The art of collaboration: practical essentials

Last time we talked about being clear about the purpose of the project, the destination and quality. This time we look at practical ways to get your collaboration up and running – and keep it on track.

Process makes perfect
Every creative has their own process, their own way of working. In collaboration, it’s likely that you and your creative partner might approach and contribute in different ways. If that’s the case, it’s important to understand and respect this, and find a way to bring your methods and styles together in a cohesive whole.

This is where the emotional intelligence I encouraged you to look for in your first meeting comes in – in both your creative partner and yourself.

No one should be telling someone else how to work – especially a creative, whose individuality and originality are crucial to the heart and meaning of the result.

However, some give-and-take, and appreciation for the thought and care that goes into an artist’s creative process, really does need to be there – as well as consideration for the experience and expertise that informs it.

Respect and critique are ok

Respectful comment and critique is ok; negativity or frustration because someone else is simply doing something differently to the way we’d do it ourselves is not.

Here, sensitive communication is your ally. Remember that you’re both bringing something unique to this collab: that is what’s so special about it. The result of what you’re producing together is a blend of both your originalities: it couldn’t be made by anyone else.

So, keep the lines open and give each other the space you both might need to do your own thing, but share and keep talking, so that you both know where you are at every stage.

Be prepared to disagree at times, but be sure that any disagreement is in service of the project, not ego, and definitely don’t allow it to escalate into rancorous conflict. Moreover, be prepared to seek solutions rather than create problems.

That said, don’t put up with any unacceptable behaviour – set boundaries if you have to – but do be aware of your own foibles too, and be willing to meet your collaborator halfway if genuine issues do come up.

Check your supplies

The devil’s in the detail
As I mentioned last time, disorganisation and cluelessness about practical matters really can bedevil a project. No sensible traveller sets out on a journey without checking their supplies – and creative work is no different.

Taking a work to the public is like any other project that needs to be managed. Here are some things you’ll need to discuss with your creative partner.

Personnel:

  • Who is going to be working with us, either creatively or in a support function?
  • Do we need to find other people, commission any specialist input?
  • What will their role be, and are the lines of demarcation and responsibility clear?
  • How will this work in practice?
  • Who is going to manage them?
  • Will their involvement have any effects on the creative dynamics between us?

Funding:

  • Money – where is it coming from?
  • What’s the budget, and how will it be used?
  • What is the cost of time, materials, venue, studio and/or workspace, personnel and expertise needed to make the work?
  • Have we prepared a breakdown of the financials?
  • Have we factored in publicity, marketing and any other aspects of taking the work to the public, such as launch events?

Timeline:

  • Set up a project schedule.
  • Work out each stage for completion of creative work and any other tasks to be completed.
  • Factor in contingency for delays, illness and unexpected events.

As this series of articles has outlined, there are quite a lot of things to think about when collaborating with others, but it needn’t be too complicated.

The most important thing is to enter into it in good spirit, create a space for inspiration to flourish, and facilitate safe and supportive rapport.

Some of the greatest and best loved works we know have been the result of fantastic collaboration by artists who really cared about each other: John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Man Ray and Lee Miller, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Charles and Ray Eames, to name but a handful.

You’re both in this to make great work together. Good luck!

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