On the Value of Community


A long time ago, back in the dark ages when cell phones were the size of bricks and I looked like the the woman above (the one in cowboy boots), I was an aspiring artist. Or rather, I was an artist, aspiring to find my place in the art world.

My adorable younger sister worked in a new museum named the Menil Collection (It’s a wonderful place, highly recommended). I preyed upon her to use her status as cute young guard to get me a meeting with the director, Walter Hopps.

I flew into Houston and phoned the museum to verify my appointment. They had forgotten all about it. With a bit of sighing, they fit me in.

The day came. I arrived at the museum and expected to wait a bit, and I did. And did. Forty-five minutes after my arrival, Hopps blew in and past me, his long coat flapping, in an entrance to make any diva envious. Another wait, and finally, I was escorted into his presence.

I was in awe. My first museum director. I could be discovered. Anything could happen.

He looked at my slides, holding the sheet up to the light and more-or-less complimented my over-sized portraits (one of which you see above). He then asked me if I drew from a projected image. I said no, these were all free hand, from snapshots. No grids, even.

Does he act surprised? Does he praise my skill? Not a chance. He proceeded to say it was perfectly legitimate to create art from slide projections, as if he didn’t believe me and was encouraging me to come clean. He seemed stuck on this point and came back to it a few times during our meeting. I wondered if he was secretly needling me.

I decided that Walter Hopps was a sadist.

Walter told me he agreed to meet with approximately three artists per year. He said we all looked to museum directors to help us in some way, and he said flat out that he was not going to help me.

He then explained to me that we are all looking for someone who has already made it to help us, and it didn’t work that way. He said everyone thinks Leo Castelli made Robert Rauschenberg and the entire NYC art scene in the 60’s. This was wrong. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns introduced their friends to Castelli, and the artists made him. He said, “Artists make galleries, galleries don’t make artists.”

He said to look to my peers, and for us to help each other. This is how things happened.

After that, he cited The Color of Money and said, “Character will out.” And I was ushered out of his office.

I pride myself on taking good advice, no matter the source.

Creative folk tend to be loners, obsessed with seeing their vision to fruition, and by nature, not inclined towards cooperation (too many cooks, you know?). I never quite found that group synergy as an artist. I stumbled into it as a writer.

A little over a year ago, I was a regular on the Kindle Direct Publishing forum, where I met a lot of truly fine people who gave me great advice and moral support in getting my first two books published. Unfortunately, the forum became overrun with trolls and flamers. I can ignore that. The part that was unacceptable was this: every time an author shared a significant success, they would suddenly wind up with a string of one star reviews on their books at Amazon. You could still get good formatting advice if you kept your head down, but you talked about how you were actually doing at your peril.

A fellow publisher got sick of this and asked me and another writer if we would be interested in a private, invitation only group. I jumped on this. We have since grown to more than 70 members, and it is the most amazing experience. People report their word count has increased, their writing has improved, their confidence has grown, and by sharing information, we have refined and adopted marketing strategies that have increased our income. We no longer feel alone on our path. We know it actually is a path, and that it leads somewhere, because we are able to safely compare our experiences with others. And we have fun while doing all this.

I feel blessed in these friends.

And no, I’m not going to invite you to join us. But I will share with you how to to create your magical haven.

Next post.

3 thoughts on “On the Value of Community”

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