A social phenomenon


Dear Artist,

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.

Best regards,


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.”


Encouragement in clubs
by Lewis Morrison, Paraparaumu, NZ

For my sins I’m the convener of the watercolour group of the Kapiti Arts and Craft Guild in Paraparaumu, NZ. The guild has over 400 members and the watercolour group meets every Monday morning from Feb. to Nov. The group itself has 25 members which fills our hall when all attend. It is an older group and could use some youth. In the Guild there are 100 people who paint in watercolour. Our annual show in our gallery will have approx 150 paintings. This group has no rules on how much you have to do. The main idea of the group is to encourage the use of watercolour, to provide a place where questions can be answered (e.g. What’s wrong with this and how do I fix it?) Without the group and its outlets some would not paint and most would not grow. You should encourage groups even if it is just for the cookies.


Excitement of fresh artists
by BJ Wright, Tunnel Hill, GA, USA

For a moment I thought you were writing about our art club. 1. We meet once a month, of course on Monday night 2. at a church 3. membership is more than 95% women 4. several being widows 5. special speakers at most meetings 6. cookies — ALWAYS 7. yearly fees are less than noted ($25) 8. hold at least 3 art shows a year 9. active membership is juried Our club has been in existence for about 40 years and has become somewhat stale — that is until our new president was elected in 2005. She has introduced several young, talented members into the group. Of course this has ruffled some feathers. However, the excitement of these fresh artists cannot be held back. I see new and wonderful things happening.


Art model
by Anne O’Connor, Canada

Our club is called the Underground Group. It meets on Monday evenings to draw the model that we hire. For the last few months I have sought the models. Although I was very reluctant at first, I have had more fun than I could have anticipated. Here I am at the stage of my life when I am invisible to young people and yet when I approach them to model they agree with a wide range of reactions from suspicion to eagerness. To stir the group up, I proposed asking musicians to pose with a view to a future show of our local musicians. Not a single musician has hesitated. In a recent sitting the guitarist played continually while sitting for two hours. It was thrilling! Next month the musician is a redheaded accordion player who insists she will be able to match that. Can you draw to the “Beer Barrel Polka”?


Sweet and sour of art clubs
by Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA


ink and watercolor painting
by Theresa Bayer

For the past ten years I’ve gotten a lot of good out of art clubs. I’ve sold my work in members’ shows and attended conferences. I’ve met wonderful talented inspiring artists. I’ve also served on committees and been a board member. Your observation about promising artists cycling in, then out of clubs because an art career is really a loner’s game hit me over the head like a club. I had already “retired” as an arts volunteer and am fading out from the club scene, but to see this in print about the importance being a loner helped to validate my own observation on that point. Being a loner in my studio is a little scary. But in order to pull myself together, focus my efforts, and produce the best kind of art I’m capable of, I have to summon the courage be alone with the Muse.


Trouble on the Board
by Stephanie Quinn, Dallas, TX, USA

We have everyone who does everything from painting to crafts. I belong to one that has all of the cliches. The little cliques, snobbery and insecurities that go along with the artist personality. The problem with ours now is that the poor volunteer board doesn’t get paid, and has been accused of misspending funds and various other things. Most of the board now has resigned. The Audit meeting was a meeting of fighting, accusations were flying, name calling and it went no where. It had been promised by one member that gossip would be going on at the main group meetings every time till new board members were in place. This has been going on for three months and these people are supposed to be adults. This “Artist group” was supposed to come together for the purpose of support, sharing of ideas, like you said in your letter, and now the whole club knows all about it and there is gossip going on. Do you have any suggestions as to how to mediate a meeting like this?

(RG note) Thanks, Stephanie. I don’t. Perhaps some of our readers do. I was formerly on a lot of boards and I resigned from them all because I can’t handle confrontation. I remember well the distinct feeling of discomfort and asking myself, “What has this got to do with what I love to do?”


Some painters take time — like Monet
by Carolyn Newberger, MA, USA


“The Pot Sellers”
watercolor painting, 22 x 30 inches
by Carolyn Newberger

Just this weekend, I viewed the version of Monet’s water lilies that are at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He spent years on these paintings. If Monet had joined an art club with a three paintings a week requirement, he would have been booted out in a week! This year’s winner of the American Watercolor Society’s highest award struggles with an anxiety disorder that resulted in years when she couldn’t paint. Now, with the help of treatment, she completes a few paintings a year. But what paintings! Some paintings take time. Some painters take time. Let’s encourage them all.


