Forming An Art Gang

Throughout history, groups of artists have played a role in the development of one another’s careers, in terms of support, inspiration, and in some cases dissipation.

La Toilette by Toulouse Lautrec

La Toilette by Toulouse Lautrec

There was Degas’ group that gathered each summer in Brittany, which later gave rise to Gauguin’s group. There was Lautrec’s group that roved in and out of a variety of Montmartre cafes, and experimented with a variety of absinthes. There was Benton’s crowd on Martha’s Vineyard, the American Impressionists at Old Lyme, and…

Jackson Pollock’s band of merry drinksters at the Cedar Bar on Long Island.

Mutual support and shared connections

But it hasn’t just been artists who have banded together. All kinds of people engage in this practice for obvious reasons of mutual support, shared contacts, and shared beliefs.

To me, young Ben Franklin’s coalition of intellectuals, entrepreneurs and artisans, called The Junto during his early years in Philadelphia, is one of the best examples.

Want to start your own ‘gang?’ Start with a local paper.

How do you form such a group, regardless of where you might live? One place is to approach your local paper with a story idea about your pending “art group.”

Call the paper, get the name of the appropriate editor, and send them a press release. You can do this via e-mail or regular mail. I recommend the latter so that you can include visuals of your work as an example.

The release is nothing more than a one-page letter, explaining your idea for the art group, the story behind it, and why there is an element of human interest. Make the story as interesting as possible. Include details of when you want to meet, where, how frequently, etc.

And while you’re at it, you might want to mention some of the groups I alluded to above, and how throughout history this has been a practice of singularly dedicated artists.

After sending the release, wait a week, then call and politely inquire whether the paper will be doing the story. In time they’ll let you know. Just don’t bother them overmuch, as journalists are insanely busy people with even more insane deadlines.

Once the article comes out there’s a good chance it will get passed around. It will be up to you to decide if you want to restrict the group to the kind of work that you do, or leave it wide open.

Defining the group

Just be sure to ask yourself, is this group going to merely be a collection of polite coffee sippers who gather to socialize, or are you going to get down to the blood-and-guts aspects of creating art, and be honest with yourselves in the process?

This doesn’t mean that you can’t be polite, or that you can’t sip coffee. You should always be considerate, as I think vitriolic criticism is counter-productive, and rarely inspires change. But candor, when born of mutual respect, is essential for the advancement of individuals within any group.

The purpose? Growth.

Your purpose should be growth, both as individuals and artists. Growth is best achieved by grappling with and overcoming adversity in both your work and personal life. That, in turn, is best dealt with through candor. When everyone understands that this is among the group’s goals, then you’ll be creating a coalition that may well leave a significant stamp on each of you for the rest of your lives.

Good; that sure beats staying at home and doing nothing in perpetual solitude. There’s already enough of that; too much in fact. This is your way to break out of it.

Have a great time with this. And hey, swap the coffee for wine if you want, or better yet, bourbon (then I’ll join). Absinthe? Man, I think I’d stay away from that. Bad news. Just ask Lautrec.

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