Parties of Two or More | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Parties of Two or More

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From the time we are kids, collaboration and teamwork are extolled as holy virtues, but that conditioning directly contradicts one of the truest foibles of human nature: it is hard to please yourself; harder still to please someone else.

Taking that into account, I’m puzzled by why working together has become a fairly commonplace practice in art. Certainly it is a modern phenomenon. I would dispute the assertion that a master with apprentices is a comparable historic precedence of two equals merging their artistic visions.

And the payoff of such a melding may seem indisputable—double the inspiration, creativity and energy; one has a partner to bolster oneself and an equally committed sounding board, editor and critic. Certainly there are plenty of duos that make this work—Gilbert & George; Jake and Dinos Chapman; and Christo and Jeanne-Claude are just a few.

But turn the lens just slightly and the fault line of such a partnership is glaringly obvious—twice the doubt, criticism and torpor; twice the interference and muddle-headedness. Moreover, splitting success and limelight in half isn’t that appealing a prospect. Clarity, expression and articulation—these rarely thrive as group endeavors. The way of the artist is akin to soul-searching. Such activities are usually most rewarding and effective when done solo.

Photo credit: Wikipedia, Umbrella Project by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Japan (1991)

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