Club offers education
by Valerie Kent, Richmond Hill, ON, Canada


“Burning Bush”
watercolor painting, 15 x 22 inches
by Valerie Kent

As President of the Richmond Hill Group of Artists in Ontario, I have come to realize, after 8 years in, that an art club is a wonderful place to hone skills and to get to know like-minded folks. We bring excellent professionals in to demo, workshop and speak on subjects of interest to the members. Our mandate is education in the visual arts. We do have juried shows and with all the entries, it is clear competition is a good thing. And we do have cookies and camaraderie. Nothing wrong with that. We let the community know about the arts and artists in the town and provide classes for children, so they too, learn love and appreciation of the visual arts. We are 29 years young. We are all volunteers and operate the Mill Pond Gallery. Our town is very supportive of the arts and the new Mayor, David Barrow, recently purchased a piece. This is a town that puts its money where its aesthetics is.


Club out of step?
by George Tanner, Winnipeg, MB, Canada


“Model with Parasol”
watercolor painting
10 x 13.75 inches
by George Tanner

I’m happy to say that very few of the generalities you write about can be applied to the Winnipeg Sketch Club of which I am president. At least half our members are male and if we look at those who actually participate in the sketching session, more like 80% are male. The club has been around since 1914 and has had a number of nationally recognized professional artists as members. I don’t know all our members but I can only think of one widow. She is an extremely energetic, prolific and dedicated artist who is quite well known in our part of the country. I don’t think that being a widow should be held against her. Further, I find your figure of 135,000 art clubs, quite incredible and would be interested to know how you came up with it. Secondly, and this point particularly irked me, is your implication that membership in an art club is ill-advised for a serious artist and detrimental to his or her career?

(RG note) Thanks, George. And thanks to everyone who queried my figures. Going on art manufacturer’s statistics and the popular art materials dealer’s estimates that 4% of the population is doing some form of art at any given time, the figure for Canada and the USA is about 13,200,000 people who regularly or occasionally buy art materials. Looking at the dozens of art clubs that are within driving distance of my studio, and estimating that they average 40 members each, and comparing this with our local population figures, this puts 6,400,000 art club members in North America — (less than half the known number of people who buy art materials) Taking into consideration that some may be members of more than one club, this gives me the total of 135,000 clubs. Of course I realize that while some clubs are very large, there are others with only a dozen or so members who meet in people’s homes or studios. I have included these as “clubs.” A flaw in my thinking may be that there may be vast areas where no clubs exist. Possible, but I haven’t noticed it. Regarding the rather sticky thought that clubs may be dens of mediocrity, endure the curse of perceived amateurism, and detrimental to careers, I have to say that it all depends on the club. From what I hear, yours is a vital and useful club. Not only that but you have an above average sex-ratio.


Groups are for sharing
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA



“Got A Bite!”
oil on canvas
by Brad Greek

At present I belong to five art associations, one plein-air group, two gallery memberships and one museum membership. I’m very active — not just an idle member. For me this is a great stepping stone for career advance. I’ve learned tons of information by hanging out with those that have years of experience in the business. I agree that a lot of the groups do need some younger inputs, so I’ve been trying to get new ideas started with a couple of the groups. With one group I schedule the guest speakers for our luncheons. I’ve been trying to bring a new approach to this group by exposing them to not only new talents but the business side of our careers and how to market our work. I also realize that art is a loner’s game. I’m very much a loner as well. Groups are for sharing ideas and collecting feedback. The rest of the time I’m alone working on my art.


Member input necessary
by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA


oil on canvas
by Dyan Law

When I moved to PA I was anxious to become a part of the extensive art community here. I became a member of an art club that had approximately 300 members. I was active in several committees and later appointed membership chairperson for three years. In that time the club grew to over 500 members, had an ample bank account and achieved good strength and community visibility. I found that it’s important to have good input from members no matter the numbers. You may have hundreds of artists simply interested in having an affiliation or exhibit opportunities and only five who do the “grunt work.” Even with a strong governing board composed of mixed age members and a lovely gallery, the club can run into many problems unless the bulk of its members are interested and involved. It can lose the gallery and more importantly risk losing its original ideals — in a moment’s flash! It’s not a pretty sight. Social events and fund-raisers shouldn’t overshadow goals.


