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Every time a group of artists start a collective I have to admit I get excited. I like being around other artists, especially when we all have a similar interest. I like it so much that I’m quick to forget that despite liking to be social, when it comes to work I’m a creature of solitude. I can play well with others just fine, but working with them is a little more difficult. It’s hard for me to focus on work and socializing at the same time, so I end up having to do them both separately.
Despite the fact that there are plenty of successful artist collectives that have been around for decades, even centuries, I just can’t work that way. I know that all collectives have different values and comprise different elements that help them function well in the art world. No one collective is the same and any one organization can experience multiple changes over time. There will be new collectives that will crop up here and there, some of them may work and some may not. I even planned to start a collective with a friend once (however, we came up with this idea while we were high, which should give you some idea of its shelf life). Personally, being in a collective makes me feel like I’ve lost purpose, but what has actually happened is that my purpose becomes intertwined within the purpose of other; I lose myself within the group.
I really do like the idea of getting together with other artists and getting some work done, but a collective isn’t something you can dive into head first because you just want to have fun making art. As awesome as art is when it’s your profession if you’re in a collective it’s also the profession of others. It’s important to respect the fact that when you’re working within a group that it isn’t just about you, it’s about everyone. Artists can be very solipsistic; we have a tendency to forget that there are other people in the world doing things that are just a valuable as what we’re doing. When you’re working in a group you have a responsibility to contribute the best of your abilities to that group and its function. You don’t just have your career to worry about when you’re in a collective because it’s all for one and one for all; if one of you falls then the rest feel the impact.
You have to be careful when you attach yourself to something because it’s not only a sign that you’ve committed but that you’ve also contributed, meaning that you take partial responsibility for what the group puts out into the world. It’s also important to assess the values of the collective you’re joining; if you don’t agree with the way they operate or the way they treat you than leave or don’t join at all. Don’t let the possibility of recognition or awkward peer pressure make you feel like you have to work in a way that makes you uncomfortable. I used to think that joining a collective was an easy way to get into more shows, connect with people who could get me into more shows, and further my career. It didn’t take me long to realize that there is no easy way to do that; it’s hard work wall to wall. You just have to put forth the effort and not expect anything to come easily.
We all want to work with people we feel can help us and that we can help in return; people we can collaborate with on projects and work towards a common goal. But once that project is finished I’d like for us to go our separate ways professionally and not marry ourselves to the idea of working together permanently. It gives us the freedom to make moves and decisions without always worrying about how it will affect someone else. Joining an artist collective is cool if that’s what you want to do, but remember that it’s not just your dreams you have at your feet, so please tread softly.