Salons, Writer’s Workshops and More

After thinking a little bit more about mastermind groups it dawned on me that artists have been meeting in groups to discuss their work for centuries. Perhaps the most famous, and most written about of these artists groups, or friendship groups as I’ve seen them called, is the Impressionists.

The Impressionists found each other as kindred spirits who were working outside of the traditional French Academy system.  As they worked closely with one another they developed a group sensibility of what they thought art should be.  They experimented with techniques that would allow them to realize their ideas that were then shared with one another, providing support and validation for paths that might have otherwise been abandoned had they been working in isolation.  In regular weekly meetings the artists would discuss successes and failures in the context of the group’s values, work through conflicts and anxieties and share contacts with dealers or masters.  I can only imagine such a regular meeting would have been profoundly energizing.

Of course visual artists are not the only ones that go through a period of intense involvement with this kind of group.  In a recent webinar that Dane Sanders hosted to support his Weavewriter product there was talk of ‘writers workshops’ that sound just like the kind of meeting that the Impressionists were having.  My research into writers workshops lead me first to Pat Schnieder‘s book ‘Writing Alone and with others‘ and then to Peter Elbow’s book ‘Writing Without Teachers‘.  

‘Writing Alone’ appears to build on the work by Peter Elbow which provides a framework for group interactions where there isn’t a ‘master teacher’ in the room. In this model the writer is hearing real world feedback from other members in the group about what’s working and what needs additional clarity.  It is an interesting process for me because I had it in my mind that without a master in the room mediocrity would reign.  Perhaps not.  

Both examples above provide me with support for my ideas about the importance of a small group for artistic development, not necessarily to instruct in a formal way but to provide ‘real world’ feedback, encourage and to share resources that could be of help.  They also make me realize that this is in essence a ‘solved problem’.  There are existing groups that fit this model that you may be able to work with if you look hard enough, the Artist’s Round Table that Ray Ketcham and Sabrina Henry have organized looks like it fits this model almost perfectly.  The resources are also there that could help you to develop one organically yourself if that is a better option for you.  The only question is what’s stopping you?

Friday Inspiration: Lisa Congdon

Lisa Congdon Birch Trees

In many ways I feel as though Lisa Congdon is the heir apparent to Maira Kalman‘s throne. I’ve followed Lisa’s development as an artist for the last few years. I was late coming to the two projects that have fueled her career momentum, the first of which was ‘a collection a day‘ and then more recently ‘365 days of hand lettering‘. Lisa has a new book out ‘Art, Inc.‘ which describes the practical aspects of making a living from your art. Peppered with examples from her own transition from teacher to working artist as well as interviews with a number of other artists this is a great resource for any visual artist thinking about making the leap. What I realized from working through Art Inc. is that Lisa Congdon’s success hasn’t been a matter of luck but rather a result of showing up and doing the work everyday and most importantly sharing what she’s been doing with the world.

Check out the recent interview that Lisa had with Dane Sanders here, discussing her new book on creative live here and some additional videos of her describing her work below.

Business Model Generation

I wonder how many photographers seriously consider business models and even applying their creativity to developing new business models. Frankly I’ve always thought business models were fir the MBA crowd and not something that I needed to worry about. With some prompting from people like ‘Photo’ Jack Hollingsworth I’ve been giving the business side of photography a harder look in recent weeks. There are lots of great resources for photographers, such as Fast Track Photographer and Fast Track Photographer Business Plan both written by Dane Sanders, although I find myself more aligned with books such as ‘Taking the Leap‘ by Cay Lang which seem to have painters as the primary audience but easily translates to the other visual arts.

The Book Business Model Generation (get a free 72 page preview here) provides a visual tool that helps you build a business model that you can use to test your ideas. I’ve been able to easily flesh out some of my ideas and identify questions that I need answering before moving ahead. A video showing how to use the tool – the Business Model Generation Canvas is below.

Watching the Weather

As a photographer and a sailor the weather has a major impact on my activities. As a photographer I look for weather that suits the style of photographs that I’m currently working towards and plan appropriately. As a sailor I’m watching the weather and modifying the sails to match changes in wind and changing plans to account for storms.

We need to be equally skilled at looking for and responding to the winds of change in our careers and personal lives. We must change and continue to innovate if the hope is to build and sustain our business and career. Being creative, looking beyond the obvious, offering something more than just what the camera is able to bring seems to be the way to succeed. Opportunities abound for those willing to try small experiments, review the feedback from those experiments and try again until something is found that works.

Poke the Box and the Art of Shipping

I’m a huge Seth Godin fan.  My first intersection with Seth was around 2000 when I came across his ‘Bootstrappers Bible‘.  It was around the time that he was ‘Unleashing the Ideavirus’, the marketing book that he gave away for free as a pdf.  For a cash strapped book fiend like myself this was awesome but at the time I missed the point totally.

With 10 more years on the tires I’m finally getting the point and even more so now that I am taking photographs and writing about that process here.  I think that many of us worry about having our work ‘stolen’.  For some this is more of a concern than it is for others.  I may be a contrarian but it seems that the worst thing that anyone who creates anything to share or sell to the world is not having their work stolen but not having an audience.  For no one to care what you’re doing.  Why not instead figure out how you can reach the broadest audience possible and do that?

Seth’s new book is called ‘Poke the Box‘ and is a riff on some of the themes and ideas that he has been pushing for the last few years.  Namely you have to get your product out of the door.  Starting is not enough, you have to finish too.  You have to ship!

For many this involves overcoming what Steven Pressfield calls in The War of Art ‘The Resistance’.  That overwhelming fear of failure, of being rejected, of humiliation after putting your heart and soul into a project.  Seth Godin refers to this a the lizard brain.  Our instinctive response to danger or fear.  One way of course if listening to what the lizard brain is saying to do and then doing the exact opposite.  It requires practice but becomes easier with time.

Seth was interviewed by Dane Sanders this week and the video can be found here.  As always, a provacative conversation.

Get ‘Poke the Box’.  Read it.  Read it again.  Figure out how you are going to make a difference and go do it!

To Thine Own Self Be True

I’m sure that most people recognize the title of today’s post as Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For me, it evokes memories of one of the worst training sessions that I have ever attended and still managed to complete. I was part of a group working with an actor to develop our presentation skills. ‘To thine own self be true’ was one of the phrases that we were using to make sure that we projected to the back of the room.

The phrase of course had meaning in itself – by being authentic you are able to give a much better presentation. Part of the workshop was to explore who we were as individuals, what was our story and how would that impact how we approach presentations. At the time I thought it was utterly hokey and wanted little to do with it. With time however, I’ve come to believe that success, with presentations or otherwise, will follow when you are true to yourself.

This is something that is echoed in Dane Sanders‘s story about his own career as a photographer in ‘The Fast Track Photographer‘. Dane was pitching himself as ‘Santa Barbara’s Premier Wedding Photographer…’ when in fact he had little experience. Once he changed that message to one that more accurately represented him the work began to flow in.

In a culture where ‘fake it ’till you make it’ is the rule, being true to yourself can be a challenge but one that’s ultimately worth it.