Monday, October 14, 2013

You are known by the company you keep

When people make an assessment of an artist, they can choose to look at a lot of things besides the art that he or she creates.

Here's a few of them:
  • Groups: the art societies or art groups you belong to
  • Galleries: the galleries you say your art is shown in
  • Your websites
    • your website
    • your Facebook page
    • your Twitter account
    • your YouTube account
    • your eBay page
    • any other online galleries
    • your Internet presence generally
  • Your studio
  • Communication: the way you deal with emails, form filling etc
Bottom line - do all the clues add up to a consistent story? Is the overall picture of who you are clear or confusing? Does it promote confidence in the art a gallery may show or a collector might buy

Alternatively, do some of the sources of information raise queries and/or doubts about you and your work?
EXAMPLE: If I've seen an artwork which I'm attracted to and start to think about buying, I rarely make the purchase there and then.  I'm much more likely to go home and look online to see what I can find out about the artist who produced the work. Sometimes I may see other work by the same artist which I like more. Alternatively I may see that an artist is a "one trick pony" and what may look attractive in isolation may look more like "same old same old" on a website. More than once, the notion of my making a purchase has stumbled when I looked online - for a variety of reasons.
EXAMPLE:  The artist claims a relationship with an art gallery and yet there is no evidence of this on the art gallery's website.  (I see this one again and again on artists' websites and every time I do those artists loses some standing with me.)

You are known by the company you keep

One of the ways in which an artist is assessed relates to the company an artist keeps.

It's a well worn phrase but there's a reason for that.  Like many other such idioms, it's true.

There are other idioms which mean the same thing, such as "birds of a feather flock together".

There's an interesting variant in the Bible.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.Proverbs 13:20
Essentially it recognises the influence that being a member of a group has on an individual. You may join a group because they seem to be just like you.  There again you may develop 'groupthink' because you're a member of a group.

Art Groups

A lot of artists get involved in art groups. They're very often people with a similar interest.  It seems they're much more likely to happen if they're related to subject matter than media - so maybe more to do with painting flowers, or drawing buildings than the medium you choose to use.  These days we see a lot of examples in terms of Facebook Groups and online Forums.

Sometimes they might relate to the level of achievement a person has attained.

That's because people wanting to advance want to be able to mix with those who can help them with advanced skills.  They may be less enthusiastic about mixing with beginners, some of whom can be very draining in terms of the time they want from you.  It's a particular issue for people who teach for money.  On the one hand you want to drum up business and on the other hand you don't want to give so much away nobody bothers to pay for the workshops!

The best groups seem to be the ones which gel around a common set of values and specific interests eg plein air painting is a good thing.  Ones where peer review is the normal mode of operation rather than tutor and student.  (The latter are called more properly called workshops!)

If the work of the artists who belong to a group becomes very popular than they'll become known by name (Group of Seven; Camden Town Group) and may even become a recognised art movement (Impressionists).

However it comes about, people will always tend to associate the characteristics of an art group with all those who are members.   If the group has high status, your membership confers high status on you - and vice versa. Associating your art with a group which is viewed as "a bunch of amateurs" means the aspiring professional painter risks his or her work being considered amateurish too.  Or people just wonder why he or she hasn't moved on.........

Art Societies

Art Societies almost always grow out of art groups of people with a common interest.

The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy (1771-72) by Johan Zoffany
oil on canvas,
The Royal Collection
It seems as if it works better if a society is FOR something rather than AGAINST.  Being very clear about aims is critical to a society's success and longevity.

However groups are sometimes oppositional - the new group rejects the status quo and tries to create a new way of doing things eg the New Society of Painters in Water Colours which became the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.  They distinguished themselves from the Royal Watercolour Society by allowing non-members to exhibit work with members.  That's not to say they lowered their standards so much as opened up their exhibitions to potential new members!

The status aspect is rather more profound with art societies.  It will also come as no surprise to many that there are certain art societies which some artists yearn to join (not least because of their reputation for generating sales) - while there are others many artists wouldn't touch with the proverbial "barge pole".

