What's the Role of Collaboration in Your Work?

What’s the Role of Collaboration in Your Work?

Photo by Gary Compton. (He included it with his collaboration story about his Mexican wrestler shoot.)

This week’s question for our everyday creatives:

What’s the role of collaboration in your artistic work?

I, and a lot of other creatives, strive to find a sweet spot with my work that lies between unique and universal.  I’ve worked hard over the years to create my own style and voice.  This is my base, my universal.  Then I mix this with a different unique context or mindset to create something on the fringe of my universal (things I would usually do) and the unique (things someone else would do).  It’s not wholly me and it’s not wholly something else.  This blend is where progression of your artistic self comes from and is the essence of collaboration.

I think it’s important to approach collaboration in as many different ways as possible to test, inspire, shift, broaden, and strengthen your voice. Music for instance is my main medium. I find it helpful to collaborate with other musicians to refine detailed musical skills and explore deeply in the world of musical ideas. I also find it helpful to collaborate with non-musician artists to explore concepts that might carry over to musical ideas, but aren’t currently explored deeply in musical contexts by myself or my other musical collaborators. I also explore collaboration in the form of opinion from people outside the arts. They provide yet another point of view and set of vocabulary and concepts that might be currently overlooked by both my musical and other artistic collaborators. I also explore collaboration in a loose way with different tools and technology. Writing for piano and guitar are different, likewise electronic and acoustic music, and even different pianos or different digital audio workstations will create different creative scenarios. These tools were crafted by other humans with their own artistic thoughts. I’m essentially collaborating with their work.

The more raw creative materials (points of views, skills, mediums, concepts, tools, etc.) you have to work with, the more likely you’re able to create something new and exciting for yourself and for others. At the same time you need that base of who you are to approach the collaboration. So time needs to be dedicated to developing and reflecting on the core of what you’re doing. We as humans like repetition (the known) with a handful of variances thrown in (the unknown) to keep things interesting. I believe this is true of good art and good collaboration.

Matt Hanna
Musician/Composer/Teacher/Ecommerce Strategy Consultant/Personal Coach/Lover of Thinking and Learning
Boston, MA

Collaboration gives me life. Interacting with like minded, knowledgeable and creative individuals inspires me to push my creative limits. I can always get farther with collaboration than I can alone. It usually isn’t a direct idea from others but just the simple pushing of each others thoughts where I gain insight. One person says one thing that stimulates a thought path in my brain I would have never gone.

Whenever I’m struggling to complete an article, or can’t find inspiration, I know I need to to get out and collaborate. It’s a recharge for my mind. Collaboration is like a drop of food coloring in water, a little bit goes a long way.

I firmly believe projects benefit from a collaborative team working on them. Without the insight of several people, the project is not as rich as it could be. Collaboration brings different knowledge bases and backgrounds together to form a project that has depth. In my work, the more interviews to enrich an article the better. Even if you don’t put all of their words into a piece, the background knowledge you gain from each person is vital.

Not all collaboration is good. All parties involved must have similar motivations for participating in the project and keep the intentions of the project as main priority. Seek out positive collaborations and get rid of the negative.

Naima Montacer, M.S.
Member, Society of Environmental Journalists

My work is mostly self initiated and self driven from beginning to end. But I love to collaborate with other artists, especially outside of the visual art world; because that’s when conversion comes into place, the translation of each other’s art medium. It’s a pleasure to create side by side with someone else because you get to see another kind of process, the different paths that each person has discovered for themselves. What they think works best. And that’s priceless – you’re witnessing someone else’s shortcuts and gimmicks in creation. It’s not about stealing or borrowing a technique, but rather about realising that there are a million ways you could do things. “Your way” should always be open to new ways.

Also having someone else involved in your creative process gives you the advantage of always having fresh a pair of eyes. And I don’t necessarily mean the fresh eyes then and there, like someone would come, someone who hasn’t seen what you created until that point and express a fresh opinion (that’s good too, it’s very healthy). I’m referring to the “big picture fresh eyes”. You can confront what you’re doing with another human being that has lived a different life than you, no matter how similar you are. Everyone grows to be different, we are the sum of all our experiences. We are brought up in different areas of the planet, we are exposed to different cultures, religions and traditions, levels of education and level of technology.

