The Power of Community
I talked about community a little bit on my blog back in January and about how I missed the community I had in my college art classes. This article functions as a sort of Part Two to the story of how I’ve found community in Get Messy. Fair warning: I’m very free with my exclamation points. It’s part of my charm.
LOVE MY ART = YOU LOVE ME
I am a solitary person by nature. I was an only child, so I tend to live in my head maybe a little too much. Typically, that doesn’t bother me or cause me too much angst except… (Isn’t there always an except?) when I’m making art.
In my younger years, I wanted community because I wanted others to tell me that they liked what I made. Nothing is more personally validating than being told something like, “I like that hand carved coconut you made! Is that the Pope in his Pope-mobile?” When someone says they like what I made, what I hear is, “I like you.” It’s as simple and as complicated as that. Learning to partially sever the connection between who you are and what you make is the lifelong struggle for anyone trying to make art. You never cut the cord completely–and I’m not convinced you should–but being able to let your work go when it’s finished, or even sometimes when it’s not, is an invaluable skill.
In college I learned constructive critique in my art classes. The professor I had for these critiques was particularly sensitive to how we artists conflate who we are with what we make and so encouraged us to be liberal with our praise and content- or execution-specific with our criticism. “I like what you are doing with your carving technique on this part of the coconut. But I think carving pictures of the Pope might be a bit sacrilegious and off-putting to some people. Have you thought of maybe using Stephen King? And his Corgi, Molly? He calls her the Thing of Evil, you know.” It’s never easy to hear others deconstruct your work, but it is valuable to learn to hear what others see as flaws. You can take what you deem useful for making your art better and leave the rest.
The constructive criticism was hard to learn to give and harder to learn to take. But what it built was amazing! I learned to trust the people giving the feedback. I trusted a handful of students and professors to challenge me when I was off course, to call me back to my emerging style, and to encourage me when I faltered. Best of all, I got to pay them back by doing it for them as well.
LIVING THE ART LIFE. MOSTLY BY MYSELF.
About four years ago, after crossing into the promised land of my youngest child starting elementary school, I decided to take up art again. Before kids, I’d worked in advertising; as a computer consultant; and, for a few short, amazing months, for Apple. (I have exactly one business card left from that job. I take it out occasionally and pet it.)
As a kid I dreamed of being an artist. With the free time I gained with both of my kids in school, I decided there was never going to be a better time to start practicing.
I started my art practice with 20 minutes of work a day. You can read about that here. I also began writing about my art practice on a blog I shared with my husband. It was a way to keep me accountable to do the work. My secret hope, though, was that it would build the community I was looking for. I was starved for the sort of interaction I’d had in college among my classmates, to have a mentor and to be a mentor. The community didn’t happen on my blog and it didn’t happen on Facebook with my friends. In fact, it didn’t happen anywhere at all for a long time. I got a handful of “That looks nice, dear”s, but mostly I was working alone and trying to figure it out.
After three years, I had accumulated a small group of women whom I liked to bounce ideas off of. A couple of them are artists, but most of them are just women who happen to like my work and whom I trust to be truthful with me. I call this bunch “The Council of Arty Cleverness” because their job is to help me give my work interesting titles and to keep me from being too pretentious about any of it. This group is the best cheerleading squad because they can shout, “Go, Misty!” better than any group ever has (besides my mom and my husband) and I love them for it.
But even with that awesomesauce, there was still an element missing.
The mentor/mentee thing was still an itch for me. My local community tends more to rockets and engineers than to paintbrushes and artists, so even as I was missing having mentors and mentees, I had no idea how to find or build those relationships.
AND THEN I WON A INSTAGRAM CONTEST!
I follow a LOT of craft and art blogs. Seriously, I should edit that business down at some point. One of them is Indie Crafts at Craft Gossip. Katie Smith, the editor, put out a call to interview Indie Artists, although at the time I didn’t know her other than as a name on a byline. I wasn’t sure I qualified as an Indie Artist, but I decided I’d put in my application to be interviewed and the editors could decide whether or not I was “Indie” enough. Evidently I was! Katie took my application and I wound up being the first interview for the series. I don’t even know if anybody read that article, but it was a thrill to see my name in lights! (Katie, if you’re reading this, I wanna pitch you an idea I have about Coconut Carving for Beginners. Is that Indie enough, do you think?)
