What comes to mind when you think of collaboration and art? Are you intimidated, inspired or frustrated? While collaboration can be one of the most challenging endeavors, it can result in some of the most rewarding and creative projects. Two minds are better than one right? As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Think of all that has been accomplished with collaboration and architecture? Buildings would take forever to build if one man alone tried to do it himself. The pyramids of Egypt, stained glass Cathedrals, and the Book of Kells would not exist if people were not collaborating with each other. J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story, Leaf By Niggle, explains how each artist can only paint one leaf, but it takes everyone working together to paint the whole tree, collaboration is the key to seeing the big picture.
In It Was Good, in the chapter on collaboration, it explains how “Solo success is certainly not wrong, or “selling out,” but it can cause the artist to depend on himself, lose his focus on God as the true creative power, and separate himself from the community at large from whom he makes his art. Collaboration is often very difficult because it causes artists to depend on one another and on God for the skill to remain humble while working to merge two or more artistic visions” (Bustard 276). This can be a challenge not only in the visual arts but also in music and theater. If we start to think too highly of ourselves that is where we really start to get into trouble. Focusing on your success alone and not thinking about other people can cut you off from the amazing work that God is doing through other people’s lives.
When we choose to collaborate we can see amazing things unfold. An example of this can be seen in The Great Dance. Inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, this dance was a collaborative process that brought together many different dancers of a wide range of talents who learned the dance in an incredibly short amount of time and put on an outstanding dance. Although this show could have focused on talent alone by choosing the most skilled dancers, “The careful communication and humble assistance of the better trained dancers in the mixed group allowed the other dancers the freedom and safety to trust each other…A man of strong character will recognize his own weaknesses, depend on God and work graciously with others despite their limitations” (Bustard 280). When we choose to work together we are engaging in an act of trust.
I had the exciting opportunity to collaborate in an art project this semester in my sculpture class. As a group of four, my classmates and I chose a poem called The Sycamore by Wendell Berry and we each created a clay tile that symbolized or depicted a part of the story. I was very happy with how it turned out and how our different styles of handling the clay show through. At the same time there is a unity to the piece because of our combination of the great Sycamore tree in all of our pieces. We started by sketching together first and then we made our tiles together. Here is the poem we chose along with images of our sketches and the clay tiles we produced.
In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
Hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white of the bark.
It bears the gnarls of its history healed over.
It has risen to a strange perfection in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark face.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it, and is fed upon,
and is native, and maker.
Bustard, Ned. It Was Good Making Art to the Glory of God Second Edition 2006. Square Halo Books: 2006. Print.