After reading this history of the Artists Guild from its origins in 1904 up until 1999, one can get a pretty good overview of the development of an artist organization and its relationships with its museum, the public, and the media. This story of the Artists Guild is an example of what happened in the art world here in San Diego and what happened and is still going on in artist organizations throughout the country. This Guild outlasted all other organizations in its relationship to the museum it founded. It maintained large regional juried shows, exclusive membership exhibitions, and a seat on a museum board long after all of these programs were eliminated from every major museum in the country. It transformed itself time and time again to satisfy the needs of its members and its museum partner. It had an evolving relationship with the local media as well.
It evolved from a small club to a large politically active vital organization, from a small clique of traditional painters (that small clique was very homogeneous and all members, artists and patrons alike were part of the same class), to a dynamic group, composed of the elite of the modern art world. They shared with their community common values and worked together in harmony. Then it fell back into being a small exclusive club.
The early art people were the more progressive members of society and helped transform San Diego into a city to be proud of, with a growing enlightened culture. Later the artists diversified and became even more progressive, helping to raise the consciousness of the community through their associations with the then more conservative museum people and through their interaction with the public. Later, after the times had changed, and museums throughout the country removed all of their artist organizations and this museum cancelled most of their local artist oriented programs, the Guild reverted back to a small exclusive club and became very conservative in their activities. (That small club was again very homogeneous and all members part of the same society.) The local media also did an about face and no longer gave the Guild the same press coverage, or the respect, it had enjoyed for decades.
This history is also a lesson in what works in a relationship of a group of artists and what doesn't work, as the artists strive to be a benefit to their community and themselves. In the beginning the artists, their benefactors/collectors, museum professionals, and the city worked hand in hand to establish exhibitions of art that the San Diego community could be proud of. Selfishness, power-tripping, and personal agendas took a back seat to camaraderie and generous donations of time and money, all for the betterment of society in sharing the value of fine art with the public. Huge financial donations were made to the museum by the artists, their collectors, and art lovers. Time and time again everybody worked hand in hand to bring San Diego up to the level of a world-class art center.
This all began to change when modern art became all the rage in the art world and the more traditional artists were marginalized. It wasn't from lack of public support or museum indifference that created this change, but the artists themselves, who began to squabble over who was better than who, and which style of art should dominate the other. After the 1950's and 1960's squabbles ended with the "moderns" gaining the upper hand, the organization began its decline. The more traditional members of the community began to distance themselves from this art world and the more conservative artists drifted out of the mainstream. The establishment of UCSD and the growth of other art organizations further diminished the status of the Guild. Even through these and subsequent events the Guild still held on to its prestigious show and its seat on the Museum's Board of Trustees.
However when the Fine Arts Society became the San Diego Museum of Art and prospered, the artists became a secondary influence and somewhat of a liability. The status of the Guild and the artists began to diminish. By the time the 1980's took hold the Guild became an anachronism in a modern changing world. The SDMA still had its traditionalists and they fought to maintain the gentile relationships they held in their memory, but the artists began to lose everything they had spent decades working for. Most professional working artists no longer were members of the Guild and most of the new working artists, especially those from academia, declined to join, as the Guild had nothing to offer them. The Guild membership, which was once comprised of 95% of all the professional working artists in a small community, was now down to 10% of the professional artists, in a rapidly growing thriving metropolis.
What worked in keeping the Guild together with their Museum was the strength and unity of its membership. This was true in spite of the changing times, competition, and a Museum bent on becoming world-class, (meaning without any artists' influence, as that was the myth museum professionals believed in). Too much disharmony and conflict and the Museum turned away in disgust, too much conciliatory and begging/dependency behavior and the SDMA took advantage of the Guild and cancelled their programs. It was only with the combination of "getting busy," giving to the public, and togetherness with strength and being kind to each other that the SDMA listened to and respected the artists.
Finally the Guild reached the end of the line, as far as having a quality working relationship with the Museum it founded. All of the SDMA professionals and the media wanted them out. Other art organizations wanted to absorb them. The Board of Trustees became weakened and was now beholden to the new director for all the art/exhibition related decisions. It was now up to the artists to take control of their own lives, determine their own position in the community, and no longer depend on the SDMA to carry them.
The next Book is the story of what happened in this ever-evolving relationship.

back to top

Back - 68 - Next