Positive Peer Pressure – Can Artist Groups Work for You?

July 25, 2016

Most artists are prone to work in solitude – whiling away the hours in the studio with only the radio to keep them company.  While in “studio mode,” it can be easy to forget that art and the role of the artist is very much a social phenomenon.  To be a successful artist, one must be comfortable with both the isolation required for creativity as well as the hustle and networking required to get your work out there where it can be seen, appreciated, and sold.  Somewhere between the solitude of the studio and networking with the general public lies a middle ground – the “Artist Group.”

Just about any town that has more than a handful of artists is likely to have at least one local artist group – a group of like-minded individuals that get together and celebrate all things art.  Of course, there are plenty of art groups online among social networking sites like Facebook and blog sites like WordPress, but these groups aren’t quite the same as getting face to face with the artists in your own community.  If you’ve never been part of an artist group before, you may wonder – is this for me?  What can I benefit from being part of this group?  In this post, I will attempt to explain how to find the right group for you and how being in an art group can be beneficial to you as an artist.

The key to finding a satisfying artist group is to find people like yourself. When you are looking to join an artist group, try to find a group with similar interests, goals, and skill levels as your own.

Interests

The term “Artist” is certainly a broad one.  Being an artist can mean a lot of things: painter, sculptor, photographer, potter, graphic designer, printmaker – the list goes on and on.  If you are a painter, joining a group that specializes in pottery will most certainly be a mismatch.  Interests among artists of the same medium can vary widely.  For example, if you are primarily interested in painting landscapes, you might not be terribly enthused with an equestrian art group.  If you are a photo-realist, you may find yourself at odds within a group that favors Abstract Expressionism.  Finding an art group that has similar interests in terms of style, medium, and subject matter can get you off to a great start.

Goals

Before joining an art group, it is important to find out what their goals are. How serious are the artists in the group?  Some groups simply like to get together, have a few drinks, socialize, and network while others may have scheduled, organized meetings with time limits and agendas.  “Working” groups such as plein air groups or mural painting clubs enjoy getting together to simultaneously create art in the same setting as their peers.  Some art groups may be focused on certain aspects of the “artist experience,” such as craft fair setups and sales.  Some artists may be seeking to “make it big,” and gain fame and fortune, while others may be perfectly content to dabble artistically as a hobby.  Making sure that the goals of the art group you are interested in are similar to your own can ensure that you don’t end up frustrated with the direction the group is headed.

Skill level

If you seek the company of other artists, seek out artists of similar skill levels or at similar points in their career. While it is tempting to want to be the “best” artist in the group, make sure that you open yourself to learn new things from the members.  Learn from the best in the group, but also be open to sharing your techniques and skills with those who might not be as experienced as you are.  Artists usually join groups because they enjoy the company and are willing to share.  I have been part of an art group in which the more experienced artists in the group were concerned that if they shared their techniques, others would quickly catch on and put them out of work.  Needless to say, that group quickly splintered and fell apart.  Finding a group in which you can not only learn, but share with others will allow you to grow as an artist and as a mentor to others.

If you have found an artist group that you enjoy being a part of, there are several intrinsic benefits to being a part of a successful group.  Of the many benefits available, I will focus on three – accountability, opportunities, and networking.

Accountability

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits to joining an artist group is accountability.  Artists are often (and sometimes unfairly) accused of procrastination.  Being a part of an artist group can often provide a much needed boost to your work ethic – pushing you to finish projects that you might not have otherwise.  Artists that are part of a successful group will be excited to share their latest work and you will most likely find yourself working harder to have things to share with the group.  After all, most people aren’t going to be terribly excited about something you made ten years ago, they want to know what you are doing RIGHT NOW.

Opportunities

Being part of a successful artist group may give rise to a lot of opportunities that might not be available to you as an individual.  Many art galleries host exhibitions of their local art groups.  These exhibitions may be themed around a certain topic, or may just be a showcase of the local artists’ latest work.  At the Community Arts Center where I work, we have become more focused on group shows rather than solo exhibitions as group shows allow us to network among more artists, creates larger audiences, and give a wider variety to the different types of art available in any particular show.  In many of these group exhibitions, the only way to be part of the show is to become a member of that group.

Some groups, particularly those that have membership fees may pool their money together to market special events like studio tours or gallery hops.  Some art forms like pottery, hot glass, or metal casting (the kinds of things you study in college, but abandon once you leave campus) have high entry costs – making them too expensive for the average artist to start their own studio.  If you are interested in participating in these types of art-making, you may want to join a co-op, where artists can pool their money together to buy and maintain studio equipment that they might not be able to afford on their own.

Networking

In order to get your art in front of an audience, artists must network.  The idea that you are going to be “discovered” without getting out there and hustling your work is the kind of notion that keeps a lot of talented artists from making it anywhere.  Artists usually have only a small following when they begin (yes, your mom counts) and as they continue to work and grow, their network expands.  If you join an artist group that has members with work similar to your own, you can easily multiply the size of your networking circle.  Members of the group are likely to know people you don’t (and vice versa).  Group exhibitions, as I mentioned before, are a great way to get your work seen by not only more artists, but more art lovers.  When your work is featured in a group show, take time to thank “your” audience of regulars, but be sure to spend a lot of time getting to meet and socialize with people in the audience that you don’t now.  Nothing makes a greater impact on an art lover than a positive interaction with the artist.

Of course, this list is only the tip of the iceberg.  There are many more benefits to being in an artist group. You may even wish to “audition” several artist groups before dedicating your time and energy to the one you prefer.  The key to enjoying and flourishing in an artist group is finding the one that is right for you.

I’m excited to announce that the Community Arts Center (Danville, KY) is hosting not one, but two great artist group-based exhibitions in the coming months.  Next month (August), the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky will be showcasing the beauty of our region (captured in plein air, no less) through a variety of media.  The PAACK is a fairly recent group to our region and have been quite busy this summer leading up to the exhibit.  I will no doubt be hanging some paintings that are still wet.  Starting in September, the Arts Center will be exhibiting a collaborative “challenge” exhibit by the Gathering Artists (Danville’s longest-running art group) in which all of the artwork is based on the same three-color palette.  I can’t wait to see how the artists adapt to this challenge.