Reading 01 "Do It Together" by Creative Ensemble

This is a piece by Critical Art Ensemble called "Observations on Collective Cultural Action." They publish their work freely on the web. This piece was also published in Art Journal in 1998.

Please respond to the reading with one paragraph and respond to another person's comments on the reading as well!
creative_ensemble.pdf

20 Comments

Upon finishing the article, i enjoyed the beginning which discussed the emphasis placed on the individual artist. I'm currently reading Alain de Botton's 'The Architecture of Happiness' which came to mind while reading page 61s description of how studios are designed to accommodate a single artist. This manipulation of space is often discussed in Botton's book and resonates in the separation of architecture based on function. You wouldn't go into a bank to experience the 'second home' feelings found in coffee shops. Much like you wouldn't go into a print shop to work on anything but printmaking. I also found page 60s description of an institution of higher learning that allows partnerships to apply as one admission very interesting. Imagine how different the buildings and studios would look to accommodate this type of thinking.

When was this written/published? I'm curious about this before I give my response and I could not find it in the article.

I believe it was published in Art Journal in 1988.

I think the arguments put forth in this article are not as applicable to today's environment as they were in 1988. For example, CAE writes, "once in school ... students are forced to accept the ideological imperative that artistic practice is an individual practice" (60). Although I am not a student in the art department so I am not familiar with the program's dynamics, I do know that our class is an example where this is not the case. I consider my work in the urban planning program as equipping me with the necessary tools to be part of the "creative class" (Richard Florida) where I hope to work with artists and other creative individuals to realize more sustainable communities. I might agree with CAE that the word "community" is not meaningful because it can mean many things on many different scales but I am unsure if using the word "coalition" makes more sense. No matter what term we use, in our current society where money for artistic projects is tight, I think banding together to share resources is essential. Perhaps this cooperation was not pervasive in 1988 but I think that it is today.

At the end of the considerations it's stated that they are cynical to some degree, and one thing that seems taken farther than needed is the disregard for an artist want to work alone, being part of a coalition is probably not going to be a lifetime commitment and working communally is not always practical for every project. There are a lot of projects done as coalitions that don't necessarily stay together all the time after that project, working together short term is not covered as much in the article as sustaining the group over a long period of time, but is just as productive and valid. For instance the artist Swoon is an accomplished individual artist but was able to bring together groups of people for the Swimming Cities projects that were amazing and temporary (http://www.juxtapoz.com/Current/swoons-swimming-cities-of-serenissima-benefit). There is a definite need for ones personal body of work, to be able to be a productive member of a coalition the individual must bring a personal skill set with them. I do agree that so much is expected from the individual artists in terms of skills and knowledge that it is stressful to attempt to be a sort of Renaissance man/woman and meet all expectations, and is a great idea to find others to work with whom you can share your areas of expertise with and benefit from theirs. I also agree that it is hard to find a classroom experience that encourages group projects, this class being an awesome exception.

I think this article effectively addresses many of the issues facing artists of our generation. The commentary on artistic education resonates particularly well, as my artistic training thus far has focused on individual assignments and projects. Collaborative efforts have always been an option, but I would hesitate to say they've been actively encouraged by all but a few faculty. Indeed, much of the studio space available to students caters to individual work. The reading comments extensively on why group projects often go array, but a mere passing phrase touches on why artistic education is geared toward the individual; grades. Many are more comfortable relying on themselves to meet deadlines, allocate resources, etc., as opposed to depending on group members. When a college degree and personal investment are on the line, it is easy to understand this mentality. I confess it has long been the camp that I belong to, which is why I am encouraged to step outside of my comfort zone.

There's a line in the article that talks about the international conferences held in 1995, 1996, and 1997 so it must be sometime later than that.

I think this article effectively addresses many of the issues facing artists of our generation. The commentary on artistic education resonates particularly well, as my artistic training thus far has focused on individual assignments and projects. Collaborative efforts have always been an option, but I would hesitate to say they've been actively encouraged by all but a few faculty. Indeed, much of the studio space available to students caters to individual work. The reading comments extensively on why group projects often go array, but a mere passing phrase touches on why artistic education is geared toward the individual; grades. Many are more comfortable relying on themselves to meet deadlines, allocate resources, etc., as opposed to depending on group members. When a college degree and personal investment are on the line, it is easy to understand this mentality. I confess it has long been the camp that I belong to, which is why I am encouraged to step outside of my comfort zone.

