The Art of Collaboration

The Art of Collaboration . . .

For details of the Art of Collaboration scheduled in Tokyo for Sunday March 3rd see:

His question hit me between the eyes. My husband Aki looked up from his manuscript, papers spread all over the dining room table. We were picking apart his book sentence by sentence. Aki paused, looked across the room to my canvas on the easel and declared: “Its not fair. Why is art a solo activity whereas writing a book takes practically a whole village?”

Writers need editors and proofreaders. Artists don’t. It’s just a fact of life. One day I face the canvas. The next day I’m writing too, so I sympathize with what Aki is saying. Art I can do alone. Or so I think. But a writer needs readers who can polish and cut and keep encouraging you forward.

But is art really a solo activity? It wasn’t for most of world history. Look at Renaissance art for example. Up and down the museum walls you see ‘the school of Raphael’ the ‘school of Tiepolo’ and on it goes. The crowning achievement of a great Renaissance master was to order his students to paint in his stead for much if not all of the painting.

Scroll forward to 2013 and look up the definition of ‘collaborative art’ on the internet. If you google the term, quite a bit of exciting activity around the world crops up. Look at what the Tunisian artists did to mask their true identity from an irascible dictator.

Look at kids in Floral Park who are studying the mindboggling creative output and symbolism of graffiti artist Keith Haring through collaborative art set in a beautiful grid.

These days Silicon Valley works by collaboration. Social networking on Facebook becomes fun and creative through collaboration. Some of the more intelligent ideas turn into sweeping movements for global change. If the internet is here to stay, so is collaboration.

Why then is artistic collaboration frowned upon? Take Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat at the peak of their New York art world careers in the early 1980s. In excitement they tried something new. They shared canvases, painting together, creating dialogue and witty repartee through their original styles of painting. But the critics hated the exhibition and Jean Michel’s fall into the abyss that eventually took his life might even have been spurred by his sensitivity to the critics remarks.

Criticism is a reflection of the times not the artist. Van Gogh’s art was discredited while he was alive. Gauguin well understood van Gogh’s brilliance and the palette of colors reflects this fact. Early Jackson Pollack was rejected. But the artists that became known as Abstract Expressionists understood Pollack’s genius. It may take decades for art to be understood and artists are smart to stop waiting for recognition while they are alive. Enjoy and trust in your own creative instincts. And be bold. Do what Van Gogh and Gauguin did. Go out and paint together.

This brings me around to the question of sharing a canvas with another artist. If the canvas is big enough, why not? Painting with someone you respect, whose art you love, whose time you cherish, can’t help but yield art with heart.

It’s been 30 years since Basquiat and Warhols’ collaborative exhibition occurred in New York. And now, guess what? Those arbiters of taste — the critics, the collectors, the museum curators — are coming around to appreciating their collaborations. The proof is that they are slowly coming out of hiding and being shown to an audience that has recognizes that collaboration is the signature of the age we now live in.

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