Thoughts on Community:
The word community is very loosely defined. According to Webster a community can be based on a shared interest, a common location, common characteristic, common policy, common economic interest or some other kind of perceived similarity between parts.
This set of definitions speaks to community as a kind of grouping of individuals based on likeness (in this way one could call a grouping of triangles a “community” on the basis that they are the same shape…even if they are different colors, have different histories and are made of different materials).
This kind of definition is what we use to identify a “black community“, a “native community“, a “queer community“, or a “feminist community“.
Through this lens a community can be seen as a kind of categorization of people. The “Visual
Arts “Community” are people who are interested in “Visual Arts”. The “Dance ” are people who like to dance. There may be infinite ways that the individuals in the differ but the fact that they share one or more characteristic makes them “same” enough to classify within a group. This understanding of community places the emphasis on static identities of individuals and does not account for the fluidity and multiplicity of individual identities, the constant flux of relationship or the continually shifting dynamics of community life.
It seems appropriate to visualize community as a physical network, as in a series of connections between people (a web of entities). A network, as a model of community, can take on many shapes and form many different kinds of relationships. Networks such as ecosystems and nervous systems illustrate the importance of diversity and dynamic change in the perpetuation of a living process. The transfer of nutrients and information from one area to another is useless if the elements of the system are the same. This is a fundamental principle of biodiversity.
Another way that community is defined by Webster is as a group of people oriented around a common goal. For example, everyone who wants better public education forms a “community” (regardless of the ways that they think it should happen) or everyone who thinks that the United States should not go to war forms a “community” (regardless of their reasoning or their personal connection to the issue).
In these terms the shared “goal” or end result of the creates the means by which people within the community relate. In this understanding the would have no reason to exist if the goal were ever to be reached. Certain values may arise out of this grouping of people in the process of their shared experience, helping to maintain a kind of shared sense of purpose (a reason to work together, to support each other). In this definition the relationships are a bi-product of a common goal.
Both definitions of community (one based on likeness and the other based on an end product) place the importance on fixed points (a static identity or a final goal) rather than the distance between (the dynamic relationships or shared process). I would like to propose a definition of community that is not defined solely by the existence of connections between entities, but rather by the quality of
connection between the parts. This shift in definition acknowledges a spectrum of likenesses and differences within a community as well as the malleable and resilient process of interpersonal connection.
If “art” is, in it’s purest form, a means of communication, then artists act very much like synapses between nerves in a nervous system. The passing of information from one person to another plays a critical role in the formation and perpetuation of social networks. As I am considering the relevance of the word “community” in the world of “art” I have become particularly interested in the ways that “art” can facilitate and mediate this connection between perceived “parts” (individuals, social realms, ideas, identities). When the connections are fluid and responsive the organism (community) is able to continue a dynamic living process because of the complex interweaving of systems, not despite them.