Attaining signature status is a very big thing for many artists.  This is because achieving signature status with an art society which has an excellent reputation has a knock-on effect in terms of an artist's own reputation, their credibility, getting into art galleries and selling art.  All of which crucially important if you want to make a career out of  making art.  Mixing with the right people in effective art societies can have a profound effect on the bottom line.

Hence, if you're an aspiring artist it's absolutely essential to become attuned to which national art societies might:
  • provide professional leadership and standards
  • provide peer support 
  • promote the careers of their members
  • enable members to advance their professional careers
  • put on exhibitions which attract art collectors and sell a lot of art
  • create opportunities for members to teach
and those societies which 
  • fail to exercise appropriate quality control over exhibitions, membership etc
  • fail to generate many sales at exhibitions
  • in short, behave no better than a local amateur art society.
After all, if you are known by the company you keep, then career advancement can be enhanced by striving to keep the best company.

It's not for everybody. Some take the Groucho Marx approach "I don't want to belong to any group that will accept me as a member" - and that's fine too.  It's an approach very often adopted by those who never feel very comfortable in groups and much prefer their own company.

However being known by the company you keep is a fact of life - so you might as well try and hang out with the best in the business!

Do you agree? Please feel free to post your observations below as a comment welcome

Which is the art society that you would most like to be a signature member of?


  1. I'm with Groucho. ;)

    As for galleries I'd beg you not to take galleries websites, especially emerging artist galleries, as a true sign of an artist's honesty. They can be, in my experience, dreadful at keeping up their sites, including all artists or images, having up to date information, or taking part in things like social media. I've been with galleries in the past that work extremely well in the traditional model but whose websites are over a year out of date! Galleries I work with even now continue to post images that I can't even fathom how they obtained.

  2. Agree with just about all of this. Artists have always formed groups and sought representation for all the reasons you have outlined - the latest iteration of this being on-line galleries. I have been following this blog for sometime now: and
    today's post questions the whole on-line gallery concept. Would make an interesting survey for your blog.....

  3. Agree with just about all of this. Artists have always formed themselves into groups for all the reasons you outline - and a presence in an online gallery is just one manifestation of this need for recognition. I have been following this blog for a while now:
    Today's posting questions the value of online galleries and would make an interesting subject for your next survey.....

  4. As Tina says not all galleries are as internet savvy as us artists have found we have to be.
    I completely embrace the idea that every thing we do has to be consistent, without being seen as a one trick pony. As for art societies I love the company of other artists and it helps to get our work out there. But I have this nagging feeling I should be painting.

  5. @ Tina - that's a good point.

    In fact I don't start counting anything as 'out of order' until it's about 2-3+ years out of date as I am familiar with how slow some galleries are at changing websites.

    However if you've got an artist who's claiming to be a gallery artist on the basis of a show more than 2 years ago and there's no evidence of the artist being a gallery artist on the gallery's website I tend to put this down to wishful thinking on the part of the artist! Plus maybe a misunderstanding by that artist of the difference between getting into a group show as a "try-out" and actually being a proper represented artist on the roster.

  6. @ David - I also read that post by Robert Genn and as previously indicated will be following up on Amazon Art once it's had time to bed down. It's still a baby website in birthing terms.

    To my mind his criticisms of Fine Art America are actually more serious.

  7. @ Mary Kemp (theartistsday)

    I think the issue for artists is often about finding that right balance between being an artist and doing art and being a businessperson and making sure you can sell it so you can make more art!

    The rule of thumb I always quote is 50:50 between making art and dealing with the business end (ie marketing, selling, invoicing, shipping, exhibiting, schmoozing and networking)

    Art Societies can be a fantastic way to get your art noticed by serious galleries if you are showing with the right art societies whose exhibitions get visited by galleries looking for new talent.

    As I've often heard Tina say in other places, always regard art society exhibitions as a marketing activity and don't expect to make money from it except in terms of the longer term relationships you may generate with art collectors or art galleries.

