May 30, 2000
A wide range of responses on the demo letter brings me to the place of art clubs in our communities. While painting and sketch clubs are popular in many places, they are mainly a North American institution. They are a function of the relatively new availability of leisure time and the universe of opportunities for self-expression that are open to everybody. Painting is a challenge and for some it's fun to add the benefits of a club.
Clubs engage speakers, teachers and demonstrators and sometimes set up exhibitions in malls and church halls where member's work--which would not normally find its way into galleries--is profitably sold. It's the ultimate in arts democratization. Apart from the growth and learning potential plus mutual critiquing and support, clubs give people the opportunity to conduct meetings, prepare budgets, run galleries, buy wholesale and otherwise hob-nob with their fellow wizards.
One of the main problems is the graying of club populations and the shortage of up-and-coming youth. This can be rectified by offering scholarships and prizes to young people. It's also a good idea to emphasize experimentation in teaching and mentoring, find quality workshoppers of all persuasions, and generally play down the parliamentary procedure. Outside jurying of shows is of course useful. To best validate themselves I think clubs ought to be vital, competitive, and not necessarily sales oriented.
But the main question to many is--do clubs foster mediocrity? I've found that some clubs are way ahead of others in this department. My advice? If you must join--shop around--do a little comparative religion. Look for a club that might challenge and excite you--one with programs and energy. And above all, be prepared to graduate.
PS: "Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn." (Charlie Parker)
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter and to the previous letter concerning demonstrations, which is still bringing quite a few. While we are not publishing all letters, we are generally publishing the first on a given theme. You are welcome to copy any of this material to friends. Needless to say I found these opinions and ideas interesting and worthwhile. We are thinking of publishing many of these letters under the heading "Letters From a World of Artists." Please let me know if you think this is a good idea. Thank you for writing email@example.com
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Raising the dough
I just got back from "Painters at Painter's," a weekend of demos and discussion groups by twenty professional painters open to the general public in Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada.
Where I found this weekend to be the most beneficial to me was in LISTENING to the artists and hearing about their lives, learning about their stories and gaining from the experiences that they have already lived through and experienced first hand. The demonstrations were also inspiring. By watching the artist at work creating these masterpieces, you can't help but get excited to go home and pick up your own brushes and get going! The weekend was a 'boost' or 'jump start' to getting motivated and making something happen.
This brush with reality has been a turning point in my life. This may not be the case for everyone who attended but I've realized some serious issues that I must look into if I want to take the life of an artist seriously. Passion is a key ingredient to the recipe for success, but there are a few subtleties called "smarts" that must be added in order for the cake to rise! Hard work is the yeast that raises the dough!
Leanne Cadden, Victoria, B.C.
PS: "Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must first set yourself on fire." (Fred Shero)
Clubs and Guilds a benefit
I was a founding member of an art guild in the place where I lived 9 years ago. Due to the influence of this guild, I got myself in gear and started to show my work, take courses, learn and grow and become a selling artist. We also gave scholarships to high school students and jury and award ribbons to school shows at the end of each year. Anyone who wants to learn something and meet people with the same interests can only benefit from art guilds or clubs.
Leni Friedland, Mt Sinai, N.Y.
For years artists have been nudging me to "join" a particular arts group. A big, grant funded one. So finally I coughed up the $50 and went to say hello as a real person I had better service at some MacDonalds. At least if your fries are cold maybe you can get satisfaction.
No ready smile, no warmth, no curiosity. All the things I valued were not there. When I mentioned this, of course, it only made it even worse. So who's in the club? Whomever did not step on a crack "and break their mother's back", it seems to me.
Real artists need not apply...only toadies. I found the same to be the case at my University. All the attention and good grades went to the same people. It did not have a lot to do with excellence or brilliance. So what is our educational system doing? Cranking out sheep who will follow directions, find "good" jobs, "artists" who stay within the lines.
It seems we have many adult people taking endless classes, always at the foot of the teacher.
Judith Wray, East Brunswick, New Jersey
If you want to teach and develop a following or a school - if the club members will have you - clubs are a place to get students - without the overhead of a regular art school. The clubs themselves have overhead and politics, but perhaps not as much as art schools - the pay however is less.
