I’m all about community. I crave being part of a community, I flourish in the context of community, and I love building communities. It doesn’t matter what the little society is built around – church, MS, philanthropy, sports, the arts, or pure recreation. Where two or more are gathered, there I want to be in the midst of them. That’s why I speak and write so often (like here and here and a lot of places in between) about the value of support groups for those with MS.
So today I felt like writing about communities. This blog being centered on writing and film, it’s creative/artistic communities that are on my mind.
If I can break it down a bit, I see two flavors of such communities. The first would include temporary gatherings for specific purposes: individual plays, films, concerts, and recordings, for example. My experience participating in such efforts has invariably proven to be fun, exhilarating, and inspiring… for a while. There’s a sort of “postpartum” depression that often sets in when they end, as they always must.
No matter how brief, I wouldn’t want to miss those opportunities for the world. Whether singing in a choir or acting with a troupe, there’s nothing like being part of a collective creative consciousness all aimed in the same artistic direction. To get a glimpse into that world, read the book I wrote about in this post.
As you might have guessed, the second type of creative community is a long term one. They last for years, lifetimes, or generations. Members of these collectives pour their creative energies and encouragement into one another thus enhancing their work and their lives. Some are formal, others more a matter of proximity.
The folkies of 50’s Greenwich village were a hotbed of creative (and cultural and political) growth. In the 60’s, the Motown area gave rise to R&B and Haight-Ashbury nurtured the roots of modern rock’n’roll. Those communities were responsible for seismic shifts in culture. Though not considered artistic, Silicon Valley was for a time as creative a community as the world has seen. Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon, portrayed so effectively in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, was an intentional community that hosted some of the century’s most celebrated artists and writers.
After all, what is a band, an orchestra, or an architectural firm but a community of creatives? These gatherings are so much more creative and productive than the individuals involved could ever be. I feel confident in asserting that the community known as The Beatles was far greater than the sum of its parts.
Those kinds of groups always seem to eventually fall victim to bloated egos, tempestuous personalities, and conflicting agendas. That’s part of the baggage of the stereotypical artistic personality. Which is probably why artists of all stripes tend toward isolation.
My personal icon of a literary community is the Inklings of Oxford, UK. The most prominent members of this discussion group were J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – not sure if using one’s initials was a prerequisite to membership. What I would give to hang around at the Eagle and Child Pub with these guys discussing their latest work and ideas. I’d be lost, of course, but humiliation is a price I’d gladly pay.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Oxford, dining at the Bird and Baby, as its customers often called it, and also hearing a lecture on Tolkien in the adjoining building. I was staying in a house on the same street in Headington where Tolkien once lived, driven to the talk by a gentleman who had been a friend of the Tolkien family, accompanied by the caretaker of the Kilns, Lewis’s home. I’ve never had a more fulfilling, if thoroughly vicarious, literary experience.
I’m not sure why this was on my mind. I can’t say I’ve ever been involved in one of those long-term artistic communities, although the prospect is appealing. The funny thing is that writers are notorious loners and introverts, which would fight against any impulse to be part of a larger group. For many, the value must win out over the personal reticence.
Gotta go. I’m running late for a meeting of one of my collection of communities.