Art collective


Dear Artist,

I recently read about a new online platform where every artist shares in the proceeds of sales. The site itself collects a 10% commission to cover hosting. The selling artist receives 60%, the other 30% is shared amongst everyone else. Like a traditional gallery, you can only participate if you’re invited. Like a traditional artist collective, the intention is to offer a more equitable and sustainable way to survive.

The Institute of Reconciliation, 2019 by Oscar Murillo (b. 1986)

Surge (social cataracts), Collective Conscience and The Institute of Reconciliation (2019)
by Oscar Murillo (b. 1986)

Now that we’ve all been tenderized by a global pandemic, it might be a good time to re-evaluate existing systems. You don’t even need to join a group you may have no way of jockeying an invitation to in the first place. Instead, gather your own group of friends, share the cost of hosting a website, collate contacts and commit to some grassroots marketing. After all, an artist collective is nothing more than a group that works together under its own management, towards shared aims. If you like, you can purchase materials in bulk, buy advertising, rent exhibition space, set themes, work collectively, share an aesthetic and even gather behind a cause or belief. Eschewing an explicit hierarchy in favour of shared ownership, risk, benefits, status and profits can reset a model that often infantilizes artists into one that requires agency, empathy and personal and collective responsibility — something most of us, regardless of whether or not we’re thriving in the current system, are doing anyway.

DC Semiramis, 2019 by Tai Shani (b.1976)

DC Semiramis, 2019
Theatrical installation
by Tai Shani (b.1976)

As the backbone of the ancient sculpture workshops around the quarries of Carrara and the basis for the new plan to free painters from the medieval craftsman guild system in pre-revolutionary France, the art collective model still holds water on 2020 pandemic Earth. And now, free of the constraints of “In Real Life” exhibitions, new collectives can be truly global.



Chorus, 2019 Video still by Helen Cammock (b.1970)

Chorus, 2019
Video still
by Helen Cammock (b.1970)

PS: “Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving – it doesn’t matter,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.” (Rumi)

Esoterica: Can effective collaboration be learned, or is looking out for each other already the collective instinct of humanity? Artists are often characterized as loners, individualists, competitive, reeking of ego-force, creative autocrats, or just les enfants terribles, yet we are the translators, architects, shapers and guardians of our culture — our group. If you’re considering a collective, be clear about your goals and the spirit of the endeavour. In late 2019, the four artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize — Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Commack, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani — turned themselves into a four-person collective in order to win as a group, “in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity – in art as in society.” As a result, the artists split the £40,000 prize and exposed the absurdity of the value system in art and the existence of such a competition in the first place. “We believe that, grouped together, such practices become incompatible with the competition format, whose tendency is to divide and individualise,” said Commack in a speech on behalf of the artists. “Placing in contention the issues in our work would undermine our individual artistic efforts to show a world entangled. The issues we deal with are as inseparable as climate chaos is from capitalism.”

After SFX, 2018 by Lawrence-Abu-Hamdan (b. 1985)

After SFX, 2018
by Lawrence Abu Hamdan (b. 1985)

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“We were the product of austerity. We graduated into a recession. Coming together was about trying to refigure power relationships. Recognising that, at a certain moment, the traditional rules don’t apply any more, so there’s nothing to lose in trying something different.” (Architect Jane Hall, of the artist collective Assemble)



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  1. Another artist-supported innovation, the brainchild of a British artist, is #artistsupportpledge. You post work for sale at no more than $200 plus shipping and pledge that upon making $1000 you buy a piece from one of the artist in the group. Some people are doing very well with this, selling small, quickly done work and then increasing their own collections. There’s no fee involved, and it’s on the honor system.

  2. Typically, I don’t read the Friday letters. I’m sorry I did this time and it just reminds me of how disappointed I am that your intentions for this site are not the same your fathers’ once were. It saddens me that the vivacity and love of life and art your father shared is bypassed in your writings in favor of a more woke awareness message. Let’s just keep art art and not fuck around with all the sickening politics surrounding everyone and everything in 2020.

    • Cosette Copperfield on

      Mr. Backmann, I’m on board with you. It is just about impossible to get away from the craziness of the world and just have a nice relaxing time with those with whom we enjoy at least one subject. I love art. Let’s leave politics out of the newsletter and enjoy each others company.

    • Cosette Copperfield on

      By the way Robert, I visited your website and it is mighty fine. Your work is lovely. Subscribed.