The master's touch
All of my demos are teaching workshops where the students have brushes in their hands and work right along with me. I do not tolerate having people sit and admire what I'm doing so that I can have a little ego trip. I do not encourage my students to paint like me or, God forbid, exactly what I'm doing. I help people by going around and doing just a bit of work on what they are doing at the time--no matter where they're at or how talented they are or aren't. This is constructive instruction, hands on, and I have had many competent artists emerge from my courses.
Lesley L Baker
I find my writing group invaluable. I believe that without the support and encouragement from those people, writing would be something that I tried as a hobby for a short time. We have carefully structured our group so that we are not just telling each other that "I love what you wrote"; we are all working on projects of our own, then giving them to the group to edit and critique. Our goal for this month is to work on query letters so that everyone will have at least one piece of writing in the mail to a publisher. For some of us who are reluctant to take that step, it gives us something to work toward.
I have a friend who belongs to a painting club, which I have attended on a couple of occasions just to see what they do. This particular group is not business meeting oriented, but is more a regular once-weekly time to get together with other artists and work on a project. Some do watercolours, some paint with oils or acrylics, some work on large canvasses, others do note cards. There are not any organized classes or demonstrations, rather each person is free to wander around and watch the others work, or to ask someone for suggestions on material or technique. Most of the members of the group are retirees, but there are several younger people who come when they can. I would suspect that the motivation for attendance is as much social as anything, as most of the artists also do their work in their own home/studio.
Susan Legault, Vancouver
In my opinion there is a vital difference between "demo" and "apprenticeship" or "mentor". The demonstrator shows sycophants how to paint like him. Those people go out and instead of looking inside themselves for style, technique and personal expression, they connect the dots and colour between the lines until they have something that looks like someone else's painting. The value of apprenticeship and mentoring is that the student gets an example, gets jobs, does grunt work and absorbs by osmosis the process of becoming self-directed. Hopefully after a while he gets sick of his "master's" stuff and goes out and paints what HE feels like.
For some reason, it seems that those who take up art later in life have more need for community and exchange -- for reassurance so others can tell them if they are on the right path. Then again, the art schools are chock full of the same milieu sharers. The rugged individuals -- young and old -- are at home in their rooms and couldn't give a damn about what others are saying and doing about art.
I'll bet the best kinds of clubs are print shop co-ops like Malaspina Printmakers and Open Studio where collaborative efforts are involved (like you always need someone to help you lift your paper). I was pleasantly surprised upon my first visit to Open Studio -- nobody's work looked the same. The only thing I could tell was who were the printmakers that graduated from my alma mater, Queen's University.
Sara Genn, Vancouver
I have an artist friend who revels in the act of demos; his main livelihood is teaching. When I was asked to give a talk on my work at the local school, I conferred with him, seeking his expertise on this subject. Of course, he said I must give a demo...the "audience" will love it. As he went on to describe his manner of working, it gradually dawned on me that this was akin to a magic act; he had become a performance artist, capturing his classes' attention with his bag of tricks.
It occurred to me that he had gained a lot of confidence through the years, fine honing his magician skills. But digging deeper, I asked him about his real work and where he was going with it. He proceeded to tell me how busy he was with commissions, how he nabbed many of his clients through his classes, how he primarily worked on things that would sell.
I did my talk at the school...no demos. I brought slides, works in progress, finished paintings, my basic materials, and some early work I did when I was the same age as the students. The hour went well. I held their undivided attention for the whole time; they asked a lot of questions, and I answered them as best I could. Instead of focussing on technique & magic acts, I spoke about what made me an artist, how I saw the world, how to hang onto your dreams and your passions. How it was okay to be different. I hope I reached them at an honest, human level that will last far longer than a magic trick. Feel the pulse
Judy Lalingo, Ontario, Canada
Like bird lovers, writers, and photographers, it can be inspiring to be with a group of like-minded people to share and learn in a social setting. Isolation can be tough for some artists. We are social animals, for the most part, and are always trying to find our proper niche in life. Finding a good fit in an art club is probably no different and requires a little research.
