This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.
Picture this: five dogs.
They're probably draped over one another, snuffling, snoring, sighing, snorting, manufacturing all the disgusting noises and smells so associated with the canine species. One of them rules, the others follow, and they're all slobberingly happy.
Now five cats: even in the same room, they stand apart from one another, each a tiny arrogant island, individual, confident, clean, separate. While one may be dominant, the others don't so much follow him as stay out of his way, because no self-respecting cat will ingratiate himself at the feet of another.
Either one of these groups can describe a bunch of artists, but given a choice, I'll choose the feline contingent.
Like cats, artists hold themselves apart, calculating, observing, analyzing, and ultimately, securing their own space and dominating it. And while cats can, and do, work and interact together, it is never with that doggie, groupie companionship of Fido and Fluffy -- Cats, ultimately, walk alone.
A doggie artist group, however, emanates a warm, fuzzy, wet-fur feeling of closely knit cohorts mingling around one another, the older, wiser ones reaching out to the young pups and yearlings in a group snuggle that makes everyone feel safe, warm, and happy. Be aware, however, that the senior dog still remains at the top, and the others are dispersed about according to rank and number, the least of these designated to the outer circumference.
And the top dog or dogs will not willingly give up their position.
As long as one is the canine in the middle, a doggie group is the place to be, but if you don't happen to be that dog, you've got a limited number of choices:
1) Orbit around the top dog, hope he notices you, and work to ingratiate yourself into second, third, or fourth place.
2) Content yourself with the outer circumference.
3) Become a cat.
Some people criticize cats because they consider them aloof, distant, unfriendly, and unwilling to bend themselves to another's will, but these same characteristics are admirable to feline fans -- cats don't follow masters, they follow their own minds. And while they don't necessarily enjoy the power of the group, they don't suffer its constrictions either.
All artists have lived in a day an age when certain names, certain personalities, certain individuals dominated the scene; sometimes, a group of influential artists banded together into deceptively inclusive salons that promulgated the advancement of a certain movement or style, but in reality solidified the position and renown of a select few (some of whom deserved the honor; some of whom did not) around whom the remainder orbited.
It is no different today, whether it is the Worldwide Association of Dabblers in Oil or the Interplanetary Watercolorists' Salon, and while being a member of these groups has its benefits, the people at the top will not willingly abdicate their hard won positions, and there are only so many top slots to go around -- we cannot all be members of the Inner Sanctum, because then the Inner Sanctum, no longer exclusive and elusive, dilutes its strength.
We can, however, choose to be superb artists, whether or not we are invited into the middle of the circle -- and indeed, the likelihood that we reach our potential as artists increases when we decrease our dependence upon the group, the group's policies, the group's likes and dislikes, the group's approbation or censure.
By all means, join a group. Aspire to be a member of a professional association, and drive yourself to improve and succeed so that you can meet the standards necessary to be accepted.
But more importantly, push yourself, stretch yourself, educate yourself, analyze your work with brutality and strive to hone your skills at the same time you plumb the depths of your soul to produce art that is uniquely and individually yours and yours alone. Make it your goal not to succeed within the group, but to succeed within the parameters of your being, with the ultimate accomplishment of reaching your full and complete potential.
Become a cat.
And remember that cats walk alone.