The role of collaboration in my artistic work is enjoying the ability to create through and with someone else that has experienced life in a different way that I have.

Vlad Mihai “Cutărică”
Illustrator & Art Director

As someone who works in theatre, I feel that collaboration is integral to the creative process. Theatre requires many people giving different kinds of input: writers, actors, directors, designers, tech crew, office administrators, etc., all working together not only to create a unified, sometimes multi-disciplined project, but to work off one another’s contribution.

I also think that collaboration in art removes (or at least diminishes) inflated egos, and keeps everyone humble and honest, both yourself and your other collaborators. Essentially, you’re not there to blow your own horn (unless your input is, for example, a musician in a brass band), you’re there to create something together.

In improv theatre (and possibly other forms of improvised ensemble art), you’ll often hear everyone talk about saying “yes, and…” rather than “no” when improvising. For example:
A: I think it’s going to snow tomorrow.
B: Yes, and I hope the schools are closed!
A: Yes, and then we can build snowmen! Hooray!

Now, you don’t necessarily need to respond with “yes, and…” at the beginning of every line, but the idea behind “yes, and…” is to accept what the person is giving you (“yes”) and then build off of that “and..”). It doesn’t work quite as well, if this kind of thing happens:
A: I think it’s going to snow tomorrow.
B: I don’t know what you’re talking about. We live in a desert.

The problem with that interaction is obviously that by not accepting what A offered, B has either stopped the conversation cold, or has deflected A’s idea so that B can move forward with his/her own idea. This can damage the trust that two scene partners should have.

Another idea talked about in improv (under the umbrella of “yes, and…”) is supporting your partner to the point that they look better than you. This can actually be tricky for some, at least when it comes to building story and conflict, but when it works, it makes for really successful theatre. Obviously my experience is mostly theatre-based, but I think it’s very applicable to other art forms.

Stephen Reinstein
Theatre Artist, Educator, and Administrator
Boston, MA

I don’t collaborate with others when doing my own artwork. I look at art creation as a release from just about everything. In my paying job I must collaborate to be successful, however, when it comes to my own work, collaboration is not an option.

Recently I met a man that does some of the same processes that I do. I love discussing it with him but when he has come over to work on images with me, it has been a complete failure.

When asked to be involved in a project with others, when a collaboration is part of the finished piece like a themed group exhibit or presentation, then I can actually enjoy it if interest is there. But for my day to day photography, collaborating with someone else is the last thing on my mind.

Chuck Baker

Collaboration is tricky. I find that I tend to run into two obstacles. One, some potential collaborative partners are too reluctant to make demands on me as their collaborator, too insistent that I be free to do whatever I want, take it wherever I want it to go. For me the introduction of another person into my own creative process is valuable MOSTLY for the ways that person’s input will place constraints and challenges in place that I would not otherwise have envisioned. If I wanted full artistic freedom I would work independently. A collaborator, for me, should be someone who prevents me from being what I normally am and who drives me to do something I wouldn’t normally attempt. It doesn’t help that I usually feel expectations are present anyway just below the surface of what the collaborator says and does, that it is not so much a matter of them not wanting what I do to look a certain way, but rather just not wanting to have to communicate that desire, wanting it to turn out the way they want it without having to feel like they pushed it. The other difficulty comes with me expressing a vision on my own part. I had this problem very recently. I was hoping to collaborate on a large-scale project that–without getting into too much detail–involved using technology to break down an image into a coordinate grid of thousands of squares and farming the squares out to teams to individually mass-produce as abstract tiles in such a way that they could be reassembled. My would-be collaborator was convinced from the start that she had already done this. Hers was a grid of about 25 squares produced by a team of about 5 people. The project I tried to describe involved groups at a different order of magnitude and worked at a scale that would bring into play visual properties (optical mixing, for instance) that would be irrelevant at the scale she was talking about. Over and over I described the project and how it would work and over and over she showed me her 5×5 pictures. She was unable to see anything but the thing she was predisposed to see, the thing it flattered her to think of as anticipating the idea I was trying to bring about. When I pointed out the incongruities between the two projects she would repeat “I get that, I get that, I get that” but I could see very little indication that she had tried to see anything but the thing she already knew. Somewhere between that total conflict of opinion and a refusal to engage in any conflict whatsoever is the kind of collaboration I would find productive.

