There is a famous expression that goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” It can be argued that when it comes to most things in life, having a village is always better than not having one. These days, we refer to networking, social media, peer groups but all of these terms amount to the same thing: community. Humans are naturally social creatures, we thrive when we are able to work together and share our triumphs and our trials. Nurturing a community is one of the surest ways to achieve a life full of meaning, contentment, and success.
In any field, building a foundation of peers and colleagues is good practice. For artists this is not only true, but perhaps even more important than with other disciplines. Art is a unique world in many ways. As we have discussed here in the past, connections can be one of the most crucial pieces of the puzzle when it comes to growing your career as an artist.
Indulging in a community is also the best way to find others who truly know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, or at least as close as possible. Living the life of an artist is unlike being in other, more “traditional” fields. Artists face some unique issues and perhaps often find they do not think or operate quite like those who fit neatly into the mold of the 9-5 world.
How then does one begin to find and build a community within the art world? The first step is to reach out. It may seem overwhelming to consider breaking into what may look like a tight knit, or in some cases even exclusive group of people. But remember, at base level you all share something in common. You have all chosen the path of the artist. So start there. Attend events and openings and begin to get to know the scene. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and always be liberal with your praise of the work at hand. This does not mean you should gush unnecessarily, but if you see something you like in the art before you, be sure to tell the artist or the curator.
Consider making business cards. These can be obtained quite inexpensively at a number of websites and can be as basic or unique as you would like. Include your contact info and a link to your portfolio. Customize them with your own artwork. Always have them on hand when you go anywhere and don’t hesitate to hand them out. Take a page from other fields, business cards are a quick and easy way to say, I’m here, I’d like to reconnect sometime soon. Instagram accounts are often exchanged just as easily, so put yours on the business card.
Seek common ground. Sure you are all united by your involvement in the art world, but as you get to know people you will discover things you share in common. Once you begin to develop a community of like minds, build these relationships. Consider hosting a book group or invite a small group to dinner and discussion. If there are events around the area that would appeal to some of the people you have met, do not hesitate to invite them to attend with you.
Most of these things are simply human instinct. We naturally gravitate toward social groups and discover similarities and differences without much conscious thought. By paying a little attention we are in no way cheapening these connections, we are simply seeking them out. There is absolutely no reason to think that because you have made a concerted effort to find a community you have somehow created false pretenses. Anyone moving to a new city would take the very same steps in order to build a new social group. Remember, this is your career. Putting a little extra energy into creating the most hospitable environment in which to cultivate your success is nothing but good practice.
No one can thrive in a vacuum. In every field, and in fact in our daily lives, our ability to navigate the world is enhanced when we surround ourselves with a community. Seeking out other minds can lead to inspiration and collaboration. While many artists consider themselves a solo act, there is just no denying the power that another perspective can have.
Community lifts us up and gives us a place to express our true selves safely. It offers a door into the larger art world through the communities of the people we know. After all, you never know who knows whom. That interesting woman you met at the gallery opening on Friday may be the one who will introduce you to the curator who will mount your first exhibition. The video and installation artist you met last month may end up being one of your greatest collaborators. In any given room, there are more minds and life stories than you could possibly imagine. The only way to get to know them is you walk over and say hello.