When you step back and really analyze an institution like college, you start to notice the homogeneous nature of the whole process. People pass through the doors in an osmotic fashion, all taught by the same methods that have been used for decades. Integration of new methods is slow with college, and is at a fractured crawl in high school. Networking and group dynamics are hardly explored, and it's an ignorant procession.. especially with art being a welcoming form that nurtures collaboration. Collaboration should really be a mainstay in art curriculum. Who else do you learn more from then your peers?

That's one interesting thing about group dynamics,sometimes they aren't dynamic. A fully functioning family is a rarity. In school, there would always be one person that would do everything to ensure their own good grade, while the other would just sit and do nothing. The person takes over for the group because its members are unwilling to continue. But, the difference is- that's a school setting. That person isn't participating because they don't even want to be there in the first place. When everyone involved has the same goal, and the same drive and desire, then the group can function with more cohesion.

I'm also kind of lost as to the context of this article. It's obviously post-net, as it mentions Nettime's website, but nearly all of the benefits of collaboration mentioned in the article have been supplemented or surpassed by the internet. Collective knowledge is now not limited to the group, but is worldwide and instantaneous. Any specialized skill can be researched, internalized and perfected in real time. Distribution platforms, instead of decreasing, are now infinite. Granted, cultural space is actually becoming more stratified, with major gaps appearing between the e-literate and economically privileged and those without technological access, yet overall, unfettered information and inspiration is more immediately accessible to a larger percentage of the population than any time in history. If this article had been written 5 years later, I think the emphasis would be less on Nettime (which, based on their current website, has devolved into a insular message board shared by a handful of people) and more on the possibilities presented by a fully wired society, where collaboration is so effortless that the individual is never subsumed into inefficient or incompatible collectives, but the collective has expanded to include every individual.

This essay was talking about two different things. The beginning was talking about how the constructs in society and within the art world make it difficult to be a collective or to collaborate. The second part talked about how to be an effective collective. Although these two pieces do indeed have similarities, I found a lack of information backing up each claim and the similarities between the two. I did feel like the tips for making a collective or coalition function are helpful when organizing people, and I do feel like interesting points were presented. A better example showing the departmentalization within the art world, and specifically museums is the book Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media by Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook. This text explained the need for collaboration within museums in order to curate "New Media art." Although both of these texts have their differences, they also have their similarities when looking into the places where collaboration takes place and where it does not.

Another interesting article on this topic of collaboration was in last Sunday's New York Times. This article focused on Collaboration in the Business sector, and how collaboration is on the rise within businesses. The premise of the article was that collaboration actually reduces creativity (for various reasons that I will not list specifically here.) Although I am willing to argue with various assertions made in this article, it is an example of the current presence of collaboration within our society. I feel like collaboration is increasingly being brought up and addressed, one thing this article fails to mention, or is to old to recognize.

I think you hit on important factors of why it is sometimes more comfortable to work alone than in groups, especially in an academic environment where grades are a major focus. I have never worked on an art project with a group, only papers and projects that involved presenting findings based on research. I bet many of the potential roadblocks are the same for art projects and more traditional academic projects (one person not pulling her weight, disagreements on content, etc.). However, when much of art is subjective, I wonder if it is harder to create a finished product that meets the approval of all group members when it comes to a group art project.

Your comment on the need for an artist's personal body of work and personal skills made me consider the fact that very few artists, certainly within a restricted geographic area, share an identical vision for a final product. The article mentions how one group sought to remedy this by placing the individual with the most experience in that field to be the governing voice, but I may contend that this could further impede the group's ability to create a cohesive piece. At the end of the day, someone is going to feel less involved with the process. I suppose it is a toss up, however, as either the product is compromised or the process.

I was wondering if you have the link for the New York Times article you mentioned. I'm curious about the research they've included that points to a decrease in creativity.

One thing that I found interesting is that we have to talk about art collaboration. In general I think almost all careers involve some sort of collaboration, especially with many working for corporations, firms, agencies, etc. Yet, I think that almost any school is focused on the individual. I don't think this is necessarily bad in any way because I think most people realize that they will probably go to to work in some sort of collaboration and prepare for that in other ways beyond school. I suppose art is different from most careers though, just because you don't need to necessarily work with other people to be successful. And now the the internet perhaps artist will have to collaborate less with people that could showcase their art because they can now showcase their art for free online.

