Do you remember how we used to believe that people could multi-task? I mean really multi-task, like type on a keyboard, watch a movie and change a diaper simultaneously? And then neuroscientists started poking around in people's brains to figure out how that all might work and they found that, well, no one really does multi-task. Instead people switch between tasks as quickly as their brains will let them. And it's not too quick because it turns out that all those synapses have a kind of inertia. And time friction
. It's like every task can only happen after its subroutine software is loaded in the right part of the brain and running. In fact, what the scientists figured out is that "multi-tasking" is really a very inefficient way to work.
The stopping and starting between the almost simultaneous tasks that one is trying to perform adds 10-20% more time to the overall execution of all tasks involved and causes more fatigue. The net result is that no one task is done as effectively as it could have been if the subject had undertaken each task sequentially or serially. Big surprise to anyone who has been rear-ended by a Suburban driver who was trying to text, put on lipstick or shave, keep a grip on their vente coffee and operate a motor vehicle in stop and go traffic.
So, that's one set of operational efficiencies
But a recent comment by a reader pushed me to think about one of the parts of the speech I recently delivered and subsequently put up on the blog. He suggested that teams can be machines of creativity and that my preference for "lonely hunting" is just that----a preference. As I understand his point teams, whether in workshops or on the job, can create imaginative content, creative content and original work as well as or better than a lone individual; an artist. And I thought that, here too was another supposed operational efficiency
that should be debunked.
A dancer on the subject: http://stanceondance.com/2013/05/23/collaboration-collective-art-practice-and-when-to-go-it-alone/
Larry Shiner's take on the evolution from collective guilds to the aesthetic of the individual mind is in his book: http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/I/bo3633486.html
Is teamwork a valuable part of creativity?
The literature on this, and my personal experience, says otherwise. On the other hand the commentor and I may be defining the nature of the team
differently. My knee jerk reaction comes from my days in advertising when "designed by committee" was always short hand for crappy work that seems safe from client disapproval because it has had its balls removed.
In the ad business you often hear about "creative teams" but it doesn't mean the same thing as it might when discussing a sports team. In advertising, as in film making, there is a very definite hierarchy to a "team."
Advertising is essentially mercenary and a good creative director will use ideas from anyone on his team. But in my experience there is usually a lone conceptor
for each successful campaign who in spite of being a member of the team
comes up with most of the great ideas. The teams serves as a support to hang the meat on the bones of the concept. But it's rare that the team brainstorms and jointly hits on some sort of group epiphany. The idea bubbles into one person's head. That's the genesis. Then the team takes the idea, embraces it, and forms it for presentation. Their presentation preparation skills might be legend but they need the spark of an individual to start the engine.
In the film work everything starts with a script and many scripts started life as novels. You'll be hard pressed to find a more solitary undertaking that being a writer--- honestly. But that's where the ideas come from. They come from a solitary mind working for months or years in isolation from group think. And then, when the novel is crunched into a script (which takes talent but not originality of ideas---they are provided by the primary source) the leader of the next team is the director. His alone is the over riding creative vision for the making of a real movie. He originates the scenes and the movement through the scenes. He understands the way
he wants to tell the story and again, his team is there to support the manufacture of that vision. The making of the story. But the story existed before the team-----as an original idea percolated up from one person's mind.
The director doesn't sit down with the grips and gaffers and electricians on his "team" and ask them for ideas and creative input. If he asks for input it will be about practical matters: How high can we get a camera on a crane? How many generators will we need for the night time exterior? Where's the craft service? The ideas flow downhill from the director who is the source of all the creative ideas about the film. Can you imagine a committee telling Orson Welles how he should shoot Citizen Kane
"A good artist should be isolated. If he isn't isolated something is wrong." - Orson Welles
"I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will."
-Henry David Thoreau
But let's reflect about teams and photography because that's the real gist of the disagreement. While you may learn new ways of thinking from a team or new ways to do things the value that you bring to your art is your unique vision. Two people shooting side by side and capturing the same image at the same time from the same angle dilute each other's vision. Or, one is the creator and the other the xerox machine.
