Some Thoughts on a New Group: Part Three

April 15, 2014

I have, in the last two parts of this essay, written about the need for a new method of marketing the visual arts. Artists are not alone in facing the challenges of a new global economy in the ever changing world of technology. The old models of our economic world are falling by the wayside-sometimes this is good and sometimes this is bad, but we cannot wish what is happening aside. Friends of mine tell me that these days people change theirs careers several times during their working lives; sometimes this is by choice and other times circumstance demands it. However, those of us who are artists are often in our trade for the long haul. Traditional painters, who pretty much are the core of this group that we are forming, are not likely to drop what they are doing and embrace a totally different career. Many of us have been doing what we do for close to half a century and, in my case, more than that. Some of the artists in my group would consider changing from oil paint to acrylic, a radical change and one member thinks that oil paint is too modern and sticks steadfast to egg tempera. So what are we aging radicals to do in this world of change?

Well, for a start, realise what we do has value and that there are people out there, our market, who not only like the type of thing we do, but are willing to buy our work. The trick is getting us and them together for our mutual benefit. The commercial gallery system is clearly not working as well as it should and the auction world is an abomination. I recently read an article in the April edition of Harper’s magazine by Nikil Saval, The Office and its Ends, which speaks to the problems of the economy, but also mentions guilds and how they might work in the 21st century. More and more people are working on their own, something artists have been doing for centuries, and there is the need for these same people to work together for not only mutual benefits, but for collaboration while maintaining their individualism. Sounds like something artists should be doing and it is something the members of my group want to do. Of course, there is a rich history of artist guilds that goes back to 15th century, but their benefits and history have been lost somewhere along the way, possibly because of the myth of artist geniuses and half-baked readings of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

Our ideas of a new guild are not about a large union to protect mediocrity or a way for members to get group health insurance, but a way for like minded individuals to come together for our mutual benefit. To that end, we are starting out very small, and likely remain that way. Our members are all established professional artists and who, at the moment, limit membership to our group by consensus. Is this elitist? Yes, of course it is. There is no reason why there cannot be many guilds of like-minded artists. Rather along the lines of Chairman Mao’s let a thousand flowers bloom or something like that. The important thing is that we understand the value of our ‘work’ and move it to market to the benefit of our members. We are not setting standard prices. Our members’ work varies in price and it’s up the artists to set a value for their art, but what we want do is sell more of it and keep more money in the hands of the artist, the producer. How do we do that or propose to do that? Of course, there is the internet, the world wide web, but that is only the means, a means, to communicate. The hard part is getting the work to the buyer and the money to the artist, be that across the street or halfway around the world.

Nottingham Guild Hall in 1750

Nottingham Guild Hall in 1750

I don’t think that our guild has any secret formula to success. We need to engage people who know how to use technology for our ends. Nothing is more stupid than over-estimating your own intelligence. Knowing what you don’t know is far more important than knowing what you do know. One other important aspect of our guild is mutual trust. If we don’t trust one another we are doomed from the start and, hence, in our case, we have limited membership to people who know and trust one another. We know that we have to invest both money and time into our guild for it to work, but it is still a group of individuals. We know that we have to start out locally, but move as swiftly, as we brave, to larger national and international markets. That would mean forging alliances with other groups and individuals.

Anyone who is going to buy works from our members, at least for now, is going to want to see the art first hand and that has its set of problems. Our members would not want to send their works half-way around the world without being assured they either they are going to sold and they see the money or there is a way to get the works safely back to them. We are looking at the idea of agents in other centres who would work with us and at the possibility of pop shows. All of this requires work on our behalf. We have only just started to get our minds around the new realities of today’s world. We feel that many commercial art galleries are going the way of record stores, remember them? This doesn’t mean that there aren’t galleries out there that can reform themselves to work in this new order, but it’s a quantum change. Look, if people can sell high-end fountain pens over the internet, then I’m sure that there is way to move nice old fashioned oil paintings as well. We just need to find the sweet spot.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, E4L 1G6, Sunday, April 13, 2014.


  1. Great to see that you’re still writing, Virgil. C:

    • Still banging away. Thanks for your thoughts. Still have another seven posts to go with Stephen Paints.

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