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 another artist, Helen in Montana, describing the groups she belongs to that help her break the isolation.

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.

13 Comments

  1. Up the road from Helena in Great Falls we have a few similar groups. One that I have been a part of thirty years, has been getting together for forty years. It was started by Jeff Walker who got the idea from Kalispel who met for breakfasts. Clyde Aspevig said to skip the restaurant and just go paint outdoors. Over the years it has morphed. At the point I joined, every Friday we would go and paint and if the weather was bad, simply go to a restaurant. Now our group is older (70ish average) and more diverse, including sculptors. Today we are meeting at Fuddruckers.

  2. While living in California, I taught a couple of different classes in oil (six artists in each) once a week. The conversations were fun and helpful for everyone. The rest of the week, I worked on my own works in solitude. This gave me social time as well as concentrated work time which was a nice balance.

  3. I too feel isolated by the location of my home. I joined the art group in my city but find it frustrating because the focus of the art group is too narrow for me.
    I have met other artist, most of whose work I find more compelling, who have left this group. So I am left connecting online through art societies or making efforts to meet illusive artists in my area.
    I would add that the critiques I have been to in my area are frankly awful. Everyone jumps in and says move this change that color etc. As a past art director, I know this is the wrong approach. Instead, ask the artist what they want the piece to express. Try to help them discover their own adjustments in keeping with the piece.
    Also, sorry but this is my ecpetience, I find my area competitive in ways that I hadn’t experienced in bigger art centers.
    I am now trying ti connect with just a few individuals.

  4. Jason, I’ve found your Wednesday critique sessions to be so helpful. I belong to no other critique groups, although I might rethink that.

    During this pandemic, and especially these past several months, I’ve found online training/art sessions to be very beneficial in terms of breaking my own creative blocks. The London Drawing Group is a good example of that.

    Essentially, however, I’ve found your weekly critique sessions to be generously guided by you, and contributed to by artists who are respectfully offering their own skills, experience, and support. Thank you, Jason!

    1. Juliana,

      I too have been studying on line. The constant barrage of media coverage/ doom and gloom or threats – created a mental block. I took to online studies. Not only curing the “writers block” but teaching me new skills. I can’t think of a better way to use the time. We will both be better for it when the whole thing goes away.

      Fellow artist. Debra

  5. I find moving to a small town (Sandia Park, near Albuquerque) with my partner, where I don’t know anyone else, catching Covid long-haul, etc., has certainly isolated me. I will admit part of it is that I’m so busy now just catching up on painting time, I haven’t missed socializing much -which suits my massively introverted psyche just fine…
    But of course, there are paint-out groups (when I can go), and a very, very large circle of online friends, including those dear ones I left behind, with whom I can socialize as much as I want. And there are people I can meet for lunch within a couple of hours, should I be able to take the time off…and my partner and I are good friends as well, so the days stream by…

  6. My approach was different. I chose to work as a travel agent occasionally in an office with others. It gave me a place to go where there were other people, interesting challenges, and a break from my isolation in my studio. I found the art organizations I belonged to in my area were more competitive than supporting and helpful so being together to paint never brought me satisfaction.

  7. Because of COVID lockdownsI felt even more isolated this past winter. I invited some friends and former students to start a group on Zoom every Wednesday morning. We met to chat and share whatever we had worked on during the week in a supportive environment. Often group members shared new techniques and ideas they had learned. Our Wednesday Zoomer meetings became a way to break the isolation of being artists and the separation we’ve all experienced as a result of the pandemic.

  8. Thank you. Artist’s isolation is a heavy subject for me. I feel very isolated in my location in Northern Nevada. I belong to an established artist’s association in Carson City. I benefit from being motivated to create new work for each 6th week show change, we also have juried shows. However, I don’t get any feedback and there is no forum for critique of work.–maybe I should present this idea to my group? .Anyway, I have also found that artists lean heavily towards landscape in this area-and I am a abstract artist. I have talked to my friends in the area-but they on the whole don’t really relate to my work, and /or are not interested in art. I have one good fellow-artist friend that I am sharing my work with online. I post my work on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with “likes” from my friends, but no feedback. I have a webpage. I am not letting any of this stop me. I am planning on applying for artist’s colonies for summer 2022-If COVID isn’t closing things down again. I am slogging away in my studio, working towards my goal of a body of work that I feel confident with-using myself as a guide, and getting my groundwork done-biography, resume,etc. Am I missing something? suggestions?

  9. I have my own ceramic sculpture studio at home, but I go to a communal studio every Saturday afternoon to nominally take “lessons”. But what I am actually seeking there is the social interaction -we have lots of fun- plus they have a larger kiln than the one I own so I also get the benefit of using that. The instructor is also a good second opinion when I have doubts as to aesthetic aspects.

    I would love to have the same kind of group work available without having to pay the price for the supposed lessons, which I find expensive, but I keep on going because otherwise I tend to isolate myself way too much.

  10. A group like she mentioned sounds amazing. I have not found luck in finding this near me. I’m not good at starting these things and frankly not sure how to even begin. I think I really need something like this to remind myself that my art is a valid career.

  11. There’s a difference between isolation and solitide.
    I live halfway between two reasonably robust urban centers.
    I was a lot more active earlier- not so much now. Much of what was a cultural draw has either changed or disappeared. The communities (30 miles away) have become more stringently insular. There are no art groups that would cater to a kind of art discourse. Oh Yes, there are 6 higher ed institutions that have art departments.
    my wife and i are at a point where we ask, “How close can we park? and Will it be dark when we go to drive home?” It’s not bleak because we are not directly involved.
    Isolation is the other thought. It fits me well. In my early years I eagerly pursued inquiries into art and my beliefs. There were religious retreats and formative days spent in museums. But i learned how to be alone with my thoughts and that sense of being sequestered with an image in progress has always been reassuring.
    This is not to say I’m not gregarious in a social situation because I am and I want to be there.
    The main drawback of course is the extra pair of eyes. I have no one who can be that for me even though I’m the extra eyes fro many others. This is taking an adjustment as I continue to lose art people I count on for their perspective.

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