ArtWay

The best way for Christians to change culture is to make culture. Andy Crouch

Building a Portfolio of People

Building a Portfolio of People

by Marianne Lettieri

At the beginning of a new year artists tend to reflect on how they have progressed and what may be next in their art practice. Many of us plan to finish or abandon works in progress, excitedly prepare for new aesthetic investigations or just commit to cleaning up the mess in the studio. What should be near the top of everyone’s list is cultivating a portfolio of people to accompany them on their art journeys.

For investors a portfolio represents a group of assets reflecting the strategic goals of the trader who owns it. A student portfolio is a body of work used for assessing progress. An art portfolio is a collection of an artist’s best work intended to showcase skill and interests. In this vein, and at the beginning of this new year, we should take time to review the portfolio of people who have contributed to our professional and spiritual progress. We may find reasons to expand and diversify our network of relationships.

Besides hard work in the studio, networking may be the single most important skill for a sustainable art practice. Through community we tap into advice and knowledge, hear about opportunities, gain visibility, and form friendships with people who care about our art making. Relationships fuel the creative process and ultimately drive the art world. Without connections, even the best work won’t get noticed. For those who aspire to bring salt and light to the world through art informed by faith, joining together at every step of the process from inspiration to acquisition can be especially important.

Community and collaboration, however, are not necessarily the magic keys for unlocking creativity. In contrast, the personality traits of shyness and unsociability are positively associated with creativity according to a recent study published in the Elsevier journal, ScienceDirect[1]. Furthermore, scientists researching the question of “what makes a life well-lived” concluded after surveying 15,000 respondents that more intelligent people are happier when they socialize less frequently with friends.[2]

Well, those are fascinating research conclusions. Contemporary society has readily accepted the notion that creativity requires community. Pastors, human resource managers and educators have said that a life well-lived involves socializing. Now it seems the old myth might be true – the “singular genius who works alone” is much more likely to be creative than people who interact with others. Science tells us that solitude and independent work inspire original thoughts and collaboration stifles creativity.

So how, as artists, do we reconcile these seemingly conflicting views? Perhaps the divide is between the artist’s internal creative process and the external influences that either nurture or hold back the art’s viability. A useful analogy might be the germination of a seed compared to its cultivation, harvesting and marketing that ultimately puts food on the table. Being an artist is a lonely occupation. It has to be in order to get to the place where creativity happens, bringing forth something good and true. But periodically we must come out of our solitude to embrace the world, find encouragement and try to get our art noticed by an audience. Without a community our best work may stay inside us or tucked away in the studio. Peer groups and circles of influence not only make our work better, but also help us succeed in our art practices.

Thriving artists understand the power of networks. The more connections, the greater the possibility of knowing someone who knows someone who can provide just what is needed at the right time. The network thrives when we give back to the community as much as we take, being generous with our time and experiences.

Throughout history there are examples of artists creating dynamic communities that empowered one another to explore new directions through feedback and collaboration. The Inklings, a literary group that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, critiqued each other’s works-in-progress and challenged one another to do better. A group of misfit painters in 19th-century France, called the Impressionists, shared research into the physics of color to launch a new art movement.

Many artists of faith consider themselves outsiders, never quite fitting in anywhere. It is a wonderful thing to find people with whom we can talk about the faith component of our work, share constructive criticism and validate our vocational callings. For me it is like discovering family walking the same road. In community artists help those who need it, affirm and challenge each other to stay on track, and contribute collectively to the cultural conversation about art and faith. These relationships may not last forever because people move, passions change, life goes on. The connections, however, help us along a leg of the journey and sometimes they grow into lasting friendships.

The brilliance of a Christian art community is that all are invited to participate, sharing their skills and passions to bring an incarnational presence to culture. Reaching out to engage with others encourages us to keep creating. We draw from and give energy to each other regardless of where we are in the art hierarchy because we ascribe to a common calling and vision.

Connecting to a diverse community of creatives who also identify as Christians has never been easier. Today there is a rich assortment of opportunities to meet likeminded artists including internet-based resources, membership organizations, conferences, church-sponsored ministries, residencies, workshops and artist retreat centers. Here are a few websites that provide listings of organizations and events where artists can meet and network: http://www.artway.eu, thenewr.org, and civa.org.

Christians in the Visual Arts, a 40-year old membership organization based in the United States, brings together artists, collectors, critics, curators, scholars, and church leaders to explore the profound relationship between art and faith. Through my association with this group and networking with its members I have received art commissions, reviews, exhibitions, and invitations to publish, lecture, and teach. Perhaps the most rewarding benefit to me has been the privilege to mentor young women artists – Jesus followers who aspire to be cultural leaders.

Not everyone is interested in joining an organization and some of us do not have time or money to travel to conferences. Thankfully networking is free. Enterprising individuals often form their own local networks, gathering on a regular basis to talk about the intersection of art and faith, support their local art scene and discuss their work. All it takes is one or two people to get something started. Beware that when other artists who long to find their “tribe” hear about your little group, attendance might explode. In 2005 I asked a few artists of faith if they would like to meet monthly in our studios. Ten years later the group included 150 people from around the San Francisco Bay area, assembling to enjoy lectures, collaborations and fellowship.

Awesome professional networks like stunning art portfolios do not just happen. They are carefully curated and consistently updated. Relationships with those who share our passion and determination help us move forward professionally and spiritually. In this sense, who you know matters.

*******

Images: 
1. Marianne Lettieri: Connections and Intersections (detail). Interactive art project, 2014. 
2. Marianne Lettieri: The People, 2006.

Marianne Lettieri is a visual artist, whose mixed media constructions investigate individual and cultural values associated with everyday objects and discarded materials. She is especially interested in the process by which relics of the past illuminate and inform contemporary social and political contexts. She presents commonplace artifacts in new configurations, reinforcing the interconnectedness of people and communities through time and the shared human desire to remember. Recent solo exhibitions include Marianne Lettieri: Reflections at San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design; Strings Attached at Monterey Peninsula College; House/Work at Peninsula Museum of Art (Burlingame, CA); Evidence of Life at Doug Adams Gallery|Badè Museum and Changing Context at Azusa Pacific University. Her artworks are in the collections of San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, Oracle Corporation, and City of Palo Alto. She has an M.F.A. in Spatial Arts from San Jose State University and B.F.A. in Drawing and Printmaking from University of Florida. 


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