When I was in my senior year of college, a group of ten improvising musicians miraculously came together. We called ourselves the Relentless Compassion Orchestra.
Many nights a week, we would meet to improvise and create pieces together. In an old barn on the Bennington campus, we would play for hours, making all kinds of strange and wonderful sounds.
We recorded these sessions on a portable tape recorder. Then, we’d huddle around, listening and pausing to replay the best moments. “What were you doing there on the clarinet?” We’d try to capture the textures and progressions, so we could create scores for future performances.
There was such creative chemistry that we gathered a small cult following. People would come to hear us rehearse. Dancers would show up to move to the exotic sounds we made. It was an ecstatic experience.
Such collaborations bring out the unique genius in everyone and allow art to be made that’s far greater than the sum of the individual parts. But collaboration is not the only need we have for creative community as artists.
When I finally started meeting regularly with other writers and hiring mentors to get feedback on my work, I began to evolve much more quickly. When I started volunteering to help put on the Sierra Poetry Festival, I met many poets from around the world and developed a sense of being part of the larger movement. When I invited fans to join me on Patreon and was able to share my works-in-progress in a safe, supportive environment, my art felt more meaningful and my focus on my projects became sharper.
As artists, we often hear about the need for solitude. For artists who work alone, we do need ample time to tune into ourselves and make our art, uninterrupted.
But equally important is the need for community with other creative people who you can openly share your process and projects with and receive honest, compassionate feedback and encouragement.
You need companions you can be vulnerable with and feel seen, heard, and understood by. You need dialogue that keeps you inspired, opens you to new ideas, and helps you believe in your creations. You need reflections of what is most powerful in your art and suggestions to help you grow. You need people who have discovered solutions to the steps that you’re struggling with.
You may also thrive from collaboration with artists in other art forms. It can be so fertile to the imagination to talk or work with those working in different media. Visual artist Inma Femenia works with engineers, architects, and even opticians, among others, to create her three-dimensional, installation pieces. When I spent a month at the Vermont Studio Center as a writer, talking to the visual artists and seeing their work was what most stimulated my creativity.
It’s all too easy in modern life to isolate ourselves, to lack meaningful exchange with other soulful people about our art. Trying to go it alone is a common mistake, especially for introverts or independent and busy people. But, human beings are designed to live in community. We are tribal creatures, not lone wolves. Our creativity needs the support of others to grow.
When looking for creative community, be sure to find supportive souls. Otherwise, you may get discouragement from others who’ve squelched their creativity, are competitive in their art, or simply don’t appreciate your aesthetic or know how to give useful feedback. On the other hand, when you do find a creative connection with others, your art can blossom in exceptional ways.
I’ve spent years living in a small rural town in Northern California. Too often I’ve fallen into isolation in my art. Either I didn’t find artists I resonated with, or I didn’t make it a priority to get together with those I know, or I’m reluctant to spend money and time on classes and conferences.
This mistake has cost me years of slower development in my art. It’s also cost me dearly in the growth of my creative career because of a lack of connections.
So, I urge you to make creative community a priority. Get to know and be in dialogue with other artists in your art form and in other art forms, in your geographic area and elsewhere. Foster connections. Grow a network. Learn from others, make art with others, support others. You and your art will be better for it. And you’ll probably have a lot more fun, inspiration, and joy in the process.