  8. I agree with Tina, galleries are quite bad at keeping things up to date but then so are some artists. Nothing worse than a 'static' website with all too common dead links (better check mine!) I think if you can't maintain a website then don't have one. A blog is an easier option and a bit more dynamic ( separate discussion?) but they do have different roles. I have to confess that I don't really know what I'm doing with my blog! But it's part of the job these days to be web savvy and being an artist definitely requires much multi tasking and careful management of time to keep things in perspective. It's a wonder we find any time at all to paint! I'm not over keen on being too involved in Society activity because there's usually a whole heap of politics involved, but I guess I'm a member of several because I feel have to does make a difference! Good article, Thanks Katherine

  9. @ Dianne

    Unfortunately "office politics" is a feature of art societies from time to time. I think it's what often puts many artists off from getting more involved.

    I've got a lot of admiration for those artists who provide strong professional leadership of art societies in terms of policy and practices and encourage open debate between members but also keep a lid on the less savoury side of organisational oneupmanship.

  10. Good article, I in fact was late in reading this because of my involvement with my local art associations. I used to feel that you get out of a group what you put into it. And I have made great friends, learned a lot about the business of art what to do and what not to do BUT all of this takes much time from creating art, and has led to my having to learn to say no, (still having a hard time with it).

    Having received my signature status from the CPSA this year and getting into the new vol 6 Strokes of Genius, I'm looking for the next new thing. And at last rethinking my involvement with some organizations I'm a member of.

    As a teacher I responded to what you said about the free instruction. We all want to encourage new artists to explore and learn, but I have had beginning artists want me to teach them how to be in business as an artist, when they haven't taken any steps to research it themselves. Thankyou for this post!

  11. Good article and comments.

    I personally believe that so much on the internet needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, so perhaps if someone is interested in a piece of art, then just contact the artist themselves (they will no doubt be flattered!)as it is easy to make assumptions on what is seen rather than

    - some companies request thier artists to NOT list companies they are licensed with, as the company gets bombarded with other artist's who scour the internet to see what their fellow artists are doing;

    - some artists just hate, or fear, or have had bad experiences from the exposure the internet brings them (often from people with negative intentions);

    - artist's may not be very good at being up to date or organised about the non-art side of their work, or may have to rely on someone doing that side for them;

    - artist's just might not be any good at the techy side and this can mean it is intimidating, or may not have the time to sit down and take it all in to learn (families/day jobs for example)

    - some artists need or want to give a better impression of how life really is, if they are stuck in a day job they don't like and want to up themselves in the hope that their art will become their main incom; they may not want to be dishonest but may be struggling/very unhappy, just taking a chance on a little "embroidery" :)

    - joining groups or organisations is a difficult one, the artist may want to join in, be part of the help team but costs of travel and days away from earning mean they can't and that can make the artist feel as if they aren't giving back;

    I can relate to many of the above (except the embroidery! :)

  12. @ Karen In general, I think what you describe are the sorts of feelings which are quite common amongst people who aren't earning their income by being an artist.

    If you're making art in your spare time I can well understand a view that people want to spend precious time on making art rather than the business end of things or learning about the techie stuff.

    However making and sell your art is your full-time job, you just need to 'get on and do' and find a way through irrespective of whether you like it or not or find it easy to understand! It's a not uncommon feature of working life for many people.

    I think the thing about the Internet is it's probably best to stay away from it completely if an artist is not prepared to put in the time to doing it properly - or is unable to find somebody to help them.

    I'm never ever impressed by poor and very out of date websites whereas artists who don't have a website just remain a mystery!

    I've not heard that story about licensing companies before - but it makes sense.

  13. @ Gloria - it's so irritating isn't it when people want you to do the spoon feeding? One gets a much better impression of an artist or art student who asks intelligent questions which demonstrate they've found out as much as they can and now just need some pointers relating to what to do next or where to look next.

    I find I'm always very willing to help those who've put in the effort already. I'm also much less willing to use my time to help those who aren't prepared to invest any time of their own.


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