The Group Dynamic

Q. I love to paint, but it’s hard to paint without the inspiration and support of other artists. There aren’t any groups in my area, so I’m thinking about starting an artists’ guild. What’s the best way to start one?

A. This is a great idea, and one backed by a strong tradition. As you likely know, groups of artists have played a role in the development of one another’s careers throughout history in terms of sharing encouragement and ideas.

There was Edgar Degas’s group that gathered each summer on the coast of Brittany, France, which in turn gave rise to Paul Gauguin’s circle of painters. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s group roved in and out of a variety of Montmartre cafes. And let’s not forget Thomas Hart Benton’s crowd on Martha’s Vineyard in Masschusetts, the American Impressionists at Old Lyme, Connecticut, and Jackson Pollock’s band of merry drinksters at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village in New York City.

How do you form such a group, regardless of where you live? Start by asking yourself whether the purpose of forming this group is to get together with artists or to get down to the blood-and-guts aspects of creating art. Either way, your overall purpose should be growth, both as individuals and artists, and when everyone understands that this is among the group’s goals, you’ll be creating a coalition that may well leave a significant stamp on each of you for the rest of your lives.

Next, undertake an e-mail campaign with all the art teachers in your area, both at the college and high school levels, to get their input. Many of these teachers are artists themselves, hang out with artists, will gladly pass on the information and will probably even join your group. It’ll be up to you to decide if you want to restrict the group to the kind of work you do or if you want to leave it wide open. I would recommend the latter, as variety is more stimulating than familiarity.

Then, after your group has had a number of meetings, should you desire further exposure, approach the local newspaper. If you live in a fairly large city, it’s unlikely that your major daily newspaper will do a story on this, but it’s possible that a smaller, community-oriented newspaper will. Why would any of these journalists care? Because they’re often sympathetic to the arts, as they’re part-artist themselves.

So call the paper, get the name of the appropriate assignment editor and send her a press release. You can do this via e-mail or regular mail. I recommend the latter so you can include visuals of some of the artists’ work. The release is nothing more than a one-page business letter explaining your idea, the story behind it, and the reason it has an element of human interest. Make the story as interesting as possible. After sending the release, wait one week, call the journalist and politely inquire whether the newspaper will be doing the story. In time he’ll let you know. Just don’t bother him too much, as journalists are insanely busy people with even more insane deadlines.

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