After that, I started following Katie on social media. I had signed up for Instagram around the same time, so I was looking around for feeds to follow. Somehow I made the jump from Katie to Get Messy. By the fall of 2015, I had a serious Instagram infatuation with the Get Messy account and hashtags. After Thanksgiving, I started using the #getmessyartjournal hashtag on some of my work even though I wasn’t a member yet. (Shhhh! Don’t tell Caylee and Lauren!) During Christmas break, Get Messy regrammed one of my art journal pages.
I was super giddy for about three days. I knew then I needed to join the club.
After the first of the year, when the current Get Messy Creative Team was announced, I started following a bunch of the team on IG. I began entering the contests the creative team members hosted on their feeds to win a GM membership. I never win anything, so I was basically just passing the time until the the new season started and then I was going to join.
But then I won! I won! I won! From the amazingly talented Cait Sherwood, I won a free year’s membership to Get Messy.
GEEZE, THIS IS STARTING TO READ LIKE AN AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL
I’ve just kept on winning, too. I jumped in the Facebook group and started talking to people. I commented on people’s work and have done my best to be encouraging to fellow members. I’ve enjoyed getting to know a smaller part of this very large group of folks and enjoyed seeing the things they make. Oh, how I’ve loved looking at the beautiful things you Get Messians have made! I’ve gradually learned people’s styles and have started piecing together names and IG handles to go with them. And in a continuous stream on Instagram, I’m looking at the fantastic things you all make.
Hooray! I’ve found my community! Finally! People who get the art life! People who get what I do and are busy doing the same kinds of things themselves! Friends who are up for being both the encourager and the encouraged. You like my carved coconuts! It’s a beautiful thing to find your tribe.
PUT ME IN, COACH! I’M READY!
(Weird sports metaphor in an art journal post, I know, just go with it.)
You probably already know what I’m going to say here. Join in! Be a part! Take part! Yeah, that IS what I’m going to say. The community is the most valuable part of Get Messy. You should absolutely be participating in it to your maximum ability.
Maybe you don’t think you have much to offer if you are just starting out, but you do! You bring fresh eyes to the prompts and fresh ideas to the page. And I’m living proof that 20 minutes a day can take you far. So just start already. Too afraid to show your work to all of Instagram? Ask someone to be your buddy for a while until you get the hang of it. Text them photos and get used to putting your work out there.
No one else can tell your story, so you need to start with the art making already!
I’m giddy just thinking about what you will make.
If you are a more experienced art maker but still think of yourself as a newbie, you know more than you think you do! Join the conversations about tools, mediums, and practices. Ask questions because someone else is wondering the same exact thing and might be too afraid to ask. Post answers to questions others ask. Post tips if you’ve been through a trial by fire and can warn of the pitfalls. And no one can tell your story either. You are the only one who’s lived it.
And to you advanced art journalers, keep on keeping on! Thanks for lighting the path ahead. What’s here for you? Fresh enthusiasm for your craft! Free for the harvesting! There is a magic energy in these halls, so let it refresh your spirit if you are weary. We marvel at your skills and are fascinated by your pages. You owe it to yourself to tell your story because no one knows it but you.
And to all of you, be encouragers.
If you see someone carving your kind of coconut, tell them that you wanna carve coconuts like they do when you grow up. I never get tired of hearing that someone likes my work. They won’t either. The energy of enthusiasm is contagious. It will start to build up and eventually your work is going to improve from it. You will get better at this coconut carving thing. And you will enjoy the ride with some fantastic folks on the same journey as you.
Hey, I’d love to hear about the thing you are already making or the thing you are dreaming about making! Tag me in social media with pictures. I can’t wait to see it!
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Misty is ever-so-slightly obsessed with paint, glue, and paper. Her interests range across a variety of arts and crafts such as contemporary visual art, mixed media, book binding, crochet, and yarn spinning. When she isn’t in her studio slinging paint or gluing things together, she is busy with her family and serving as President of the Board of Directors for Global Women.