As artists we all need feedback and critiques in order to grow and portfolio reviews offer to provide it. Sometimes that feedback takes the form of subtle guidance and sometimes it comes as a shocking gut check, especially when we become too close to a body of work. Tim Gunn refers to this as “living in the monkey house”- when you first walk in the smell is completely overwhelming, but after awhile the stench fades until you no longer notice it. Critique can help an artist wake up and smell the monkey crap.
With that in mind, I headed to the New England Portfolio Reviews hosted this year at the Griffin Museum of Photography (www.griffinmuseum.org). I wanted to get feedback on my metal mirror work in order to see if it is “ready” or whether the series needs further development. But more importantly I wanted to expand my network of contacts within the photographic and artistic community. Being a self taught artist means I do not have a network built up during my time in school, so these events help people like me connect with the curatorial and larger artistic community.
Past NEPR events have followed the typical model with several days of back to back reviews, but this year the format was quite different. Instead of two full days of reviews, the schedule consisted of a morning session aimed at career development with the reviews taking place in the afternoon. While the reviews are the main thrust of these events and all of us hoped they would result in an offer of a show or some other big break, the true value of the NEPR ended up being something else entirely.
A Community of Artists
The relaxed schedule, with its long lunch break between the morning discussion and the afternoon reviews, gave the participants a chance to connect with each other and share experiences beyond the topic of our current portfolio projects. The perfect weather didn’t hurt either! People took their brown bag lunches, headed outside and congregated in shady spots around the Griffin. At one point there were a dozen photographers, reviewers and staff sitting on the front lawn of the Griff trading stories, munching on cookies and generally just enjoying each other’s company. I got a chance to meet new photographers and artists, made connections with a couple of curators over sandwiches and caught up with old friends. It was this building of the photographic community was the real value of the weekend, and it is why institutions like the Griffin Museum are so important. Without a community of like minded photographers and artists, the pursuit of success can be a difficult and lonely path. A community helps cheer you through the rough bits and celebrates your success.