Monday, November 23, 2020

The art of collaboration

The coronavirus pandemic has enforced separation and solitude on so many people, and in doing so underlined the inestimable value of interpersonal connectivity and collaboration - which makes this article by author and translator Jen Calleja all the more timely.

Taking aim at the myth of the "unique genius" or "special maestro" who creates in splendid isolation, Calleja makes clear that no artist works "in a vacuum" - neither the Romantic poet nor the bedroom producer. On the contrary, even if they don't obviously stand on the shoulders of giants, they nevertheless benefit in more subtle or prosaic ways from the direct or indirect influence and assistance of others - those who help to make an intellectual or material context conducive to their creativity. Such support and inspiration - "scaffolding" - should not only be given credit where it's due, argues Calleja, but actively celebrated.

I was particularly struck by the mention of her partner's pamphlet DIY As Privilege, "where he discusses how the concept and moniker of do-it-yourself culture masks the support structures that are taken for granted in the production of DIY music". Within artistic and particularly musical circles, it is true, DIY is so often seen as an uncomplicatedly good thing - evidence of laudable determination and defiance apparently against the odds. It's at least partly for this reason that, for instance, Dischord is such a revered record label - one that has developed into a vital support structure itself.

Perhaps, though, we should pay more attention to the ways in which doing it yourself is only possible thanks to privilege, always contingent on a conducive climate. DIY musicians, for instance, inevitably have interconnections and an infrastructure that they rely on. And - going further - perhaps we should note (with some discomfort) how neatly DIY culture's explicit ethos of fierce individualism and self-reliance maps onto the neoliberal ideology to which it is often claimed to be opposed.

The arts are currently under unprecedented threat, and creative people find themselves portrayed as indolent hobbyists. A crude caricature, to be sure - but, sadly, one that is in danger of becoming true as circumstances conspire to ensure that more and more avenues are closed off to those without the socioeconomic means to access them. Now, more than ever, it seems vital for artists to recognise that it isn't a level playing field, to check their privilege and be honest about "the apparatus of their creativity", and to come together in a spirit of solidarity and collaboration rather to continue to venerate what Calleja calls "the cult of the individual".

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