Working Alone | Breaking the Isolation that can Surround The Pursuit of Art

Recently I had a conversation with an artist from Montana about overcoming the isolation that can come with working as an artist in a small community. As we corresponded I realized that artists living in a small community don’t have a monopoly on isolation. Even artists living in the largest cities in the world can feel alone as they pursue their craft in the solitary confines of the studio.

As a gallery owner, I get to spend my days interacting with artists and collectors – it’s easy to forget that most art is created in solitude. Creating is so different from the pursuits of the rest of the world, that even among friends and family you can feel alone.

I would like to share the email I received from Helen, in Montana describing the groups she belongs to that help her break the isoliation.

I too live in a small community (large by Montana standards, small for the rest of the U.S.), but there are a number of artists in this town and the surrounding area.   I’m benefitting greatly from two forums.   Note that I didn’t start either one; they were in existence and I was invited to join. But I could have been the initiator if the need were there and the idea occurred to me.

First, I’m a member of an artists’ group here in the community.  We have about 70 member artists from this part of the state; about 40 are relatively active.  This group has been up and running for about 30 years, and benefits from having an endowment from an estate bequest, the interest on which helps with expenses.   Members also pay an annual fee, which we keep low to encourage participation even from “starving artists.”   What do we do together?

  • We paint together every other Saturday.   To be honest, those of us who are advanced don’t get much serious painting done, but we can show our works in progress for comment.   And it’s a chance to help and encourage one another.   More experienced artists, for example, can give advice to newer artists and can collaborate with one another too.
  • We sponsor 2 – 4 workshops a year, bringing in regionally or even nationally known artists.   (There is an additional fee for these workshops).
  • We hang works together as a group at two good local venues, changing out our work on a regularly scheduled basis.
  • We hold an annual juried show in conjunction with an area art museum.  This experience also helps newer artists learn the process of entering juried competitions.
  • We have a web site, where members can show some of their works and link to their own web sites.
  • And we socialize together, with annual parties in the summer and at Christmas.

Second, I take part in monthly art critiques.   These take place on a Saturday night, after hours at a local gallery.   About 25 artists take part, with perhaps 10 – 15 showing up for any monthly session.  Everyone brings a snack to share, or a bottle of wine.  We socialize for a while, then sit down in a classroom format.  Taking turns, we go to the front and present a work in progress — usually one near completion on which we have some questions or believe we’re struggling a bit.   Everyone is free to offer their thoughts and suggestions.   The key for this critique group, I believe, is having the right culture — constructive but positive.   It’s not just a chorus of “gosh, that’s wonderful” — critical comments are made, but in a helpful way.

There are some really good artists in this group. It would be interesting to know if other artists have found yet additional ways to create a community that can be there for them when needed.

Helen R.

What Have you Done to Get Connected?

Have you experienced isolation? What have you done to become a part of the art community? How important is it for you to connect? What do you like and dislike about the solitude that comes with being an artist? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

22 Comments

  1. Great article Jason. It takes work to stay connected with the artist community and these are some practical ways to put the ideas into practice.
    Thanks
    John Kosta
    Fine artist Claremont CA

  2. It is very important for me to connect with other artists. Living in a very small community it is vital to have avenues where I can work with other artists. I have a roomy studio and I invite artists from the community, almost on a daily basis, to come paint with me here. One benefit besides the companionship is the help we give each other and the critiques we do when we finish a project.
    I also belong to an art group that meets once a week to work, have conversations, and critique. Being a small group of nine we know each other very well and can gently and carefully offer suggestions on how a painting or drawing can be improved. It is a very successful group because it is attended very well week after week.

  3. First of all what a wonderful article and thank you . Isolation is what prevents me from doing the “work”. I have recently even asked my husband to put a TV in to the studio just so I’ll have background noise and people talking. I find the isolation suffocating at times.

    1. I have to have music playing, Depending on the music The subject matter changes.
      I have lots of time these last 3 weeks to paint the first 10 days was great but I find I need stimulation from other artists or shows, I’m just not in the mood this last 10 days, I usually always in the mood. Of course the news about covit19 isnt inspiring!!

