Quilt makers have long known what some of we artists are learning sporadically through the years: sharing our work in person may provide a very large golden key to thriving in life. The quilting bee may be a thing of the past, but quilters have replaced it with a multitude of guild meetings, retreats and even cruise trips together. I know because I taught an art quilt/color class on a McCall’s Quilting cruise to the Caribbean a couple of years ago. The community spirit was infectious and impressive. There is now a whole new wave of young modern quilt makers following in the older quilter’s footsteps.
Painters, freelance illustrators and other designers primarily work in solitude, myself included. I can go for days without even having a social conversation beyond chatting with the lady at the grocery store. This can be a problem! In the words of Miss Clavel, “Something is not right!”
I do like the quietness of the studio which allows me to concentrate and produce. But what about the health of the soul that is somehow nurtured by sharing with other people in person? Artists can feel lonely even though they see others on a regular basis. Are they seeing other artists though? Is cyber contact as effective as in-person connections? Does the old “starving artist” term only refer to food and money?
A recent 7 year study out of the University College London determined that isolation can shorten a person’s life span. “We were thinking that people who were socially isolated but also felt lonely might be at particularly high risk,” says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London. Steptoe was surprised to find that isolation was more important than loneliness as a risk factor.
The researchers found that social disconnectedness was linked to higher mortality, regardless of the cause of death. The research showed that the most socially isolated subjects had a 26% greater risk of dying. The correlation still held true even after the researchers adjusted for other factors, like pre-existing health conditions, socioeconomic status, sex, and age. Loneliness, as a factor on its own, could not be linked to the deaths.
That said, it’s not practical for some of us to ditch our studios and work around others. So we live with isolation. But feeling lonely is not healthy either. A artist may connect with other people, and still feel socially isolated. Who has experienced a similar cocktail party conversation:
“And what do you do?”
“I’m a painter.” (fill in “illustrator”, etc.)
“Really? I can’t even draw a straight line. Oh hello there Charlie!” Person terminates conversation to chat with someone else.
Or perhaps the artist is pursuing an art career over the years while listening to other family members hint that getting a “real job” would be the wise thing to do. No wonder young artists feel dogged by self-doubt, not just about their paintings, but their very lifestyle that so often involves struggle.
In the 1990s I discovered a group of illustrators on the Internet and joined. I am still friends with many of them to this day. We share work samples on Facebook, and everyone cheers when a buddy has a children’s book published. A small group of us formed a more intimate Internet friendship, although we live miles away. We share several times a week, from art techniques to family stories and future plans. Once in a blue moon we meet in person and hope to have a real life reunion as soon as possible. Here is a sample of the work of Joan Waites, sister Leslie Clark, and Luanne Marten, my illustrator friends.
Real, in-person contact with other artists is so valuable. I recently re-joined a group of artists meeting monthly, loosely organized around Art Licensing. We meet over breakfast in the Denver area to share each other’s work samples, job contacts, and stories of how to make a living. Member projects range from painting to architectural illustration, fabric design, greeting cards, children’s books and even international artist retreats.
I was amazed at the unselfish willingness to share and give simple suggestions. Much laughter. Sketchbooks get passed around the table. Empathy and encouragement over health and other challenges abounds. I come away with many new ideas, better energy, and gratitude at having found people who speak my language. If I have to stop painting and get a “real job”, my friends would mourn instead of clap.
Artist friends give each other hope. We have an optimistic side that comes with the ability to inspire and be inspired. Beyond my job of creating art, my mission in life is just that. I want to inspire, and be inspired. Meeting with artist friends over coffee is a wonderful exercise in the inspiration game. And that sustains us. We may still work alone, but we feel less alone, knowing there are real artist friends out there we will see again soon.
Need help in finding and making new artist friends nearby? Personal connections are a great way to start. Do you know at least one artist nearby? Chances are, that person will have another artist friend too.
I often joke that someday I may move to the city where my younger sister lives. She is more outgoing than me and has many good friends, so if I move there, I can instantly acquire a huge bunch of new friends! I have a wonderful artist friend that came from my non-artist sister. She shares. (smiles.)
Joining existing art groups in the community may also be a good start. It takes more courage to go in “cold”, but may surprise you. Try to be positive that you will find a like-minded soul or two.
Take an art class, maybe one you know very little about. Chances are, you will be needing to ask others for a little help, and people do like to make friendships over helping each other. Be humble. Reach out.
Check out art-related groups, like garden lovers. Artists lurk in many of these groups too! :) Visit a quilting group like Modern Quilters. Did you know that 1 family in 12 in America has a quilter in their midst?
Be chatty at craft fairs. Artists often love to talk about their process, not just want to sell you a product. Exchange cards. Make an unusual looking business card and have fun passing them out. Doesn’t have to be fancy, here’s mine. (It has scribbles and blobs of watercolor.)
Thanks for reading,
“Friendships begin because, even without words, we understand how someone feels.” -Joan Walsh Anglund
“Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light.” -Jennie Jerome Churchill