The Laws of Nature

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Components of Collaboration

Gilbert & George, 1972

Art Without Compromise by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 3: "Life Support"
section 4: "Components of Collaboration"

Here, Richmond examines the "components" of collaboration. Her experiences in this area extend beyond creating works of art to include collaborative teaching at the university level. She begins a collaboration by identifying someone she'd like to work with and then designing a suitable project. The benefit of this approach, as she states it, is "that by exploring our common and complementary aspirations, we would be able to expand our own creative voice." This means finding someone who shares your goal.

After identifying an appropriate collaborator, Richmond engages in long, rambling conversations with her partner that result in the formation of an idea for their work. Personally, this could be a useful way to advance my own work. Frequently, I discuss my paintings with my husband (who is not an artist but is very intelligent) and those conversations provide me with insights and direction, even though we don't collaborate on the actual execution of my work.

Next, Richmond and her collaborator use a technique called "the interview." Initially, this involves intense questioning by her partner in an attempt to help clarify her thoughts. In fact, the author finds that this method of interviewing, or interrogation, is even more useful than the traditional technique. I have to agree. My mentor doesn't begin her critiques with her observations about my work. Rather, she asks a barrage of questions that require substantive answers to justify the decisions I made in concept formulation, composition, and technique. In a collaboration, Richmond and her partner conduct a series of interviews back and forth over time in order to develop a project.

Another effective technique is called "Yes, and..." Richmond learned this approach from an improvisational actor who taught her these rules: "first listen, and then say, 'Yes, and ...'" This means paying attention to your partner and then building upon that. It facilitates the building of ideas and a safe environment for the free exchange of ideas.

Now we arrive at something I was wondering about: the potential for a clash of egos. The author's solution to that problem is to view the collaboration as "great individual parts as well as a great whole." This eliminates the subordination of one of the artist's work, and is labeled "respecting individuality."

In order for two artists to collaborate, they must translate their individual vocabularies into a shared one that both can understand. That "vocabulary" could be words, techniques, or disciplines. This benefit of this approach is that it allows both artists to grow together and as separate individuals.

Finally, Richmond views the outcome of a successful collaboration as a "continuing influence" not only in her own future work, but also in future collaborations.

A solo artist, like myself, can glean some gems from this section of Richmond's book. Our conversations here on this blog, or in our own private realms, provide growth opportunities when we make the effort to exchange ideas and understand each other. These "conversations" inform my work and help me develop new conversations that are substantive and worthwhile.

What are your thoughts??


Stan Kurth said...

I'm not much of a collaborator. I guess I just have to do it on my own. But that being said, I believe that my work is actually a collaboration of sorts because in it are a variety of influences, directions and voices in my ear from those who impacted me as an artist. That's as close as I have come to collaboration. I Have no collaborations in sight, but I'm quoting Don here, "Never say never".

hw (hallie) farber said...

I like the work of Gilbert and George. I've never been part of a collaboration.

I have worked on designs for committees--and I'll say "never again." Upon completion , I signed with "hwfarber et al."

Unknown said...

Hi Stan - me, too!

Hi Hallie - like you, I don't think I'd want to produce art work through a committee. Sounds painful.

M said...

I collaborated way too much in my past career to last me a lifetime. There was always some problem- pacing, scheduling conflicts, egos, differing belief systems etc. It takes a lot of extra energy and patience to collaborate. I'm waning in both.

I did appreciate the Yes, and suggestion when discussing art work with someone else.

Dan Kent said...

Firstly, let me say (since I didn't have time to comment) that your last post was fabulous! I loved all of the ideas. And my compliment to the author for sharing them (as I am still feeling guilty about calling her "elitist" in the earlier chapter. Who knew she'd read it for god sake? I should have known..).

Anyway, I've worked with others - sometimes it's been a delight, sometimes a chore. But not in art. I actually am about to launch an art collaboration of sorts..but a more casual affair than the author contemplates. I see it as a chance to grow with someone that has similar goals and is at about the same place as I am. So it looks like for the first requirement I can say "check". The other suggestions seem awfully involved. Then again, we aren't planning a work of art - we are just going to try to feed off of each other without devouring one another. We will see..

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Mary Paquet said...

The closest I come to collaboration is being a member of a critique group and painting with my art group on Thursday nights. We have some lively discussions about our works in progress or completed. The critique group is especially helpful. I learn from the discussion of each person's work. Comments and suggestions are honestly and kindly given. In the end, the artist makes their own decisions about their work.

I want you to know that I've been following and I just don't comment every time because I would be repeating some of the wonderful comments already given, and I am somewhat limited on time for blogging.

Finally, Kathy, congratulations on your grant. "There is a God...." (figuratively speaking).

Celeste Bergin said...

oh I like was part of my daily life when I was in advertising. It might have been the best thing about what I did then--I got to work with so many talented people and if you couldn't collaborate you wouldn't last 5 minutes. Now, of course, I find painting to be a mostly solitary thing...but I get to still "hang out" with talented people, both in real life and the blogosphere with you!

-Don said...

Like Celeste, I did a lot of collaborating as an Art Director in television. The best collaborator I ever had was C.J. Boisvert, the Promotions Manager at my last station. C.J. and I fed off each other and created some wonderful works because of it. She knew me well enough to know if I was getting complacent and what triggers to pull to piss me off/motivate me. We would have knock-down-drag-out fights which would raise the hair of anyone who happened to hear them - but, we would ALWAYS kiss and make up/find a solution that was mutually beneficial. (My wife always called C.J. my "work wife"). It was with C.J. that I won one EMMY and was nominated for another.

Like Hallie, I had to design by committee - a lot more than anyone should ever have to. I'll keep this short and just say it sucks, but it was a necessary evil. You couldn't usually call this collaborative at all. It's more like torture and should be illegal.

As a fine artist I have not collaborated with anyone since college. If the circumstances were right I might enjoy it, but I'm not going out looking for it... I've got enough on my plate already.


Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - your list of the costs involved in collaboration is a good one because it illustrates the degree of compromise that it necessary to make the partnership work, and the potential for losing one's voice. Thank you!

Hi Dan - your new collaboration sounds intriguing! Hope you'll write some posts about it so we can follow your progress.

Hi Pam - your quilting experience shows how important it is to pick the right partner for a collaboration. Sounds like your partner was happy to dominate you! It's really too bad, espceially since you're such a creative person and have so much to offer. Thanks for sharing.

Hi Mary - I like the idea of a critique group that meets regularly. that sounds like a great collaboration. Thanks so much for chiming in!

Hi Celeste - I didn't know that you were in advertising. Of course, you had to collaborate and I'm happy to know that it was a great experience. Thanks for sharing this!

Hi Don - like Celeste, you bring up an important aspect of collaboration - how the "right" partner can bring out the best in you through challenge. That's an incredible benefit! Thanks for brining up this point. And - congrats on your Emmys!!