Opportunities in clubs for youth?
by Tanis Alexis Laird, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Breakaway Hand Felted Neck Wrap by Tanis Alexis Laird Breakaway Hand Felted Neck Wrap by Tanis Alexis Laird What sort of influence would an art club be looking for from youth? I’m turning 28 at the end of this month. I don’t often hear of people actually wanting the input of youth, so I am curious as to what you would benefit from? I guess my ‘fear’ of joining an art club would be that it would be like joining the “Grannies watercolour circle” or something along those lines. My work isn’t always seen as ‘top-quality’ in most circles. I’m guessing an older group wouldn’t like it tons either. Nonetheless — I think a lot of younger artists are forming their own groups — I see a lot more cliques and ‘posses.’ It’s hard to break into a youth-driven art group nowadays unless you know one of the members and you are ‘hip’ and ‘urban.’ Otherwise it’s the loner’s path.


Plein air club
by Luz Perez, Riverside, CA, USA


Luz Maria Perez

Luz Maria Perez Luz Maria Perez Our group has a stated purpose to bring plein air painting to the Luz Maria Perez Luz Maria Perez forefront and to mentor young people to learn about art and plein air painting in particular. It only costs $20. We meet to paint together at least one Saturday of the month and during the week for those who do not work at a job. We have had shows, paint outs, and are growing by leaps and bounds. Our membership is 50/50 men and women and all are very active. Also, we have a 12 year old mentor student who is having a ball. If Betty needs a source on how to find a club: call your local library, art museum, look on the web under art clubs for your city and state.


Guild still going strong
by Edna Park Waller, Aiken, SC, USA


original painting, third place winner
Aiken Artists Guild
2006 Winter Show

Edges original painting third place winner Aiken Artists Guild 2006 Winter Show by Edna Park Waller Edges original painting, third place winner Aiken Artists Guild, 2006 Winter Show Currently I am a member of a local art guild which will celebrate its fortieth year next year. I first joined when it was about seven years old and it was then a vital, energetic organization. Over the next ten or so years I was very active, serving in several positions, including president. Then I “dropped out” for about twenty years. Imagine my delight when I rejoined a couple of years ago to find that many of the current movers and shakers are new, younger members and that the guild is still going strong. It was wonderful to see that the good points from the past had been retained and that there were a number of new innovations in place which made for an even stronger and livelier group. If we are an exception, then I say, hooray for the Aiken Artists Guild!


Striving alone for success
by Peter Moore, Courtenay, BC, Canada


“Seal Bay Thin Ice”
acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches
by Peter Moore

Seal Bay Thin Ice acrylic painting on canvas 24 x 36 inches by Peter Moore Seal Bay Thin Ice acrylic on canvas 24 x 36 inches by Peter Moore I found when running internationally, meeting the best in the world, most were loners. I say that because the best appear to do most of their training alone. I also found, when taking drawing or painting in a group, I rarely produced work I was happy with. Was this due to being distracted, or influenced by others, or too sociable? I just know I have to think and concentrate. When I was trying to win a race, it required being with my own thoughts and plans — with no distractions. There are many very naturally talented runners out there, but they will never achieve their true potential because they always have to have someone to run with.


Artists need confidence
by Brian Petroski, Schuylerville, NY, USA


“Out of the Woods”
oil on canvas, 30 x 48 inches
by Brian Petroski

Out of the Woods oil painting on canvas 30 x 48 inches by Brian Petroski Out of the Woods oil on canvas 30 x 48 inches by Brian Petroski When it all comes down to the bottom line, it is YOU AND ONLY YOU who is going to make the art and make the difference in your future. I think that far too many artists are dependent on their loved ones, spouse, friends, and gallery owners, not only to help them in times of need, but for encouragement in times of self-doubt, and perhaps on every day reassurance. If you are not disciplined (and perhaps confident) enough to do what it takes to be an artist, as far as creating the work on your own, approaching galleries and the overall marketing of your work, then it probably is not the career for you. I have tried to become part of art communities, but my attendance was short lived and the entire group did not last very long before it dissolved. It’s a loner’s game.


Groups painting on location
by Michael Chesley Johnson, AZ, USA / NB, Canada


“Winter Beret”
oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches
by Michael Chesley Johnson

Winter Beret oil painting on panel 8 x 10 inches by Michael Chesley Johnson Winter Beret oil on panel 8 x 10 inches by Michael Chesley Johnson I’ve been in and out of art clubs, but it really comes down to being in your studio — whether it’s an inside or outside studio — and doing the work. To be sure, the life of an artist can be enhanced with the sociality of a club. Who wouldn’t want cookies and to see a member giving a demo? But for me, I prefer a club with a different twist, one in which we all paint together. I’ve just started a club of my own, Plein Air Painters of the Bay of Fundy, with the hopes that it’s not just cookies and demos, but painting in groups on location with hard-working artists.



