Breaking up is hard to do

September 30, 2008
Robert Genn

Not wanting all her friends to know her concerns, an anonymous woman wrote yesterday: "What do you do when your art group falls apart? I belong to a group of women who met through an art course three years ago. After the course was finished we continued with our instructor, taking lessons in her studio. We have a show opening soon. One member has notified us by email that she is withdrawing. Another is just 'going traveling.' The three of us who are left are shocked, but we are proceeding with the show. I suppose art groups fall apart all the time, but ours seemed a special one. As you are the guru we all subscribe to, please tell us what we can do."

Thanks, Anonymous. This sort of thing is indeed happening all the time--it's part of a natural dialectic called "The Uneven Progress of Creative People." In our game some feel the need and are able to move on before others--while others never want to move on at all. Clubs are always gaining and losing members to these cycles. A small group such as yours feels losses particularly badly.

The main reasons artists congregate into groups are friendship, education and opportunity. Groups ebb and flow with the increase or diminishment of any of these. I've noticed that many artists actually bloom when they abandon clubs. Similar things happen when people leave certain religious organizations--they can actually become more spiritual and happier than when they were in the comfort and security of the group.

There are four ploys you might consider: (1) Found the "Group of Three" and make people sit up and take notice. (2) Look around and invite replacement members. (3) Merge with another group--perhaps one that offers even more instructors, friendships and opportunities. (4) Dissolve your group and go your separate ways.

The last one may not be the most unthinkable. Art is really a job for rugged individualists. Artists thrive when they learn to stand on their own two feet. They often find it easier to access their own inner creativity, build a unique style, and activate the latent ego-force that's necessary for growth. This doesn't prevent people from taking workshops, participating in group shows, or having a regular coffee (or something else) with creative friends.