Colin Glanovsky
Art Educator

Writing is a solitary act. Putting pen to paper revolves around inner work and musings. Being an introvert, I appreciate this aspect of my vocational path. There is truly nothing that I enjoy more than sitting at my desk and allowing my heart’s meanderings to fly onto the page.

But my daily sojourns into creativity are bolstered by a community of friends and mentors, who bring a level of support that nudges me forward. My biggest challenge as a writer is my inner editor. Like many writers, the discernment that allows me to sense the makings of great work can slide into a tyrannical overhaul, bringing me farther from my truest work. I end up locked in place with more slashed out words and red markings than syllables on a page.

For me this is where collaboration comes in. My friends, with their insights and wisdom, point out the beauty of my work when I am too blinded to see it. They find strength in my writing when my neuroses would lead me to throw it out in a garbage can. Without them—my dear ones, thoughtful guides and mentors—it would be immensely harder to sit at my desk and imagine that what comes out of my pen is worth writing and worth reading.

Elizabeth Wellington
Brookline, MA

Collaboration is my sanity. I work for myself, so I also work by myself, most of the time. I’m running a business that I started less than a year ago, and working the occasional freelance job. I’m constantly needing to do things that are out of my comfort zone, and often needing to do things that I find terrifying. It is only because of my inner circle of collaborators–fellow entrepreneurs, artists, makers, and risk-takers–that I can keep myself oriented to my goals instead of running in circles.

Every week for the last year-and-a-half, since I left my full-time job, I’ve met with two friends who took the leap to quit their “real” jobs around the same time I did. Being able to sit with these friends and go through the process of figuring out a non-standard life arrangement together, week by week, kept me from bailing out and giving up. Even though we are all pursuing different things, they keep me pointed in the direction I know I want to go in but would be too afraid to go on my own. They are my collaborators in the creative process of living a good life.

I also have a crew of “gut-check” collaborators–these are the people I go to when I’m tempted to second-guess myself into oblivion. They tell me that the comment I’ve drafted for an Instagram post is great, and I should just post it already and move on to making something new. They tell me that the thing I made is cool, and they would absolutely buy it. They read the email I spent all morning drafting and redrafting, and tell me to just send it already. They sit with me at craft shows and tell me to keep breathing (and smiling) when a hundred people walk buy and don’t buy anything.

It’s really easy for me to feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and my shoulders alone. I am a one-woman show: if I don’t do the things I need to do in order to grow my business, there is literally no one else in the world who will do them for me. There are people who will help me, though, and that’s what makes it possible to keep going.

Abigail McMurray
Chief Paper Folder, yeiou {paper objects}
Somerville, MA

For most of my life I’ve been a solo act, but for the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with the three other members of my band, The Morning Architect. Matt (incidentally, the curator of this site) brought us together through Craigslist, and he usually comes up with the chords that form the core of our songs. He sends us a recording, someone writes a melody, and then the rest of us fill in instrumental parts and harmonies. We have now written a large amount of original material together that I never would have been able to write by myself. It’s been incredibly fulfilling.

Alyssa V. Lawson
Cambridge, MA

I used to perceive collaboration as a cooperative process among professionals in a similar field. Since maturing in my industry, I realize collaboration is much more than that.

As someone who has recently entered the creative workforce full-time, collaboration has proven to play a very important role in all of my work. Every piece I work on involves others, whether it is the client, a coworker or the prospective audience. All these individuals contribute to what I consider as a form of collaboration.

My daily collaboration often engages people from different disciplines and with different strengths. At my current workplace, I have the opportunity to collaborate with experts in business, programming, customer service and marketing. I am able to draw feedback from this wide range of knowledgeable colleagues, which improves the quality of my work and outputs a result that can be flexible to multiple viewers.

I value collaboration because of the many touch points I can make with someone other than myself. I can bounce ideas and concepts off of those with different perspectives, and collect constructive criticism that reinforces and strengthens my work. I design for people, so why not include them in the process?