Art clubs invented in Britain
by Albert Seaman, Port Hope, ON, Canada


“Hanna Street, Brampton”
watercolour painting, 16 x 12 inches
by Albert Seaman

I’m wondering if art clubs can really be considered “an American invention.” They were a flourishing institution in Britain before I came to Canada in the 1950s, although I have no idea how successful they may be at present. When I was an active member of the Croydon Arts Club prior to emigrating, we had a wide spectrum of activities that were, to some, virtually an extension of art school. For others, it was a platform for the exchange of ideas, and a means for keeping up with events in the World of Art. The gender split was about 50/50; the age range covered post-art-school to chronological decay. One of the first things that became apparent when I arrived in Canada was an almost total lack of community-based art activities. Consequently, Andy Donato (cartoonist for The Telegram and later the Toronto Sun) and I co-founded the “Bramalea Arts Club.” One of the features that I imported from the UK was the monthly “Crit Night,” where those brave enough to do so would bring their work for criticism, preferably by a professional or semi-professional member. The proceedings were usually conducted without violence. The Club project had been launched with the proverbial fanfare of trumpets and ran for about a year, before our basement location was given over to an embryonic local newspaper. As no suitable alternative venue was available, the project dissolved. It was some time before a comparable group was established in the general area, and it still flourishes. I moved to Port Hope, Ontario, in 2005, to find that various art clubs exist in the region.


The Painter’s Keys Club
by Dwayne Davis, Williams Lake, BC, Canada


“No Hunting”
chalk pastel
by Dwayne Davis

Is not the Twice-Weekly letter and the Painter’s Keys website also a club? Maybe we don’t see each other every Monday or have cookies together, but there is dialog, expression, and information shared. Is that not what a club really is? While there are no dues, politics, or funky hand shakes there is a sharing of minds. And as artists we are the only ones who are truly in our right minds. (At least in the right side of our minds.)

(RG note) Thanks, Dwayne. Andrew is currently working on a way to send shortbread by email. Happy holidays to all, and thanks to all for making it such a wonderful year. Andrew, Carol Ann, Dmitry, Michelle, Shawn, and all of our volunteers including myself, truly value your friendship.





Williams Pond

by Rodrica Tilley, Montrose, PA, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Lani Browning of Washington, DC, USA who wrote, “I am the archivist of the oldest art club in the Washington DC area — The Washington Society of Landscape Painters, first formed in 1913. We have our history on our website. We are an active group with respected senior members as well as younger members with diverse styles and gifts.”

And also Wendy Feldberg of Ottawa, ON, Canada who wrote, “A small group of like-minded folks, including me, is thinking of starting a monthly club for artists that crosses the ‘media’ boundary. We were thinking of meeting simply for the purposes of sharing inspiration. If you readers were in our club, what would you find inspiring in our meetings — enough to make you want to come back?”

And also Mary Jean Mailloux of Oakville, ON, Canada who wrote, “Jean Renoir’s biography of his father, Renoir par Jean Renoir, is a great read and one I recommended in the list of books recommended as Christmas presents.”

And also Lorna MacPhee of Toronto, ON, Canada who wrote, “My brother-in-law, Chalmers Doane, is a well known music educator. He always has an interest test, to determine who the prospective music students should be. Your three-new-paintings-a-week proposal is rooted in the same principle. This might make all the difference to an art club. The added dynamics would be high levels of excitement, challenge, stimulation and commitment.”

And also Kathy Neudorf of Langley, BC, Canada who wrote, “I’ve belonged to a few art clubs but have never felt quite right about any of them. But wow, to have to produce even one painting a week would certainly light a fire or two — a person would not have time to think at all, the energy would flow from the subconscious to the canvas, with no time to pause for inhibition.”

And also Loraine Wellman of Richmond, BC, Canada who wrote, “I belong to a group that meets every other week in an artist’s studio. We usually number around seven and each chips in $10 for the model. It is a great way to have some sociability before returning to alone time in our own studios.”

And also Miranda Gray of Santa Fe, NM, USA who wrote, “Last week, I facilitated our group, ‘Artists Voices,’ with ‘Bring in pictures, books, info on three artists who have influenced you, and briefly tell why these are influences.’ It was interesting to see which artists’ names were repeated, or how many people spoke of non-famous artists/teachers.”

And also John Church who wrote, “Sorry, without the gun clubs you would not have the freedom to do your art. You think the Taliban would let you live as an artist, paint what you choose? Not a chance. Perhaps our world needs more armed artists interested in protecting the freedoms they now enjoy.”



Leave A Reply

No Featured Workshop
No Featured Workshop

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.