    • Mr Backmann- I am saddened by your comments. This letter was the most exciting Painters Keys piece I’ve read in quite awhile, and I’ve been a reader for more years than I care to count. Likewise painting. New ideas and concepts are my lifeblood, and this whole business of the artists splitting the prize was so refreshing it just made my day! I guess I haven’t been keeping up with my art world news, so thank you Sara. Not that I don’t like re-reading your fathers gems, but the world is changing and he would be the first to remind us of that in his way. I will make it a point to stay tuned to your Friday letter even if the world is coming to an end and I’m too busy trying to paint what that looks like.

  3. Sara, A moment to reflect on: some of the misunderstanding about your letters, and the questioning of your intentions by Mr. Backmann.
    Your messages, and prudent voice, characterized as being anything other than a reverent echo of your dad’s messages about life, art and the life of an artist is, to my mind, contrary, ill informed, provincial, and sadly out-of-step with reality.
    I think you’re sharing the contemporary circumstances of art making in this current milieu is relevant, worthy of consideration, and appreciated. You do your beloved dad proud. Brava, Sara!

  4. wayne larsen on

    Sara keep up the good work, in my opinion you’re doing a great job, worthy of your father’s appreciation, I try to guess whether it was you or your dad that wrote each letter, I used to visit Morley’s gallery in Gibsons every couple of days in hopes of seeing some more of your dad’s work,, you can’t please all the people all the time and I love the diplomacy you show when answering nay sayers with a logical explanation, I’m afraid that that is not my style, My instinct would not show that compassion… Wayne

  5. Oh boy….folks are getting angry these days! Personally, this blog is the only one I look at….both Sara’s, and her father Robert’s, comments resonate with our world and love of ART….in all it’s forms. I am often moved to comment….either in anger, defense, provocation or pure enjoyment….the catharsis of speaking out enables release.
    Thank you for the opportunity Sara, and don’t worry about the ads….your blog is entertaining and enlightening, and your followers are the same!
    About the issue of collaboration for freedom from the tyranny of the standard of art marketing we have had to swallow for decades….lets hear more about what’s working NOW! Hooray! Go for it! Let’s bring ART to the people directly from the ARTISTS!

  6. Hi Sara! (not that you care) I actually haven’t been here for a long time. So much horror going on in the world I’ve been busy elsewhere and I lost my internet connection and hate typing on my phone. Alas- whether I can afford it or not- my bills just went up!
    Unfortunately- while this collective idea may work for some- and having been associated in various ways with various co-ops here in Denver- there are ways the collective decidedly does NOT work- as all status quo group entanglements don’t work- because sooner or later group politics always get in the way. Group politics indicate that everything will be watered down to accommodate the lowest common denominator. As an entity with decades- and in fact lifetimes- of creative work under my belt- I no longer have ANY interest in supporting a lowest common denominator mentality. I am a disruptive force. So sooner or later I tend to challenge some incompetent bullshit and voila- I’m ousted from the group. Blah Blah Blah. My standards are too high.
    So Robert J. Backmann- you epitomize the worst of the worst. Poor you. You don’t read Sara because she’s not Robert. How misogynist of you. You only live in your *perfect world* and don’t want to hear anything about what’s going on- on the ground in 2020- in the REAL FUCKING WORLD. You only want your pablum art commentary. From a man.
    Robert dealt with real world concerns on a regular basis. Yes the world was slightly different- but I guess hearing about the world from a man was ok- but not from that man’s WOKE daughter. Even your use of the term WOKE is disturbingly misogynist. Ostrich? Head-In-The-Sand Syndrome?
    The only way the world will change for the better is if WE change it. And the Creative Edge is always the LEADING EDGE. Except when it isn’t- as you’ve so obviously demonstrated.
    Anyway- I come from the Land of Quilt- where almost everybody is female- and just like your preferred artist’s group- everyone is just involved for the fun of it. No heavy messaging. Because we can’t have all that real world shit gumming up our *happy place* artist community.
    Of course I no longer participate in that group’s bullshit either. Because it’s pathetic. But by all means have a horror-stricken dead-people creatively happy day!

  7. J Bruce Wilcox tells it like it is!

    ……….and so did Bob Dylan: “She’s an artist and she don’t look back”

    Sara please us connected to the past and connected here in the PRESENT 2020.

    We are all artists, surely we don’t have to be divided. That was what I took from what the four artists and the Turner Prize were saying. There can be no axe grinding if we are working toward a common goal of creation.

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