Artistic collaboration is finally getting the respect it deserves. No longer looked down on as Art by Committee Meeting, interdisciplinary work is being celebrated for its ability to bring multiple voices into a single event, to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
We see this in arts reporting; we see it in arts funding. In arts reporting, there is an added benefit: it’s much easier to describe an artistic process that is communicated among several share-holders than a process that takes place entirely inside of one person’s head. And, as technology has greased the wheels of communication, there is also the social media angle of reporting: when in doubt, describe how the artists used an online platform to share their ideas – that’s still novel enough to merit discussion.
As for arts funding, the terms “collaboration” and “artistic alliance” crop up regularly in application guidelines. This is all for the best. There is enough destructive isolation in our world; artists can model communication and find common ground in a way that benefits all of us, and funders will do well to support those efforts.
I’ve sat on grant committees and heard panelists talk about collaboration in a way that makes it seem indistinguishable from innovation. They are not the same. Collaboration has been around for as long as artistic expression has been around – there is nothing intrinsically innovative about it. It is one of the many ways humans have created effervescent art. It’s also been responsible for a substantial amount of formulaic dreck. There isn’t a magic formula for innovation: it can emerge from a clash of disparate views; it can just as easily sprout from a single seed.
So when I hear people celebrate the death of the solitary genius, I wonder how many babies are going out with that bathwater.
I have students who are natural collaborators, artists whose minds catch fire when sparked by kindred spirits among their colleagues. I also have students who need isolation in order to create, who do the whole smithy-of-my-soul thing, and find collaboration stifling. When I see support for artists circling around the principle of collaboration, I worry for these inward-facing artists, the ones whose sensitivities blossom in solitude. And I think of Oliver Sacks’ concern for some of his charges:
“Is there any ‘place’ in the world for a man who is like an island, who cannot be acculturated, made part of the main? Can ‘the main’ accommodate, make room for, the singular?”