“Everyone needs somewhere to fit in. Whether your tribe is large and mainstream, or small and niche, it feels good to find a space to connect with others. I am fortunate to have this connection in Artists’ Workshop.” ∽ Sharron Schoenfeld
As we’ve been busily getting ready for our annual show and sale, we’ve each been reflecting on what the show’s theme, Exploring Connections, means in the context of our own art practice. (You can read our thoughts here). In addition to our individual reflections, the idea of connection is central to who we are as an art-making group.
Every Monday from September through April, for over thirty years, the members of Artists’ Workshop have come together to make art. The membership of the group has changed during this time, with our last founding member, Marilyn Weiss, retiring just a few years ago. But the spirit and purpose of the group live on in its current members.
Making art is, for most people, a solitary activity. So why get together with others to do something you could do on your own? Collectively, we identified many ways in which the connections we have with each other enrich our art practice—and our lives more generally.
For many of us, the structure of our weekly sessions, culminating in our annual show, helps us keep making art. Our commitment to the group motivates us to show up every Monday rather than letting other things get in the way. And when one’s creative juices are running low, being in the midst of other artists is a great way to get them flowing again. We enjoy being together so much that in the past few summers we’ve organized regular ‘garden painting’ sessions in each other’s back yards.
While we each work individually, a lot of interaction happens when we are together. We often ‘make the rounds’ of the room, checking in to see what our fellow artists are up to and offering encouragement and support. When we run into problems, it’s so helpful to have other artists right there to ask for suggestions. And in addition to this informal feedback, we regularly take time together to get better at providing meaningful critique.
We have in common a desire to keep learning and improving our art, and we help each other in this endeavour by sharing knowledge, skills, and resources. As Paige Mortensen says, “If you have an art-related question, someone is likely to have something they can share to help you figure it out in your own way.” (And if you need a pair of scissors or some masking tape, you only have to ask for that, too!)
One misconception about art groups is that all the members are expected to or will gradually begin to make the same kind of art. This couldn’t be further from the truth for Artists’ Workshop! Whenever we bring in new members, we seek to maintain a high degree of diversity, as we find this enriches our group. Monika Kinner, who works in textile art and pastels, explains: “I’m proud to be part of this group because of the diversity of mediums and styles. As a full-time working artist for over 12 years, I had not been able to fit in to any creative group with the work I do until I joined Artists’ Workshop. This group shines because of its broad and unique range of artistic practices.”
Being part of a group has practical advantages as well. When it’s time to organize our annual show, we divide up the many tasks involved, which lightens the load for all. We also support each other to find other ways to show our work, whether that means delivering artwork to shows in other cities or encouraging a newer artist to mount her first solo exhibition. Throughout the year, we benefit from each member’s unique skills and interests. For example, Sharron is our social media guru, Pat and Kathryn love to write, Paige’s bookkeeping skills keep us on track, and every month we celebrate birthdays with Celeste’s beautiful and delicious home-baked treats.
Finally, the connections we’ve formed with each other over time go beyond the artistic to the personal. Pat Katz expresses it this way: “One of the things I appreciate most about being a part of Artists’ Workshop is the support and comradery shared amongst our members. We actively cheer each other’s successes and commiserate over life’s challenges. Not every group forms a tight-knit community, but this one does!”