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Aren’t we always collaborating?

August 3, 2018

 

small oil pastel drawing

Oil pastel from my sketchbook

I like the idea of collaboration. It softens that hard idea that we need to be isolated and unique in the work that we create. Kind of the long-suffering artist image.

Collaboration is usually thought of as a team effort, mostly in a business setting. But, for artists I interpret the concept much more loosely. It is timeless and can be a conscious or an unconscious act—a kind of creative brainstorming engaged in with another artist intentionally, an influence from another artist, or a more formal process that is defined by planning, scheduling, and execution, needing a host of players.

Focusing on unintentional collaboration, we, as artists, step into a flow created by those who precede us—not limited by them, but pulled in by resonance with what they have created. The flow also contains other information: stimuli, environment, relationships. Strictly limiting ourselves to the visual, however, we might respond to paintings , sculptures, drawings, etc. for reasons we are not able to articulate, yet are influenced by.

THAT’S the collaboration. Each of us is a building block in interpreting and expanding the world. We try to anchor it, depict it, hold it briefly by representing it in a concrete form.

“Exposed to scrutiny, the myth of the solitary genius artist rarely holds up and much more often falls away to reveal a web of collaboration, influence, and exchange.” Lewis Bush

A well-known example of a long collaborative process is the painting Reconciliation Elegy by Robert Motherwell. A gigantic painting reinstalled at the National Gallery of Art in 2016. The concept for the painting started in 1974 and it was hung as a painting at the gallery in 1978.

“The photographic album and the comments by Robert Motherwell and his studio assistants presented here make up a journal [Reconciliation Elegy, published by Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. 1980] which records both their collaboration in the creation of the artist’s monumental painting Reconciliation Elegy, as well as how the painting itself was a collaboration between its intended placement—a commission for the National Gallery’s East Building—and the artist’s humanism. The story is simple and direct; but their common struggle to keep the great painting alive and personal is also complex and poignant.” E. A. Carmean, Jr.

picture of the installation of the large painting Reconciliation Elegy by Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell, Reconciliation Elegy, acrylic on canvas, 120×364, 1978

Another fascinating technical collaboration is part of Evelyn Rosenberg’s process in creating art:

“Evelyn works with the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC), located at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico where, in 1986, with the support and cooperation of the Center, she developed the technique for creating the detonographs. The technique, which uses a sandwich of explosive material and metal sheets placed upon a clay mold, forms the basis for her art.” You can get her book to learn more.

Evelyn Rosenberg, Regenesis, 96×120, stainless steel, brass, and copper, 1998

And here’s a collaboration in which I participated: a painting done by a painting group I belonged to a couple of years ago, all of us jumping in with ideas and paint brushes (and other stuff):

collaborative painting done by artist's painting group

WAG 2, mixed media on canvas, 30×40

Not only were we surprised and delighted by the outcome, but it was a great fun to do.

 

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