“Collective” is a term taken over from usages in the ecclesiastical and political realms, and applied to the organization of labor. It is a materialist conception, rooted in production. In this respect, the artists’ collective may be distinguished from the factory, atelier, and classroom, all of which are under hierarchical or authorial control. An idealist conception of an artists’ collective is one that operates under principles of “free cooperation.” In art, collective practice has been used to blur and disguise identity, often as a protest against the “branded” art object as commodity. In this respect, the artists’ collective differs from artistic collaboration. Artists collectivize as well to address the broad range of their practical concerns, including access to tools, living and work space, exhibition opportunities and funding. An artist collective is an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together, usually under their own management, towards shared aims. The aims of an artists collective can include almost anything that is relevant to the needs of the artist, this can range from purchasing bulk materials, sharing equipment, space or materials, through to following shared ideologies, aesthetic and political views or even living and working together as an extended family. Sharing of ownership, risk, benefits, and status is implied, as opposed to other, more common business structures with an explicit hierarchy of ownership such as an association or a company. Artists collectives have occurred throughout history, often gathered around central resources, for instance the ancient sculpture workshops at the marble quarries on Milos in Greece and Carrara in Italy. Collectives featured during both the Russian revolution when they were set up by the state in all major communities, and the French Revolution when the Louvre in Paris was occupied as an artists collective.
More traditional artist collectives tend to be smallish groups of two to eight artists who produce work, either collaboratively or as individuals toward exhibiting together in gallery shows or public spaces. Often an artists collective will maintain a collective space, for exhibiting or as workshop or studio facilities. Some newer, more experimental kinds of groups include intentional networks, anonymous, connector, hidden or nested groups, and groups with unconventional time-scales. Artist collectives may be formed: For economic reasons, to give members volume purchasing power and allow costs of publicity and shows to be shared. For political reasons, to increase local lobbying power for arts infrastructure, to gather behind a cause or belief. For professional reasons, to develop a higher group profile that benefits the individuals by association, to create a hub for curators and commissioners to more easily locate potential talent.
Artist collectives are significant to the artists practice in part because of the increased collective intelligence made possible by the cross-combination of multiple creative minds and disciplines, the cross-fertilisation of ideas and approaches and also due to the social richness and networking capacities involved.