  4. Great Article! It is exactly one of the reasons our escrow on the sale of our house closes in 30 days. I live in one of the most beautiful areas of California. I have a pond in the back, ducks, trees, glorious mountain views, but I go days with only talking to my husband when he comes home from work. The last three years I have been going crazy! While I like the solitude of my studio to work on my paintings. I am in need of human interaction. I am planning on my next studio, at the new house being a place that is more comfortable for others to visit. I’m going to set it up like a mini gallery. I’m going to invite other artist to come and paint, I’m going to have a comfy couch and table or a couple chairs, I’ve spoken to a friend who bakes the best cheese cake and cookies about once a month offering a Sunday morning, coffee or tea at my studio with her baked goods. And then having an open studio like an open house every season where people in the community can come and see what I have created and what I am working on. I may even hold a few classes.

    1. Where is this new home & studio going to be? I was raised in the East Bay Area (Lafayette) and have lived in the Pacific NW for over 30 years…BUT, would love to join your journey on Sunday mornings. I can afford to fly South!

  5. Artist groups are wonderful for allaying that sense of isolation. One group I belong to meets every third Saturday in my studio. We don’t paint together, but we do offer camaraderie and encouragement. Each person–there are seven of us–takes a turn sharing their journey since we last met–successes, “failures,” struggles and joys. Informal critiquing happens as well, when someone asks for it. A new group I meet with is focused on the business and marketing side of our art careers. We’ve worked on elevator speeches and the sharing of resources and opportunities. Working alone doesn’t make me feel isolated; it comes with the territory. My work keeps me company. But if I were unable to share the work and the journey, I would feel very cut off. Humans are wired for community, and art is a powerful way to foster it.

    1. Community is a wonderful thing for artists, but it’s very frustrating for artists with severe hearing problems to actively participate in. David Hockney also went deaf and retired to his country estate. — of course, his reputation had already been established.

  6. Helen, I share your concern about us artists who live in smaller, less affluent communities. So far the features critique artists have hailed from larger, more upscale markets — Scottsdale, AZ (Xanadu), Quebec (City/Montreal), Monterrey, CA, Washington (Seattle?), so potential buyers have more cash to throw at art.

    We in the sticks have to really fend for ourselves, I guess, but thankfully most towns/small cities have local art centers and fairs we can participate in. Will we get thousands of dollars for our paintings? Doubtful, but I do quite well considering I just started marketing whole hog last year.

    I suppose everyone in any creative endeavor fantasizes about “making it big” but that’s not really the point of pouring our heats and souls out for examination. I’m developing a nice little niche along the Mississippi River (heavily touristed) and, for now anyway, that is fine. I keep striving, though. Marketing is like putting images down on canvas — one stroke at a time (our craft, not our egos!!!)

    Thanks for your input.

  7. I live in what is known as the quiet corner of Connecticut. It is mostly rural but the main State University, UConn, is close by so there is a mixed population of long-time residents, university professionals and communters. Not surprising really, a lot of other artists live here in the woods as well, more or less in isolation. The artists that are pursuing their art professionally, me included, tend to like working alone in our studios but have to travel to exhibit and to galleries. A number of us do keep in contact through email, Facebook, share opportunities and try to attend each others exhibitions, if they are in a reasonable distance.

    I do meet artists from around the state at my openings, other exhibitions and galleries. I am part of a group of artists that go to exhibitions of interest throughout the state monthly. I also was a part of an artist cooperative gallery in a city about an hour and half away for a year. I enjoyed getting to know the artists there and being part of an artist community of sorts, but decided to pursue commercial galleries so moved on. I do still keep in contact with a number of these artists and see them at various shows.

    I do think it would be nice to live in an established artist community at some point. It seems like it would be easier to hear about opportunities and to develop close relationships with fellow artists and gallery owners.

  8. I know how important it is to me to stay connected with other creative people. It seems to me, throughout history, when creative folk get together, wonderful things happen. Since I live in a smaller town, I spend loads of money to rent a studio in Houston, and drive 70 miles each way to be in a community of artists…. and now that’s shut. Oh well, this won’t last forever.

  9. Feeling alone has little to do with proximity. It has everything to do with feeling understood, valued, with connecting. Collaboration is my favorite beast and it must be handled with caution, especially when it’s unwise to actually be in the same room with others. Someone else mentioned putting a TV in the room so there’s activity without interruption – I do that. I have a few particular TV shows I leave running because I know them and so I’m not distracted by the plot. They are people talking over there >>>>

    I used to live with a musician, and we had band practice in our basement while I worked upstairs. Before the pandemic I was trying to recover that habit by bringing my sketch pads and colored pencils to live music venues. Lately I’ve been streaming musicians while I work and this is turning into something of a collaboration, even if the musicians aren’t really aware of it. Sometimes I also stream my studio-corner onto facebook, so my friends can watch me work (without interrupting!) while I’m listening to someone else play guitar in his livingroom.

