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Issue 17


In this issue ~~

* Arts and the Internet

* Cyber-Support Groups and Communities

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf


Arts and the Internet

Over the last few years, the Internet has become a major part of our culture. We communicate, we investigate, we play, we shop, and so much more. For artists, the Web has become a valuable resource, both for finding material, contacts and supplies and for presenting our work to the public.

Getting online and surfing the Web can be intimidating at first, with its mysterious and confusing technology. But once you're up and running (and lots of help is available for that from books and Internet service providers), using the Internet is amazingly easy and productive. The World Wide Web is literally that -- worldwide -- and gives you access to data and resources that were unavailable or difficult to find just a few short years ago, and without even leaving your home.

The Internet offers several benefits and opportunities for artists:

~ Research and resources that in the past meant going to libraries or making numerous visits or phone calls are now available at the click of your mouse. This can be a huge time-saver. Plus, the search capabilities of the Web can, with the use of well-chosen keywords, lead you directly to pertinent information that might have taken you hours or days to uncover at the library. Many government documents, news items and a myriad of information from an endless variety of sources are accessible this way. Of course, like any other research, you do have to evaluate its credibility, based on the source and how well it's documented.

~ Many artists have taken advantage of the Web as an accessible and inexpensive way to display, promote and sell their work. A web site is fairly easy and inexpensive to mount and maintain, and it can be reached instantly by anyone with an Internet connection. It can serve as a brochure, a gallery for your work, a way for people to contact you and, in some cases, a way to sell your work directly to the consumer. Writers, artists and even musicians can post samples of their work, both for the general public and as professional references. Rather than sending samples, you can simply direct prospective customers or employers to your web site. And for graphic artists and web designers, the web site itself can be a showcase of your work.

~ The Internet makes it easy for people to find and contact you, and for you to find them. Many artists, agents, suppliers, publishers and others have their own web sites and often include contact information. Artists can track down and order hard-to-find supplies and equipment that aren't available locally. Writers can find publishers' guidelines, a writing critique group or an online class. If you need to contact an expert to interview for your book or article, the Web is just the place to look. And e-mail provides a gentle, non-intrusive way to approach people you don't know, even famous ones.

~ The fast-growing technology of the Internet has opened up new avenues to graphic designers and writers. Web sites need to be designed and written and require a different approach than printed materials. The interactive capabilities offer a new challenge and new ways for communicating with your audience that have never been possible before. And again, the accessibility can't be stressed enough. Despite the tremendous scope of the Web, people tend to gravitate to common-interest sites, and your name and work can become known in your particular community.

Much of your research on the Web can begin with the use of search engines and directories such as Google (www.google.com), Yahoo (www.yahoo.com), Altavista (www.altavista.com), and Dogpile (www.dogpile.com), or by using the "Search" function on your browser. Use the "Bookmark" function to record sites you may want to visit again. Start with some of the following to find appropriate resources for your field and see how other artists are using their web sites, and then follow links to find additional sites on your favorite topics:




* Classical music


* Artists' home pages



* Resources, jobs, etc.

* Support groups and classes

* Dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses

* Author home pages

* Online bookstores

This list is just a beginning. The World Wide Web is an endless resource, with new links being created every day. Set aside some time and go off on a cyber-adventure. You'll learn how to navigate the Web, in both random and directed ways, and find resources you can use now and in the future.


Cyber-Support Groups and Communities

One of the great boons of the Internet and the various online services has been the opportunity to get connected with people. The "Net" enables you to communicate with others near and far on a daily basis without even leaving your home. It provides opportunities to meet people with common interests who you might not find locally, particularly if you live in an isolated area. The Internet can help you expand your world.

Online groups can be tremendously fun and beneficial, and many kinds are available. You can engage in conversation about common interests at your convenience and find kindred spirits far from home. You can form professional alliances or keep in touch with family and friends. You can form new friendships and, in some cases, romances. If you're busy or housebound, you can meet people and have social contact that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Cybergroups offer wonderful opportunities for creating community beyond your geographic neighborhood.

But online groups also have their down side. While your group may start off with good intentions, it's easy for the conversation to devolve to the online equivalent of small talk. That may be fine if your purpose is purely social, but if not, online conversation can become a distraction (and in some cases an addiction), rather than serving you. Also, people in cyber-communities, as elsewhere, have their own opinions, preferences and motives. Arguments and fights can erupt, and the attacks can be just as painful as they are in person. Public forums in particular are prey to rabblerousers who just want to stir things up. Being aware of these possibilities is a good precaution when joining or forming a community or support group.

To help you get the most benefit from your online communities and avoid some of the pitfalls, I would like to offer a few tips from my own experience:

~ Have a common focus or interest. It can be artistic, professional, spiritual, a health issue, a hobby, your children, something you love and enjoy, something you're curious about. As a writer, you may have trouble finding enough local people who work in your genre to form a support group, but with the Internet, you have access to the entire English-speaking world, along with any other languages you may speak. And being exposed to the views of people outside your usual sphere can offer you new insights and understanding. If you're dealing with a health issue, the information available through some of the newsgroups can literally be life-saving. And sharing tips, resources, encouragement and feedback about your work or hobby can be useful and fun.

~ Have a leader or moderator, at least at first. While decisions about group activities may be made democratically by the group as a whole, having someone who's willing to stimulate conversation can be important in the beginning in getting the momentum going and sustaining it until the community takes on a life of its own. The leader may be the person who initiates the group, someone chosen by the group, or someone who emerges naturally. Eventually, as the group members become acquainted and find their "level," the job of the leader may dwindle or disappear.

