Building Your Artistic Practice Through Community (Part 1)

How community helped me find my footing after a major life crisis

Lawrence Lazare
Live View
5 min readMay 21, 2024


Buckminster Fuller and students constructing the Supine Dome in 1948 at Black Mountain College / Courtesy State Archives of North Carolina

Whether we’re out taking photos with our cameras around our necks, in a studio painting, or in our office hammering away at our next written piece, for most visual artists and writers, our craft is a solitary one. As artists, we get used to those long hours spent on our own in the studio, darkroom, or behind the computer; we understand that doing our work is a solo sport.

For many years, my photography practice was based around travel, whether traipsing through New York’s Hudson River Valley on a solo weekend car trip or taking shots in museums around the world when traveling with my wife. However, as I’ve previously written about, the vagabond nature of my practice changed dramatically in 2020 when I lost my central vision from a genetic eye disease. Along with my vision loss came a forced retirement and the loss of my driver’s license. My ability to move through the world had just changed for good, with my photography practice becoming collateral damage.

The winter of 2021 found me newly retired and unable to drive. Given that we were still in the depths of COVID, I was spending almost all of my time within blocks of my home. I had recently moved to the Florida Panhandle from New York’s Hudson River Valley and had not yet developed much of a local community. Staring at my wall shelves full of cameras that I was no longer using, I found myself fighting a descent into a dark place. I knew I had to do something to move forward, both in life and as a photographer.

A portion of my camera collection

One morning, while listening to The Digital Story Photography Podcast, host Derrick Story talked about an upcoming online Infrared Photography Workshop. Although I had been shooting Infrared for 40 years and felt confident in my skills and knowledge of the subject, I decided to sign up for the workshop for two key reasons: the workshop assignments would force me to pick up my cameras again, and I desperately needed to find an artistic community to engage with.

Artist Communities and Innovation

Historically, artist communities have had a significant impact on art movements and innovation. They are usually centered around major cities or learning institutions. In Paris in the latter half of the 19th century, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt helped redefine painting.

When thinking of great artist communities, I think of the Harlem Renaissance, where visual artists, writers, and musicians such as Jacob Lawrence, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, WEB Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Duke Ellington, among many others, defined the artistic voice of the African American community.

North Carolina’s Black Mountain College was a nexus of artistic change in the mid-twentieth century. At Black Mountain, artists, writers, dancers, and architects such as Buckminster Fuller, Robert Rauschenberg, Beaumont Newhall, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Merce Cunningham, and John Cage shaped American culture in a way that still echoes throughout the art world.

When I think of great artist communities like the Impressionists in Paris, the Harlem Renaissance, or Black Mountain College, I think of how these artists pushed against convention and inspired each other. A strong artist community not only provides us with a group of like-minded individuals, but it can also open new doors and challenge us to grow in unexpected ways. It was this kind of challenge I was looking for as I began to rebuild my artistic practice as someone who had recently become legally blind.

Expanding My Community and Artistic Practice

Taking the Infrared Photography workshop in the spring of 2021 gave me the momentum to start working on my photography practice despite the challenges of my disability. In the spring of 2022, I took the workshop for a second time. Feeling a growing sense of momentum as I started to learn to navigate the world again, I decided to dedicate my retirement to building a broader artistic practice.

A photo taken for an assignment during my first Infrared photography workshop

In the spring of 2023, having written for pleasure since I was a teen, I joined the Live View team here on Medium. As my work on Live View started to gain me readers, I started to feel a growing sense of confidence in my artistic practice overall. This boost in confidence led me to submit a portfolio of photographs to my fellow Live View writer, John Pemberton, who had recently started F2.8 Press to publish the work of emerging photographers. Earlier this year, John and F2.8 published my first monograph, The Museum Gaze.

As part of my ongoing goal to build my community and expand my artistic practice, last fall, I went back to college to get a B.F.A. in Studio Art from The University of West Florida. Although I still consider myself first and foremost a photographer, I find that taking classes like ceramics, painting, color theory, drawing, and 2D design not only broadens my overall practice but also places me in the middle of a cadre of very talented artists some 40 years younger than myself.

The Path Forward

Three years after the start of my life crisis, I find my life in a very different place. I now find myself a part of a number of vibrant communities — from my online photography community as part of Derrick Story’s Inner Circle to my writing community here at Live View and to my community of “art kids” over at The University of West Florida. Finding myself surrounded by such talented writers, photographers, and visual artists, I find my artistic practice moving in an exciting direction.

The communities I’m part of now have not only provided me with support and inspiration, but they’ve also helped me build an audience on Medium, get my photographs published at F2.8 Press, and set me on the path to earning a B.F.A.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll discuss ideas for building and growing your own artist community. I’ll also expand on how taking a class can help build your community and how it can cause you to see your practice in a whole new light.

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs copyright Lawrence Lazare.

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Lawrence Lazare
Live View

Legally blind photographer and former e-commerce product management lead. Now working on a BFA in Studio Art at the University of West Florida. IG:@llazare