WBAA’s Community Voices: Lauren Ehrmann’s ‘Art Clubs: Why Artists Create In Groups’
On the third Tuesday of every month, in the studio on the second floor of the Frankfort Community Public Library, something amazing happens. Wood carvers, painters, jewelry makers, and milliners all meet to make prints. Ideas are shared. Advice is given. And at the end of the evening each artist leaves the studio with a head full of new ideas and a portfolio full of new prints.
These are the Tuesday Night Inkers. It’s a printmaking group, but artists of all kinds are encouraged to come and no previous printmaking experience is required.
Many people are wont to imagine artists as solitary scribblers, locked away in their studios, obsessively realizing their unique, individual artistic vision. However, this is often not the case. Art is frequently as much a community effort as it is an individual undertaking. And while most works of art are, in the end, the creation of one person, the inspiration and ideas and revisions that go into the work are often the product of a community of artists. Artists must have teachers, mentors, muses. They must have others to bounce ideas off of. They must have a community of people around them to give them confidence, offer just the right amount of pointed criticism, inspire them, and generate the excitement necessary to create. In short, artists need other artists.
This is not a recent phenomenon. Artists have always banded together in groups. Salvadore Dali hung out with Pablo Picasso, Renee Magritte, and Juan Miro in Paris. Frida Kahlo’s house was a refuge for artists of all kinds, and she even married another artist, Diego Rivera. Architect Walter Gropius went so far as to found a college where art and architecture students could all study the Bauhaus style together. And it was a group of Dutch artists in the 1600s who first began the time-honored tradition of artists meeting in cafes.
My experiences as a member of the Tuesday Night Inkers printmaking club help illustrate the reasons why artists are so interested in congregation. I first began attending the club when I was very young because my mother, a printmaker, was one of the founders. Initially I came because the time set aside once a month for making prints helped keep me motivated and printing regularly. However, as I grew older, I began to appreciate the conversation and art of the diverse people around me. Because the group was not just printmakers, I was able to garner new and interesting ideas and inspiration from the other artists. It was always fascinating to see how the chosen media of each artist transferred to the media of printmaking. Peter, the woodcarver, made prints with all the precision with which he measured each piece of wood to make furniture. Daniel, the painter, created detailed genre scenes with a level of detail a printmaker would generally not attempt, but which was natural to him as a painter. Tammy, the hat maker, printed on bright colors in bright inks and sometimes incorporated fabric into her prints. Being exposed to all these disparate ideas and backgrounds was refreshing. As an artist, it was easy for me to get caught in a rut stylistically. Attending the Tuesday Night Inkers allowed me to see fresh perspectives on printmaking, to consider new ways that prints might be made, and to incorporate fresh ideas and ways of looking at things into my own work.
Furthermore, asking for advice from any of these artists was always helpful. Many of the problems I encountered in my art turned out to have easy solutions, but I was too stuck in my own way of thinking to see them. The benefit of working with other artists of different media is that oftentimes they have a different way of viewing the world, a different instinctive solution to problems. For example, for years I had had enormous difficulty centering my prints on paper when I printed them. I was simply bad at eyeballing center, but I never thought that I could do anything to fix this problem. One night at Inkers, I was complaining about this and one of the other members mentioned that he had solved this problem by making a simple frame on hinges so the print was always centered. This very simple solution had never occurred to me. It took someone with a different expertise and point of view to see the obvious solution.
The final, and most important benefit of working in a group of artists is less concrete. It has to do with energy, with enthusiasm, with creativity. There have been entire months and even years of my life during which I did not feel particularly creative. When I was in this kind of artistic slump, there was always one sure solution: go to a meeting of artists. When you get all these creative people together in one room, bursting with ideas and eager to share and critique them with others, an atmosphere of potential is created. It is almost impossible not to be inspired at these meetings. I have been to Inkers meetings where I did not even plan to make art because I was feeling uninspired and have come away with pages and pages of potential prints. Even when I would walk in without any ideas of my own, hearing others speak so passionately about their own projects and seeing their latest art always sparks inspiration. If you walk into any art club with an open mind, you will walk out with a head full of ideas. The simple truth is that creative people inspire people to create.
And so I would like to leave you with this: art clubs are not just for artists. Perhaps you have not touched a paintbrush since the last mandatory middle school art class. Perhaps the most you can manage is stick figures. But the kind of creativity that is present at art clubs can help inspire you in any aspect of your life. It may help you come up with the perfect pitch for your boss, help inspire you to write a story, give you an idea for a new way to organize your bathroom drawers, or make you think of a new game to play with your kids. Working with people who think creatively can help you see solutions to problems that you would never have thought of otherwise. So go out with your artist friends, or walk in during the meeting of a local art club and ask each artist what they are working on. Who knows what you might be inspired to create?
Lauren Ehrmann is a senior at Frankfort High School. She is a professionally exhibiting artist, a member of the Frankfort Arts Council and member of the Tuesday Night Inkers. Lauren is a recipient of the Wells Scholarship and will be attending IU Bloomington in the fall to study art history.