To what extent do we have an “arts community” here? And who belongs?
I might argue that we have a number of small communities within a larger demographic of artists and arts professionals. In one definition, community is simply a coagulation of humans in one place. Go a little deeper and community means people who share certain common values, aesthetics, interests, backgrounds – and the feeling of fellowship therein. Burrowing down to the roots, community can be understood to be a group of INTERDEPENDENT beings living together in a habitat, i.e. we need each other to survive.
In a recent post on Jackson Hole Art Blog, Tammy Christel chastised younger artists for not supporting plein air or artists in nature programs, even when one of their own is a featured artist. Tammy and I are friends and we had a lively conversation about her post. I don’t necessarily see things the same way she does, but I appreciate her voicing her opinion and opening a discussion. To me, it’s less about “younger” artists not being supportive of one another – or only doing so if there’s free beer. I think it’s more about traditional vs. experimental/new genre artists, and where community lies for each group. While the traditional plein air painter may find camaraderie and inspiration in her fellow painters, the iconoclast working in an approach all her own may, by definition, be seeking a certain degree of individualism.
Still, clearly artists of multiple genres and styles can find value in community. Witness Thomas Macker‘s ongoing critique group at the Art Association. Tom Woodhouse says, “For me, these sessions have provided excellent interaction and discussions with other serious and hard working artists.”
What struck me most about Tammy’s observations was this:
I’ll tell you this: virtually all plein air artists I know support each other every day, together or apart, through the years, come rain, snowstorms, or overwhelming heat—no matter the hour. And they’ve gained much ground. You could learn something.
My first response was, “Well, they have the natural world uniting them!” I imagine there is a shared spiritual reverence for the natural world among many plein air artists that draws them together. For non-traditional/contemporary artists, the pull will likely be something else, because I doubt they can agree on even the spiritual motivation for making art. Instead, I see community being found, sometimes only fleetingly, in art projects themselves. I’m thinking of Bronwyn Minton’s project at June’s Culture Front Live talk. Or Suzanne Morlock’s upcoming knitting project.
It’s funny because here we are, residents in this state of rugged individualism in a country based on rugged individualism, and yet community (but sadly not some forms of socialism) is heralded as a higher value. This tension between self and society is ancient, as Lewis Hyde writes, “an essential polarity between the part and the whole, the one and the many.” Hyde’s classic book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, was recommended to me by artist/poet Ben Read. It’s a wonderful meditation and exploration of art as gift, gifting economies, and the importance of offering gratitude – read: support – for that which sustains us. Hyde rightly calls it “the labor of gratitude.”
What do you think? Are we doing an adequate job of supporting one another in contemporary art circles in Jackson? What, if anything, do you think is needed to sustain our mutual “habitat”?