By Nicholas Gay
Economic reason pervades our everyday lives. Neoclassical economics, the dominant school of economic thought today, tells us we’re individual consumers who make rational decisions based upon maximizing individual gains. This type of decision-making is being sold to us in every storefront and taught to us within mainstream institutions. Importantly, this way of thinking is predominant within academia as well. Professors are pushed to publish competitively and students are taught to raise their own grades against the class average. My project focuses upon how this way of thinking pervades art within professional and academic settings. In interviewing visual artists and researching curriculums, I found that visual artists are especially told in school to build their own individual portfolios and to compete for scarce grants and funding. Consequently, ways of enjoying making art together and sharing creative expression are being lost and minimized within artist communities.
Simultaneously, as I walk around the Mile End in Montreal, which is known for its community of artists and is also where I live, I’m struck by the beautiful imagery of community gardens I pass by. It occurred to me that in the same way that community gardens exist as communal and cohesive spaces, which benefit and bring together a neighbourhood, collective art-making could perform a similar role within artist communities. Imagining this, I hosted a collective art session with visual artists in my neighbourhood. Considering that artists are taught to pursue individual gains and portfolios and other artists are often pitted against each other, I prompted twelve artists to collectively co-contribute to one piece. Researching other examples of community and collective art projects, I found many helpful suggestions. Specifically, I found that collective art usually succeeded when there was a specific prompt and that in large groups taking turns can be more helpful than a free-for-all. Considering this, and drawing from the imagery of community gardens, my specific prompt was to draw a garden, with two people adding whatever they wanted to the poster at a time with this imagery in mind. In between these turns of two, we took photos to create a time-lapse of the garden “growing” to emulate the growth of an actual community garden. In introducing this idea, I suggested further that we were not trying to add our own individual images to one picture, we were instead trying to cultivate each other’s art and ideas to create one collective shared vision. In doing so, we were aiming to create shared experience and empathy in order to cultivate cohesion against individualism for us as artists.
By presenting the final product as the growth of the garden in a time-lapse gif, we were able to emphasize the process more so than the outcome. Each new growth of the garden was someone’s contribution and reaction to the growth left behind by someone else. Importantly, such a project was easy to organize, only cost around $25 in art supplies, and is therefore very reproducible. Artists who partook and did not know each other connected through the process and I have multiple friends who are now friends with each other. I propose that hosting such events on a regular basis would be a creative and feasible way for communities and cities to cultivate networks of artists and neighbourhoods. Moreover, as art-making should not be confined to only those who consider themselves professional or pursuing artists, I suggest this type of activity as a form of community building for all neighbourhoods in the same way that community gardens are used. In focusing upon the imagery of the growing garden, people may be brought together by the process of being creative rather than focussing upon any individual finished product as is usually the goal in our daily lives.