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News . Feature Stories . Answer for a solitary studio: The Salon


June 28, 2019

Answer for a solitary studio: The Salon

These critique-group friends find inspiration and camaraderie in their monthly meetings.

Salon members photo

Salon members, from left: Leslye Discont Arian, Tom Roese, Bonnie Dolin, Mindy Tousley and Jennifer Leach.

By Afi Scruggs

For much of her career, painter and printmaker Bonnie Dolin has made representational art. But she’s exploring a new direction, so today she brings a pair of abstract works to her artist group, The Salon.

The meeting is at the Cleveland Heights home of Jennifer Leach. Dolin, a 1973 CIA grad, props the pieces against a chaise longue so her friends can examine them closely. The canvas on the left is a gathering of triangles that coalesces into pyramids and cubes. The work beside it is a collection of various shapes that feel more two-dimensional in a palette of orange and yellows broken with blues and golds.

“My interest here is just fitting together a variety of color and not pre-planning,” Dolin says. “I want it to be spontaneous, but at the same time, it’s not: spontaneous in terms of use of color and shape.”

Dolin and Leach are among five artists who comprise The Salon. Three are CIA alumni: Tom Roese earned his BFA in drawing and graphic design in 1971. He spent 32 years teaching art and now makes art full time. Leslye Discont Arian, a 1976 grad, majored in ceramics and minored in painting. Leach is a Kent State University alum. Mindy Tousley is a graduate of State University College of Buffalo.

For four years, Salon members have been gathering monthly to push and support each other by offering insights gained from decades as professional, award-winning artists. Leach got things rolling when she approached Roese about starting a critique group. Roese remembers feeling ambivalent.

“I think I smiled and I looked pleasant, but I was thinking, ‘Oh no!’ Because I don’t want to give up time (in the studio),” he said.

Nevertheless, he suggested inviting Dolin and Arian. The quartet were founding members of the group and Tousley joined later. Members bring whatever they’re working on during the month. The critiques are pointed and direct, if not automatically followed. “We don’t always take each other’s advice,” Arian says.

Trust is key. “Artists need a safe place to exchange ideas,” Tousley says. “Sometimes people can be harsh.”

Most importantly, though, The Salon provides community in a profession that can be extremely solitary.

“When you’re in college, you always have a group of people around you that influences you,” Tousley says. “When you leave college, you’re working alone. You’re working alone in your studio, you’re working alone in your house somewhere. This is an opportunity to get some feedback.”

The community of The Salon has spread into the virtual lives of its members. They text each other about their successes and frustrations; they share examples that will inspire and inform.

“We pretty much know that when we’re working in the studio, the whole rest of The Salon is working in the studio, too,” Roese said. “We’re getting strength from each other, and courage. There’ve been things that we’ve all brought to the table, and taken from the table, that we didn’t expect to.”

So what tips do they have for artists who want to replicate their model?

  • Make sure potential members share a similar level of commitment, quality of work, and work ethic.
  • Be prepared for meetings by having work or work in progress to share.
  • Be civil with negative feedback.
  • Observe discretion. Or, to put it another way, whatever is said inside the group stays inside the group. As Roese puts it, "This gave us permission and safety to discuss ANYTHING. Politics, personal issues, family, relationships ALL could be discussed. After all, these things (and our reactions to them) inform and effect our work. Since we were prepared to expose our souls through our work, we needed to be able to always feel we were in a safe place to share very personal thoughts and issues. This has been huge, both in solving problems (visual, or otherwise), and critical in personal growth while dealing with whatever problems we are facing in life."
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