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No artist is an island

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

We live in a capitalistic, patriarchal society that perpetuates the myth of the “self-made man.” Within this myth, everyone is an island - everyone controls their own destiny. This myth is further packaged and sold in the art world where the image of the lone genius creating in their studio is immortalized in every movie, tv show and oversized coffee table book.

Yet time and again this fallacy is disproven when we start to sift through the biographies of successful creators. The truth is, artists rarely create in a vacuum.

The artists and creative professionals I have interviewed so far as host of Creative Coast’s new podcast Meet Me in the Middle embody the reality of the interconnected artist. They are in constant relay with their broader creative network, playing a game of swapping out good ideas for better ones as they draw inspiration from the people, places and things that surround them.

Our conversations also touched on the role of mentorship within the arts community. Reciprocal relationships, rooted in collaboration and mentorship, have potential to exist everywhere within the context of the artist’s journey. From drawing inspiration from clients, to engaging with students and creating space for other artists, mentorship develops another lens of creativity and deepens creative practice by drawing from a web of relationships.

Important conversations are taking place right now across Canada about the decolonization and Indigenization of mentorship, and the deconstruction of the “Eurocentric mentorship [approach where] the mentor is given the powerful place of “helping””, which “distances mentors from protégés and reinscribes the norms of power and success.” Engaging in mentorship should instead allow for self-reflection, dispersion of power, and interconnectedness.

Arts organizations are emphasizing the power of mentoring through initiatives that match emerging and established artists. Here are two examples: Creative Manitoba and Ottawa Arts Network.

What might it look like if we moved more in this direction here on Vancouver Island? In other words, created conditions that enabled artists to feel more connected, not less?

A useful framework is the infrastructure of emergent systems:

“Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions” (Nick Obolensky, complex adaptive leadership: embracing paradox and uncertainty).

"But emergence shows us that adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical, deep, and authentic connections, a thread that can be tugged for support and resilience" (adrienne marie brown, emergence strategy).

If we start to foster small connections one-on-one and one-by-one, eventually we start to build momentum like cascading dominoes or a snowball rolling downhill. Not only are we influenced and uplifted by community but - by being in community, we glean new ideas, materials, and more.

Collaboration means 'to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something'. That sounds disarmingly simple. But then when you strip back what business is all about, it fundamentally comes down to communication.

Questions to ponder!

  • Instead of feeling disconnected and distant, how can we reach out to our creative communities, and begin to have conversations that illuminate making in and through connection?

  • What ways do artists wish to engage differently with their arts communities?

  • What barriers might exist to prevent connecting with others and how might we start to lower these barriers?

As a starting point, be sure to get connected with Creative Coast by joining our mailing list, following and sharing our content on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. We’d love to share your news too! Send us your events, call for submissions, grant opportunities and more by emailing or tagging us @CreativeCoastBC


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