Last night Betty Piderman of Kitsilano, B.C., Canada wrote, “I was wondering about the Monday Night Art Club you mentioned recently. Can anybody join? Is it membership only? Is there a fee? Where is it held? I would be interested to find out more.”
Thanks, Betty. There are 135,000 art clubs in North America, and while it’s primarily an American invention, they now exist all over the world. They don’t all meet on Mondays, of course, nor will they carry on every week, but they have become so popular that they might be seen as a sociological phenomenon on the scale of Rotary. In my experience, anybody can join. They’re generally looking for members, and they’ll take anyone with about fifty bucks. Some groups just want to paint or sketch together while others have complex entry procedures, work in specific media, hire speakers, critics and demo-doers, hold art shows and put on scintillating social events. This time of year they tend to have their Christmas parties, which require quite a bit of effort, making them a positive hazard to painting.
Clubs happen in community halls, church basements and disused churches. They generally have a life cycle of about forty years, but there are some art clubs and associations that have been around for more than a century. They are often 80% women, and 18% widows. (Several times I’ve asked for a show of hands.) Some of these widows can be Merry Widows. The main downfall of art clubs, in my estimation, is the shortage of input from youth. There’s no doubt art clubs serve social needs and give a sense of community. It’s fun to hang out with like-minded folks. Also, competition can be stimulating. In my experience, many promising artists have cycled into clubs and cycled out again in short order. This is possibly due to the realization that becoming a pro is really a loner’s game.
Nevertheless, clubs are part of the greater brotherhood and sisterhood of artists. They are living witness to the democratization of art — people sighting higher ideals and working toward them. Through the slings and arrows of group and professional crits, many artists have found art clubs to be valuable stepping stones to success. Others just enjoy the ambience. Our world needs more art clubs and fewer gun clubs.
PS: “Why would I want to join a club that would encourage someone like myself to become a member?” (Groucho Marx)
Esoterica: Over the years I’ve offered suggestions for the revival of certain moribund clubs. One of my suggestions was to insist that members bring three new paintings each week. If they don’t bring any, they’re kicked out of the club — losing their annual fees and all. Great vitality would prevail among the remaining members. While this suggestion has been considered and discussed at annual meetings, it has never, to my knowledge, been tried. “We’d be closed down in three weeks,” I was told. “And there’d be no more cookies.”
This letter was originally published as “A social phenomenon” on December 22, 2006.
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