The End Of The Art Guild System
Please know I am not against art guilds. I love them and lament that they are coming to an end as they fade into the past.
The broader art community and artist guild is suffering today. This topic is important for new independent artists to research.
A platform for artists should never be taken lightly. The information you gain should work towards creating a holistic vehicle tailored to your needs.
Should Artists Participate In Art Shows Or Galleries?
Should you still display within a local art gallery? Is the art guild still worth paying the fees to participate in events?
The answer to those two questions can be very tricky and depend upon which gallery you select. Likewise the same is true with guild shows for artisan craftsmen.
Nevertheless it would shock some to know that many artists make a very small income from galleries. Today many avoid contracts in order to have better diversification across multiple venues.
This though typically requires self promotion, a business strategy, and this is a major responsibility. There are many artists who are not prepared for such things.
The historical artist guild definition still holds some application in today’s world. The modern version acts more like a club with less contractual control over the artist.
You pay a fee to be a member. Each guild has its own requirements, most often it is location based in that you must live within a given region.
Additionally requirements are placed upon its members for their work.
An example of this could be that all items must be made by the artist and they must be hand made. Once you are a member you have access to renting booths at shows where you can display your work for sale.
These events are marketed in various cities by the guilds events coordinator.
Most artists will spend months preparing their work and then months on the road in shows at various cities. Sales are made allowing the artists to generate clients and recognition.
This method is the old way of beginning your journey into the art world outside of a traditional gallery. It is the alternative allowing for in person self promotion without problematic contracts.
Art guilds today encompass a wide range of visual arts and artisan craftsmen. Glass work, metal working, even basket weaving can be found.
Other arts such as painting and wood art are also very common with many artists in those specialties. It typically today is hosted in historic districts or major cities.
Are Art Guilds Important In Today’s Market?
I say that the art guild is extremely important. My reason why may be quite different from others. Among those reasons is their use within public relations for art.
I do not see art guilds as a way to grow an art audience. We need to be careful to distinguish the purposes of different concepts.
Knowledge and history is a major component of what is shared. It’s about more than the art or the artist. At these events you can see a blade hand forged in person.
You could see a basket weaver produce a work in front of you. This helps drive younger people to gain interest into traditional arts that are becoming forgotten and lost to time.
If you have never been to an event such as this you should go. You will definitely come away enlightened with a broader appreciation for the works that people create and the history behind them.
In essence the guild is really about community today rather than economics. It is in fact the economics that is the problem that is driving art guild into extinction.
How The Artists Guild Fails To Support The Artist
The last event I attended was in Asheville North Carolina. I was not an attending artist selling my wood art, rather I went to simply see the works others had.
I spent most of the day at the event, and as time went by I began to notice how the guilds will ultimately die. There was a problem right in front of everyone’s eyes but no one seems to notice it.
The problem was not the art nor the artist. Likewise it was not the art guild itself nor the venue.
The problem was the generation gap which was attending.
The only young people who attended were typically well below the age of 18. The adults which attended were at least 40 years of age, yet the majority at the event were well over 50.
Considering that this event was in Asheville N.C. where the younger adults shape the city, this is a major problem for artists and art guilds alike.
Seeing this I began to do research. One of the first things I did was ask questions of the artists at the event.
Yet the consistent issue was either they did not know how to create an online gallery, or they had no idea of how to really sell online.
Nevertheless they all admitted to missing a market that they did not know how to reach. They also felt hindered or limited by the resources they were using.
For the Art Guild this is a problem.
Economic Shifts Are Pressuring Art Guilds
We see this same shift in every other market within our economy, so this is not isolated to the art community. Nevertheless the Art Guilds and physical galleries seem to have difficulty restructuring around the problem.
With Amazon and other venues more items are being bought online than in stores. The malls within the USA are hurting. Storefronts across America are slowly going silent from the pressures that they face.
Historically the one saving grace for many outlet malls is the holiday shopping season on days such as Black Friday. This is changing.
Black Friday has become more of a tradition than a necessity due to online forces. In time this tradition too will fail for brick and mortar retailers.
Stores such as Goodwill now use online retail in order to survive. Without the online market many Goodwill stores would have closed its doors.
The same can be said for many others with similar niches. Online sales did not save Sears from downsizing. These larger chain stores face pressure from the giants of those like Amazon more than Goodwill selling second hand items.
The art community faces a harsh reality and is no different. This will place untold pressure on galleries and art guilds.
Historically artists would attempt to get their artwork in local stores or small art galleries in their towns. Art guilds would also help them move outside of their border to cities abroad.
With brick and mortar stores facing the challenges of an online environment, this makes life for a local artist far more challenging. Art itself has always been a tough market even before the advent of the internet.
It is unfortunate that guilds will soon be looked at in much the same way as the brick and mortar store.
Stepping Outside Of The Artists Guild System
For new artists I offer a word of caution. Do not rely solely upon the well worn paths of the past. I have detailed some of the complexities you will face and must know within my article “The Artistic Life“.
Take the time to become technologically competent and learn how to market yourself. Do not follow the artsy masses down a path just because that’s where we are told to go.
The paths for the masses are struggling to find their path as you are.
Should you join an art guild as an artist? If you can afford it then absolutely it is worth it even if you never sell one work at an event.
What you can gain from talking to other artists and the exposure to more education is invaluable. I would consider this a personal investment to my life work.
Make friends, get advice, learn more about your own art and trade craft. Every step is further education for your trade craft. Yet do not rely upon the guild. Above all, continue to always cultivate your skills and art.
I have had many try to talk me into selling my wood art in brick and mortar stores yet I refused. Some have offered to display my work for free simply to try and draw attention to their store.
Unfortunately for the work that I create it is not worth accepting those offers in the location that I live within.
In a small rural non tourist part of the country with below average income per capita, my work would be admired but no more than admiration.
For you the aspiring artist the first big lesson is to know your artwork and its value, as well as the market you live within. After this grow your boundaries within platforms that you can control and create.