influence on your happiness. Just like the guy who catches the cold from the guy who catches the cold, happiness (or misery) is epidemic.
It’s been observed for some time that if a person has a lot of obese friends, they themselves are at a higher risk of obesity. Smokers hang out with smokers, glue sniffers with glue sniffers, etc. It doesn’t take a big leap of faith to see that an artist who hangs out with mediocre artists is more likely to be mediocre.
Conversely, an artist who is attached to artists with high standards and professional ways is more likely to become one of them. In my ideal world, all the “friends” who read my letters would somehow seek the higher ground, identify with and learn from the better artists out there, and become the truly great artists I know they can become. But I also know this is wishful thinking. Many happy campers will always be contented to go with the comfortable crowd.
In my ideal world, artists would be rugged individualists with impeccable standards and would not allow mediocrity to transgress their doorsteps. They might keep the company of their favoured greats through the miracle of books. That’s the short answer. The longer one is to establish relationships with admired others who walk the walk. For those who desire to put themselves on the path to growth, the wisdom to choose true authority is the bottom line of progress.
A reasonable route is to know a lot of informed and gifted mentors and to balance them against one another, as in the recently mentioned smARTist telesummit. Hanging out with informed people makes it more likely that you yourself will become informed. But sooner or later, no matter who you know, you have to go to your room and reinvent yourself in your own glory. It can be a bit lonely struggling in your room, but by that time you’re less likely to catch a cold.
PS: “We have a collective identity that transcends individual identity.” (Dr. Nicholas Christakis)
Esoterica: Collective identities can build empires as well as destroy them. A collective is just as apt to close minds as to open them. Struggling on your own, thinking things out for yourself and being a rugged individualist works just fine for many artists. But it doesn’t work for doctors, engineers or architects, so why would it work for other professionals who require knowledge, skill and practice? In the arts, before we jump we need to stand — however briefly — on the shoulders of others.
This letter was originally published as “Who you know“ on December 23, 2008.
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“Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.” (Virginia Woolf)
Join Ellie Harold for “Intuitive Painting: Permission to Paint Expressively,” designed especially for mature women artists of all skill levels who wish to explore this medium for soulful exploration. The retreat provides attractive accommodations (your own room!) along with lightly structured activities for centering, relaxation and low stress art-making. You’ll have plenty of free time to muse, paint, write and reflect while enjoying the colors, textures and flavors of San Miguel. This Retreat has the potential to transform not only your art but your life! You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for further creating. Details at www.EllieHarold.com.
All of my paintings are an exploration – either representational of people and nature or non-representational work that explores bits of poetry and always, nature.
I work in acrylic for non-representational work and oil for the representational paintings.
I find that the more connected I am to the content, the more successful the painting seems to be. Content comes from family, from my love of nature from travel and reading.