~ Have some ground rules, spoken or unspoken.

* Define the scope and intent of the group. Some groups have a very social outlook, where all types of conversation are acceptable, while others prefer to stay focused on the common topic. Holding the focus may fall to any group member who spots a detour or to a group leader, depending on how the group is structured.

* Decide whether you want a private group, by invitation only, or a public forum or newsgroup. If the group is public, be sure that new members are informed of the parameters and ground rules.

* Even in the nicest of groups, some conflict is bound to arise. Set an example of the type of behavior that's expected and how you would like conflict to be handled. Make some decisions about how far you're willing to let a fight go before the leader is to intervene. If it's your own group, create rules that will shape the group the way you want it. If it's a peer group, create the rules together so that each member of the group feels that their preferences have been heard, even if the majority of the group ultimately chooses differently.

~ Get to know the individuals in the group, or at least some, if the group is large. The people you meet online may be very different from the people you ordinarily choose as friends. Be open to the differences and benefit from the diversity. Also, people's online personas tend to reflect only a part of who they are, often very different from their personalities when you meet them, and getting to know the members in more personal ways can ease and deepen communication. (Online communications are notorious for being misunderstood, as you don't have the advantage of vocal inflection or body language in interpreting them.) Phone conversations are a great way to connect more closely with individuals you feel particularly drawn to. If possible, meet in person on occasion, either one-on-one or in groups. Good places to get together include a common-interest conference, an artists' retreat, a concert, a workshop or a museum exhibit. Plan some activities to hold the focus, but leave time just to get to know each other.

~ Be tolerant of the various personalities in the group and their personal preferences for the group. Some people like getting a lot of mail; others prefer limited amounts. (Some groups offer a "digest" version, with an entire day's mail collected into a single e-mail.) Some love long, in-depth posts, while others like short, succinct ones. Some prefer to let the conversation wander and have fun playing together, while others are adamant about staying on topic. Be willing to compromise and allow the group to find its level. This may mean that some will read every post, while others will weed through and delete the ones that don't interest them. Some will participate daily, while others will drop by occasionally or "lurk" (read without posting). Find a way to manage your participation so that it serves you without trying to force the group to adapt your needs.

~ Give the group time to grow. In the beginning, as you're getting to know each other, you may have little to say (which is why a leader is helpful). But as you get acquainted, you'll be sharing more about your common interest along with other, possibly more personal arenas. And be prepared for the number of messages to ebb and flow. It's natural to have periods of spirited conversation followed by periods of relative quiet. Likewise, allow the group to evolve and change as the individuals and relationships within the group grow and change.

There are many opportunities to join or form support groups and communities using your Internet connection and e-mail. A site like Yahoo Groups (groups.yahoo.com) or Topica (www.topica.com) has hundreds of ongoing special interest groups. Many sites dedicated to a particular subject or teacher have bulletin boards where you can share information with like-minded people. (Find these using search engines or through the teacher's office.) Online services such as Compuserve and America Online have special interest forums on numerous topics. It's not uncommon to meet one or more individuals that you "click" with and form a relationship outside the group, perhaps a private group of your own.

So what are the logistics of joining or creating a group? There are several options:

~ Public bulletin board. Yahoo Groups and Topica offer space to start your own special-interest group, or you can join an existing group. Compuserve and America Online also have a number of ongoing forums, and there are opportunities to form a subgroup dedicated to a particular focus within a forum.

~ Private bulletin board on your own web site. Ask your webmaster or Internet service provider what would be required.

~ Group e-mail. If you already have a group or are splitting off from a public group, the simplest way is to set up a "Group" in your e-mail address book and mass-mail your posts to everyone in the group.

~ Newsgroups. Visit sites such as All the Newsgroups (AllTheNewsgroups.com/) or Catalist (www.lsoft.com/lists/listref.html) to find a newsgroup appropriate for you.

Online groups can be immensely beneficial and gratifying and offer you opportunities beyond your current horizon. Use your knowledge and experience with social groups and interaction and add to it the special parameters of meeting online to make your group the satisfying and worthwhile experience it can be!


Creative Tip

Technology has expanded so vastly and rapidly in the last few years that it's impossible for each of us to keep up with it on our own. So don't try. If you have (or can acquire) the artistic, computer and writing skills required to create your own web site, great! But if not, don't sell yourself short by presenting yourself and your work in a less-than-adequate setting. Hire someone to create, design and/or write your web site and contribute the parts that you can do well.


Wise Words

"All of you have skills; if you hone them through training and practice and then gain access to these ontological depths, your creativity can rise exponentially. If in addition to this, you also do your human homework, then you become more than a creative, interesting person; you become a moral force for good."

~ Jean Houston, Sacred Psychology

"Science does not know its debt to imagination."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson



(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Arts and the Internet: A Guide to the Revolution . . . V. A. Shiva

Writing.com: Creative Internet Strategies to Advance Your Writing Career . . . Moira Anderson Allen

The Writer's Internet Handbook . . . Timothy K. Maloy

The Photographer's Internet Handbook . . . Joe Farace

The Internet Research Guide, Revised Edition . . . Timothy K. Maloy

The Internet Publicity Guide: How to Maximize Your Marketing and Promotion in Cyberspace . . . V. A. Shiva

Communities in Cyberspace . . . Marc A. Smith, Peter Kollock, Ian Heywood, editors

How to Program A Virtual Community . . . Michael Powers

Cyberville: Clicks, Culture, Creation of an Online Town . . . Stacy Horn


© 1999 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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