  10. I am finding the problem of isolation exacerbated by the stay at home order that our state has implemented due to this pandemic. My way of connecting involved taking classes at various places in art forms outside of my regular medium, which is painting. I often found that working with new materials often sparked my creativity. Also, I enjoyed the energy of creating in the same space with other artists. I am still trying to find ways to prevent the depression that comes with isolating during this quarantine. Stay safe everyone.

  11. Being the only child in a military family that moved every three years and was told children should be seen and not heard helped me deal with isolation and probably helped me along the way with my artwork.
    I didn’t really know what I was missing out on until later in life when I had children of my own and saw first hand what I had missed out on.
    All my children (6) have grown and now live here and there.
    Now that it’s just me and my wife I find that I have no problem with spending time alone in my studio listening to tunes while she is off to work. It’s always nice when she comes home and we get to spend time together.

  12. I had this great job on a tourist railroad, and even though I worked in a small town deep in the Rockies, I interacted and socialized with visitors and co-workers every day. Meantime i was working on my art biz in the winter. Then I moved to an isolated adobe along the Rio Grande. It was beautiful, but wow, it was a hard adjustment to almost complete solitude, except for my girlfriend. I softened it by taking a long daily walk along the river and calling friends and family. After moving to Santa Fe a whole new universe was opened when I bought my first computer. SInce then I moved to a suburb of Atlanta to be with my partner, and have a whole universe of things to do at home. I have a routine of working for an hour, then calling somebody or getting on the computer, then back to work. NPR is also great company while working. Except for getting together with friends, my life under national house arrest is not much different than it was before. I never had the support system Helen has, and I always wished I lived in an artists’ community. I almost moved to Bisbee once. I wished I did.

  13. I live in a small Michigan town that becomes smaller in winter. At least 1/3 of our population goes to Florida or Arizona each October and returns in May. I am fortunate to have many artist friends. Three years ago we formed a group that paints together every Monday from 10-2. We chip in $10 each time we attend to cover the cost of renting the room. Someone always brings homemade goodies to share. When we get a nice kitty built up we hire an artist to do a one day workshop. We rotate turns getting oil, acrylic and watercolor instructors

    We recently found on awesome place to meet where we usually get together for art camp each August. We hold a self sponsored camp/ get together for artists from all over the state. We twist arms and get a few artists to do demos. Artists campers pay $200 for dinner on Monday, three meals a day on Tuesday-Thursday and breakfast on Friday. Food is awesome…we all gain weight. It’s a camp so we sleep on bunk beds. Camp is located on a beautiful lake with great scenery to paint.

    Our group is so great because we give and get honest helpful critique. Something we don’t usually get from friends and family…lol. We formed a closed Facebook group and have kept connected this way, posting paintings we are working on or have completed. We’re going to start sharing photos other members are welcome to paint.

    I love reading all the things others are doing to keep connected. Great topic and discussion. Thanks Jason 🎨

  14. I belong to three local artists’ groups, and one has been doing a “show and tell” on their Facebook group during this strange time so that the artists can keep in touch virtually even though isolated and sheltering at home. It’s been fun to interact with the others even though we can’t see one another in real life. But even when we’re not all isolating, the once-a-month meetings are educational, inspiring, and enjoyable. One of the groups meets on a Tuesday meeting, and all members bring a dish to pass, so we have a potluck and then a demonstration or other educational or hands-on program after the meal. And it’s just nice to connect with likeminded people over a common interest.

  15. Great article. I got a studio in a building with 60 other artists for that very reason. It seems like so much happens when creative folks get together. Of course, now I’m on day 27 at home with social distancing, so I’m longing for the day when we can start to reconnect.

  16. Great Article, Jason. I’m still busy with a day job and friends in the community, that I actually look forward to my “alone time” in my studio. It gives me a chance to re-ground myself and feel refreshed after the commotion of most days. This may change I realize when I retire completely from my job.

  17. I love spending time alone, just painting with my favorite music playing and while I know it’s not a good thing to do for many reasons, I can and have painted for 20 hours straight a few times. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a large family and have never really gotten to be alone for long, I tend to crave the solitude of my studio and painting. I live with my other three family members and have my tiny studio off my kitchen area, so I don’t really get to be all alone as much as I would like to be. The idea of a month long retreat in isolation sounds great to me.

    That said, I do belong to an artist cooperative where I exhibit my art in the gallery with 24 others and I do enjoy the company of other artists and their encouragement, but I prefer painting alone.

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