Do clubs foster mediocrity? There's a tendency to think of mediocrity as a disease one can catch, when actually, I rather think both mediocrity and excellence are part of the human condition, here to stay, and in fact each vital to our lives. I'd like to see people more comfortable with the word because it's so much a part of our existence. We are and can be, I think, both unique and mediocre. We derive comfort by surrounding ourselves with mediocrity. We choose a home instead of a tree, we dress ourselves in manufactured clothing, we drive vehicles, we attempt to follow rules of conduct in social situations and many times we reap the benefits from those employed in what many might call mediocre jobs. Have you ever wanted to kiss a plumber? I have, remembering a stopped up toilet. Same for cooks and waitresses, I love to eat out. Let's face it, we are as a whole, a mediocre bunch, pretty average for the most part, and I sometimes suspect, even inferior! That thought comes to me on clear star-lit nights, preferably with a full moon.
I own up to my own mediocrity, embrace it actually, and think of it as the petri dish wherein I strive to culture my own excellence. I don't fear anyone else's mediocrity when I already acknowledge my own, live with it, and use it. Realistically, most of us will die still trying to paint that immortal picture, pen that immortal poem, but what a way to go! A life well spent, I think. Think of the golfer who spends a lifetime trying to whack a small ball across a vast green to sink it into a hole he can't even see. What propels him to keep coming back, even in the pouring rain, in threat of lightning strikes, to keep on trying? Passion, stupidity? Perhaps a little of both, but it's human to keep on trying to find the heartbeat, feel the pulse that defines the excellence of a job finally well done.
Carole MacRury, Point Roberts, Washington
Reason to finish paintings
One of the first groups I was involved in forming here in Gibsons was the St. Barts Artists. We began painting in the St. Barts Church Hall and grew from a handful to the point we had to limit membership to 20. When the church was being renovated we were turfed out and eventually found a very happy home in the lower deck of the local Yacht Club. Good light, great space and all the comforts of home. As we grew, we began to feel the need to show. Initially we began in order to add amenity to the Gibsons Landing area in the summer time. We were in Mollys Reach (of Beachcomber fame) in early July for three years. When it became a restaurant and was no longer available, we began to have a yearly show in the courtyard of the Yacht Club. When the rain drove us in, one year, we decided we liked it that way and are about to hold our third indoor show July 8th and 9th this year. We have a wide variety of talents in our group. Three of our members are active participants at the Federation of Canadian Artists, and are frequently selected to show. One of our more retiring artists is very much in demand and sells out at every show we have. But mostly we enjoy painting together, supporting and critiquing each other's work. We occasionally bring in an artist of choice for a demo, when a majority feel the need of some new knowledge. Many take one or more courses at our Sunshine Coast School of the Arts Summer Workshops, which bring in teachers from all over North America to teach four courses, a week long, each summer. This tends to expand our horizons considerably. But regrettably, we ARE a graying group, and we suffer from the natural attrition of our age. We did have several younger members who we embraced enthusiastically. However careers and families made it necessary for them to withdraw. As one of the members said of our group, "It keeps us seniors off the streets" - may I add - causing trouble? We have a lot of fun and do a little work. If we didn't have our shows we would never see each other's work finished.
Peggy Small, Gibsons, B.C. Prevalence of the creative spirit
I am a professional artist who doesn't believe in clubs. Yet, as I have grown older, I have found myself more and more drawn to them. I don't join them. I just come around once a year or so as a guest lecturer or demonstrator. I appreciate that it's a bit of an ego trip to get out of the studio and be flattered and even paid, but it's more to do with my wonder and curiosity at the marvelous persistance, the prevalence, of the creative spirit.
Bill Holmes, U.K
If you would like to see selected correspondence relating to the previous letter "The Demo." Please go to http://painterskeys.com/clickbacks/demo.htm
This is quite an experience. Every hour or so I move away from my easel, wander up to the computer, and someone has handed us all another letter. Thanks again. R.G.