Olivia Truong
Designer and Illustrator
Toronto, Canada

In artistic work, and at a higher level of analysis, collaboration is always present, even if only at a surface level of subconscious thought. Collaboration in art could be interpreted as creative inspiration, which renders itself from provocative thought after experiencing someone elses’ creative process or medium. Sure, you could lock yourself in an empty box space, but unless you grew up with no interactions in the world (clearly, impossible) there’s never a sense of not collaboratively working. In my own work I can’t say that anything has been produced has been without inspiration from other talented minds. If you can prove to me that’s not collaborative, hats off to you!

In creation of art, outside of thought and inspirational collaboration, it can also hinder artistic thought and work. When working on a piece, regardless of medium, every individual brings to that art a sense of concept, purpose, influential hopes, and vision. When collaborating on creation, it can lead to clashes (or hopefully innovation), which can stifle and possible cause artistic form to halt.

I’m all for team playing, but sometimes, some things just are better meant to be physically crafted solo and thought of collaboratively.

Kendra Moroz
“Human in progress”

The most recent collaboration project I’ve done was a coloring project with another designer. It was a comic strip for my company’s newsletter. The other designer did the drawing and I did the coloring part. In my own opinion, collaboration is another way to spark up our brain to stir up our creative juices. Art is pretty subjective, everyone has a different angle of seeing things. Especially when 2 creative persons come together, interesting things might happen!

Kitty Huang
Graphic Designer
Toronto, Canada

I’m a verbal processor, so I find that when I can talk through an idea with someone else, the idea has a chance to grow and develop. Without outside influence or collaboration, most of my ideas and projects wither. But, even when you’re physically alone, your past influences play a sort of collaborative role in shaping the art being made. All art is collaborative.

Drew Gneiser
Social Media Specialist at Feed My Starving Children
Social Media Strategist at CreativeMornings/Minneapolis

Collaboration is a necessary part in artistic work. Even though I usually work on projects on my own, I look to my colleagues for their input on my work as well. I may need assistance in some way from them in order to complete a project. Sometimes when I finish one of my projects I may ask them what they think of it. Seeing if they understand the message I am portraying or if anything is amiss. I value their input since they may discover something that I couldn’t find or come up with. I find myself on occasion bouncing off ideas with my friends about projects I am working on. They really give me great advice and help me see from a different perspective if I hit a road block. Its nice to work on a project by yourself but being able to work with fellow artists can be even more exciting. Everyone is working together putting their special talents to use in order to produce the finished result. Great satisfaction comes to seeing everything come together and knowing you all worked as a team to reach this end product. It’s a great feeling knowing you are a part of a great and talented team.

Desiree Zielinski
Graphic Designer
Scranton, Pennsylvania

Collaboration is huge, I am constantly looking to partner with other professionals that have skill sets outside my own. Part of the reason for wanting to do this is understanding that in collaborating with other creatives there is the potential to create something bigger than the sum of all it’s parts. I attended the latest Sydney Creative Mornings talk, this morning and from that am organising to collaborate with an illustrator on a photo series…!

Photography can be a lonely pursuit at times so seeking to collaborate with others and build friendships and business relationships helps in many areas. I’m lucky in one sense as I share a studio space with two other photographers so do get to converse and exchange ideas from time to time, which is priceless.

The anatomy of a photo shoot comes down to a photographer and a subject, and if it’s not an inanimate object there is a collaboration that takes place to create images. Also working with hair and make up, assistants, art directors etc everyone is bringing something to the table. The key to creating great work is getting everyone on the same page and also being open to the unexpected.

I recently shot a series of portraits that came about from needing to source some Mexican wrestling masks for a potential job. After doing some research online I found someone in Melbourne who was importing the masks from Mexico. After a few emails back and forth they told me about these events they were holding in Melbourne that involved wrestlers wearing the masks. After not being able to make it to Melbourne for a few events I finally made it to Melbourne and got to shoot portraits of all of the wrestlers before an event. The organiser agreed to me shooting the wrestlers as long as he could use the photos. From this I was able to create a series of portraits, I had about 5 minutes with each wrestler before the event started.

The photo shoot was one big collaboration, I used frequent flyer points for the flights from Sydney and back, stayed at my sister’s place in Melbourne, put the word out on facebook and found an assistant on the day to help me with setup and gear, got a great deal on gear hire from the legends at the local gear hire house and hired a car to get around.

Gary Compton
Sydney, Australia

What do you think?  How do you view the role of collaboration in your work?