Alex McLean

Making music with text

Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration

by Alex on December 4, 2008

If you’re a notable fine artist making a big piece of work, you might employ people to help you.  Some might have skills you lack, some might be artists themselves although probably less notable.  These people are called artist’s assistants, can be quite well paid but are not credited when the resulting work is exhibited.  As assistants often have their own artistic career, it would be insulting to credit them, as the vision was yours and your assistants were guided by you.  This is a happy situation, everyone knows where they stand, gains experience and are fairly compensated for their time.

If you are a notable digital artist, you might instead have cross-disciplinary collaborations.  People are divided into boxes labelled ‘artists’, ‘technologists’, ‘computer programmers’ and ‘scientists’.  The labels are applied not to roles, but to people.  That is, a person is not expected to work as an artist in one project and a scientist in another.  The collaborators are all named with their labels.  Where labels are not given, they are implied using the word with.  For example, a piece might be made by ARTISTNAME with SCIENTISTNAME.  Occasionally the scientist’s name might be missed off the promotional literature by mistake.

As all the cross-disciplinary collaborators are named, they will want to have a major contribution to the vision and implementation of the artwork, so often the result is bad feeling and occasionally major disagreement and ultimately a result no-one is happy with.  The nature of cross-disciplinary collaboration attracts together people to work together who are polar opposites, with very different world views and notions of what is important.

I know of one cross-disciplinary art-science collaboration that has worked, where those involved have done so on equal terms, acknowledging and achieving parallel desired outcomes.  Mostly however I see work where some collaborators are billed higher than others, with poor work as evidence of ill-feeling.

An artist who I have great respect for asked me to collaborate on a project last year.  However after a shaky start where my artistic ideas about the project where rejected I nearly said no.  At the same time though my sister (a fine artist herself) was working as an assistant, having a great time helping produce the paintings of a very well known artist.  So I did the work using this model, asking not to be named as collaborator.  It was a fascinating experience, I had the privilege to witness and aide (on a technical level) the development of a piece of art, I felt good about it afterwards and got paid for my time.

Where an artist doesn’t have skills or the time to acquire them, then they need assistants, not collaborators.  Cross-disciplinary collaboration is possible, but difficult and in my opinion generally undesirable…  An artist needs to engage as closely as possible the disciplines they are involved with, if necessary using assistants to help with that engagement, not provide it.

          

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