Another point that I have to make is that I don't think I found this article particularly helpful. I don't always think of art as a collaboration, but I do think of work as a collaboration. Also I think every group and workplace that I've been a part of has been different. What works for one group may be very wrong for another. Also I think in many way we collaborate for individual reason, like the fact that you can just do more with more people. In working with groups, there are often unseen and unplanned events that you have to deal with. That being said, I think that maybe the best way you can prepare for group work is to prepare for the unexpected.

As a visual artist, two points in this article resonated, in particular, with me. First, that market demands discourage collective activity. In the visual arts, museums and galleries, collectors and granting organizations largely are focused on individual artists. An individual’s body of work, resume, project proposal is looked at and evaluated for access to the resources of museum and gallery spaces, commissions and grant funds. One notable exception in the Twin Cities is granting and resource organization, Forecast Public Art. Not only is the organization encouraging of group grant project proposals, but also, it brings together the grantees during the grant year for collective discussions, encouraging idea sharing and problem solving.

As the article points out, the emphasis on the individual has primacy in the vast majority of art schools as well. Whether or not group projects are assigned or allowed, in the end, individuals receive a grade as individuals, not teams/collectives, and ultimately receive the school’s degree. Even schools professing interdisciplinary programs tend to fall short of full support and acceptance of ongoing collaborations. One out of state school that I initially attended as an MFA candidate, based their uniqueness on being an interdisciplinary degree program. As the students were writers, performers, filmmakers and musicians, as well as painters, sculptors and printmakers, the format of the program did seem highly interdisciplinary. The interdisciplinary aspect was cultivated through critiques that included all the students, which was very engaging and constructive. However, requests for collaborating long term to produce a final thesis project, whether across or within disciplines was actively discouraged.

The second point that I particularly related to was the value of collaborative projects. In addition to several two person collaborations, I have been involved with a loosely structured local activist group that was engaged in public actions for several years. Individuals, some in fields other than art, brought different skill sets, processes and concepts. These made for rich conversations, sometimes argumentative, and resulted in a wide range of public actions. Over time, the group evolved from deciding on one project through consensus to members and non-members suggesting a project and then “recruiting” others to develop and stage it. The latter seemed to re-energize the group and opened the group as new people came in for a particular project or two.

Though I am an advocate for more market and academic space for collaborative work, I do appreciate the value and the need for continued individual exploration and development of concepts, skills and work. Both approaches contribute.

I can agree that the internet has vastly extended the range, diversity and reach of collective knowledge, thus enabling an individual to readily expand his or her abilities. However, I question whether nearly all the article’s stated benefits of collaboration have been supplanted by the internet. Simply having access to information and people-networks does not necessarily translate into real time grained skills for an individual. It can takes years of focused trial and error to gain proficiency, for example, in making a multi-part mold for casting a large bronze sculpture. Everyone has a finite limit to the depth and range of knowledge and skills that can be internalized, as well as, a finite limit of time. The finite limits of the collective are the sets of knowledge, skills and time of all its members.

Additionally, even though a person has mastered a skill set, as in the example of producing a multi-part mold, the process of making/doing can require well-rehearsed team work/collaboration. This team/collaboration is in position to advantage “quantity with quality”.

Context correction: My January 27 comment beginning, "I can agree..." is in reply to Andrew's January 23 comment.

One of the most interesting parts of "Relational Aesthetics" was the idea of "social interstice," communities that functioned outside the capitalistic framework of most of society. Public projection seems to fall nicely within the realm of social interstice. We've talked about the ephemeral nature of projection. Artists who do public projection are not producing a commodity that they can sell or that can hang in a museum for a paying visitor to see. Instead, the projection is presented at a particular time, in a particular space for anyone to witness.

I also liked the statement, "Art is a state of encounter" (162). Our first project was the first time I had interacted with the public as an artist. I'm more comfortable observing, researching, and writing about community engagement in the arts and so it was a positive, though tough, learning experience for me. As I think about the next project, I want to keep the statment, "Art is a state of encounter" in the forefront of my mind.

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