Many artists work within the confines of their studios or homes, making it difficult to connect with colleagues. Below are different ways beginning artists can enter the social dimension of the art world.
by Naomi Ekperigin
Art Classes and Workshops
Attending art classes and workshops is a great way to access one’s local art scene and make valuable contacts and friends. Artist David Jon Kassan, who received the People’s Choice Award at the Portrait Society of America’s convention last spring, moved to New York City after attending college in Syracuse. He was lucky to have a few friends from college who lived in the city, and was able to maintain these relationships after graduation. He also joined local art groups, which he found very beneficial. “I was lucky to have found the Salmagundi Club here in Manhattan,” he says. “Their members are of all ages and skill levels and many are very helpful to younger artists. They also have scholarships available for younger artists that cover the membership dues.” Kassan’s relationship with the Salmagundi Club has lasted a long time, and he has even returned to teach workshops.
Although Kassan recommends workshops to all artists and says they’re “no sweat,” for others, joining a group setting can be daunting. Artist Karen Kaapcke recalls her initial fear when she began taking classes at the Art Students League. “I felt very vulnerable,” she says. “I really had to work on making a space safe for myself in the classroom.” Kaapcke also teaches art classes to children and teenagers, and offers this advice for beginning artists in a classroom setting: “Mental discipline is key. Do not focus on the work of your peers, or whether or not they will like or dislike your work. A workshop is about making mistakes, not self-judgment.”
Starting a group with friends is also a great way to split the costs of sessions as well as work in a more relaxed and familiar environment. Look for advertisements for “uninstructed figure drawing” at local colleges, galleries, artists clubs, and museums. Many artists make lifelong friendships in this kind of setting, and go on to visit each others’ studios and offer advice on their work.
Gallery openings offer a great opportunity for artists to not only see the work of those they admire, but also meet others with an appreciation for and interest in a specific style or artist. There are also many curators, collectors, and exhibitors who attend openings, allowing an artist to make business contacts that are immensely useful as one develops a portfolio or seeks venues to show their work. Many websites, such as www.artinfo.com, offer listings of galleries throughout the country along with their upcoming special events, yearly calendars, and even job openings.
There are millions of websites on the internet, and hundreds of thousands of them are geared towards artists. While this is exciting and offers a wide range of possibilities, it can also be difficult to know which sites are best given one’s particular needs or interests. Online forums are a great way for an artist of any level to engage in a dialogue with colleagues all over the country, learning about and sharing ideas on specific topics of interest. “Online forums are remarkable,” says artist Alyona Nickelsen. “You can speak directly with a wide community of different people with diverse experiences and approaches that are different from your own.” Many useful online communities include www.artscuttlebutt.com, and American Artist’s own Artists’ Forum, which allows artists to discuss magazine articles, get advice on techniques, and even speak with professionals.
Every artist knows the inspiration that comes from walking the halls of a museum, be it small or large. However, fewer artists participate in guided tours of exhibitions or attend lectures. Doing so is another way one can come in contact with likeminded individuals in a setting that provokes dialogue and camaraderie. Being part of a group and having the opportunity to ask direct questions to a trained guide allows a beginning artist to enhance their knowledge of subject matter, styles, and art history, while interacting with people who share their interest. Some artists even choose to volunteer as tour guides, which enables them to stay firmly entrenched in their local art community, as well as keep their knowledge of art fresh. Museum websites often have a list of upcoming tours and many are free with museum admission.
In addition to the suggestions above there are many other opportunities available on local and state levels. Scouring newspapers and websites, and visiting art clubs and associations are good ways to find information. The most important thing a beginning artist can do is share themselves and their work with those who will support their burgeoning skill. Those people can only be found by becoming involved in the art community, which always seeks new members.
Naomi Ekperigin is the editorial assistant of American Artist.