THE BLOG
08/22/2013 11:46 am ET | Updated Oct 22, 2013

Artist Collaboration Fuels Creative Exploration

Some the most groundbreaking artistic works have resulted when artists with knowledge and experience from distant genres and unrelated forms collide and spark new ideas. Though you may not recognize it in the end result, we've all seen and appreciate the results of these creative collisions. What I want to talk about now is the creative magic that results from the formation of creative duos and groups.

Creative magic happens when an artist becomes deeply involved in the technical aspects of the art form in which they are working. Creative advancements can appear as flashes of insight or even "happy accidents." They happen all the time, and often when least expected. Add a creative partner (or two) to the mix and you've got enough knowledge and experience to spark a multitude of creative advancements to power a successful partnership.

Whether it was Walt Disney & Salvador Dali, or Andy Warhol & Jean Michel Basquiat, Jackson Pollack & Lee Krasner or David Byrne & Brian Eno, stories of creative collaborations come in many varieties. Most common perhaps is the "complementary skills" variety. Other collaborations happen on a more emotional, human level. Sometimes an artist may seize on an opportunity to explore a form that is foreign to them working with a master of that form. And sometimes a master finds himself in need of an injection of fresh energy to revitalize his work. What's important is that no matter what the circumstances, these collaborations can unlock untold creative riches and you just don't know what they might be until you try.

Film, theater and music are collaborative by nature -- it's simply not possible for one person to do everything that is needed to make a movie, stage a play or perform a piece of music. Collaboration in these forms is made easier by roles having already been defined. Other forms such as most of the fine arts are more solitary. Many of these artists will shy away from collaboration, accustomed as they are to working alone. Nevertheless, the give and take of collaboration can be energizing to all parties and be well worth stepping outside of one's comfort zone.

At times it may result in a bridge between the solitary and collaborative forms as in the case of Dali and Disney. Though it didn't see the light of day until a half century after it was begun, the Disney and Dali collaboration in Destino laid the foundation for Disney's better-known works that followed. The collaboration itself is significant for the divides of style, art form, geography and discipline, which it bridged.

In the paintings that Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat created together, each artist contributed his distinctive style. While their individual contributions are discernible but the juxtaposition creates the transformative effect. But more importantly, these pieces are a record of an artistic conversation (or argument?), each layer signifying the contributor's counterpoint to the previous statement. In the end, the conversation becomes the piece and vice versa.

Some creative collaborations grow organically from a different type of relationship such as that of married couple Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollack. While Krasner was a highly accomplished artist in her own right, she devoted tremendous energy to helping Pollack to develop his work. Though it's impossible to attribute Krasner's contributions, there's no denying that Pollack would not have all that he achieved without her by his side.

Then there are the instances of collaborations being rekindled after a long period of dormancy. Musicians David Byrne and Brian Eno collaborated more than 25 years ago on "My Life In the Bush of Ghosts" after which they returned to their respective primary musical practices. But when Eno, after laboring over a number of pieces failed to get the results he was hoping for, he thought to himself, "this needs a professional" (his words). Who better to reach out to than his old friend David Byrne. With Byrne in New York and Eno in London, they collaborated passing digital files back and forth across the Atlantic, only getting together occasionally as was convenient. The resulting album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is an exemplar of master musicianship, artistic collaboration and what can be done with today's digital tools and a bit of ingenuity.

Questions will come up around collaborative projects. Where did the original idea come from? How was it transformed by the conversation? Who had more of a hand in the final execution? The answer to all of the above is, "Who cares?" While artists each deserve fair credit and compensation, openness, humility and commitment to the output or product are most important.

At Tenlegs, we collaborate not because we have to, but because we want to. Even though the overarching mission is simple, the ways that it comes to be expressed are wide-ranging and complex. Together we are able to draw on everyone's skills, experience and perspective to create products and services that people want. No one owns any one part of Tenlegs, yet we all feel ownership of the whole. The bonus is that the process becomes a lot more fun.

I'm also happy to report that artists are taking the collaborative spirit online in our newly-opened world. I have observed firsthand the collaborative mindset ever-present in the DNA of California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). CalArts is continuing to live Disney's founding vision by taking collaborations online, across disciplines and populations. Students and alumni are now able to push the boundaries of collaboration with online collaboration spaces. CalArts is paving the path for their community to take advantage of these exciting advancements.

Learn from these individuals. With restrictions on collaboration removed, the only thing left to do is find a partner or two and start talking. Bring that idea to the front burner, dust off that script, sharpen your pencils, find a collaborator and get creating.