While going for PhotoWalks or hanging together with like minded peers in a workshop is pleasant and fulfills our need for social company it's a dangerous situation for an artist. On so many levels it insinuates that the median distillation of the group's behavior and ideas is the correct one and this creates psychic momentum that pushes the individual off their equilibrium and pulls them closer to the attraction of the cohesive social and conceptual order. "Look at the reflections of that bright neon in the water of the ditch!" One member might say, having made a solitary discovery. Then all of the members in the group come by and take a variation of the original idea. To each person who doesn't discover order in chaos well the original observation is given value and then the value is reinforced by the additive power of the group's repetitious capture of the same concept. That changes the individual in small ways because he gathers multiple data points that reflect what is considered artistically positive by his chosen group.
To walk solo with the camera and to discover the same reflection adds an empowering sense of discovery and increasing mastery for the individual. And it could be that the ability to discover the conceptual image was always in his power and he would have discovered it on his own anyway if not for the distraction of the group.
Speaking of distraction, the very nature of having a group means that everyone must feed the construct of the group for it to have continuance. A small portion (or large!) of each person's energy has to be concerned with compromising their unique point of view and needs just enough to create a cohesion to the group; to the purpose of the group. That shift in energy is tilted toward the group and away from the individual except in cases where the group disproportionally enables certain members.
In the case of a workshop, for example, the power of the group would seem to be evenly distributed and evenly contributed but that's seldom the case. There is always a small contingent that is able to manipulate or coerce everyone else in the group to rally around them and assist them in the realization and construction of their personal vision. They take a little more of everyone's power and attention than they return, and while the results of the group's efforts might be successful each lesser member of the group is more detached from the ownership of the final image than the more assertive member or members. There is always an ebb and flow to the politics of power within any group that diminishes the value of the undertaking for some while embellishing it for others.
I'm not saying that we don't need teams to produce an artifact from one person's creative conception. A writer benefits from an editor---but the story is already there. The director benefits from an editor but the footage is already in the can. There are examples in the commercial world where teams create photographs. An art director may come to a commercial photographer with a comprehensive layout for an ad and ask the photographer to render the image to match the drawing.
A client may come to a videographer with a story board and ask him to shoot the video precisely but we both know that in these examples there was a point of creation somewhere earlier in the time line. In these cases the photographer is the part of the team facilitating the production of someone else's visions.
I need a team to produce a labor intensive advertising shoot. But I never need a team to produce personal work. But I guess my argument falls apart if I included in my personal work the making of portraits. In that pursuit I am somewhat at the mercy of the sitter. Can I bend them to my will and force a one sided collaboration or am I willing to settle for a compromise that somewhat pleases both of us but at the expense of the true rigor of my conception?
My working understanding of the real value of teams is that they are good for taking big projects, breaking the projects up into discrete chunks and assigning each chunk to one or more people. At some point all the people bring their finished chunks of project back and we fit it all together. More like parallel computing than high speed serial computing. But the project always has a genesis. A moment of conception. An idea in someone's head. Without the individual conception there is nothing for the group to grapple.
The bottom line is that artist don't create in a vacuum, rather they pull in references from everywhere and everything in their lives but at a certain point they allow those resources to blend in their brains in a very unique way before have a moment of instant Satori
where the creative concept flows into their consciousness. That's a moment that can be supported by a team but no team can, by support or force, cause the creative idea to exist. At the core every new idea is delivered by the muses to one mind at a time.
Humans are like sponges. They soak up every emotion and action emitted and acted by the people around them. They absorb influence and the constant subconscious goal is always to fit in. To be part of a society. But it's the outsider
nature of artists that allows them to see and present a vision to their culture that is difference and valuable. The outsider sees things from a different angle. Explains things from a different point of view. That's what makes the work valuable.
Teams facilitate what is already conceptually there. They are great at turning concept into artifact. They are great at providing efficiency. But to depend on them for singular ideas of power and vision is to expect too much. That's what individual artists were made for.
I suspect we'll get a lot of disagreement on this one and I'm okay with that. The idea of art and the individual has changed over the course of history. Our current idea of art as an aesthetic expression of the individual artist is relatively recent (1800's?) and we're still wrapping our brains around it. But to me the concept of value of a team comes from manufacturing, harvesting and building. These are all concerned with realizing an idea that already exists, not making a creative new one.
Now, if you'll excuse me I'll step outside and make a few images on a lonely but happy walk by myself.
edit: I know, I know. It's too long. A blog should only be 500 words and one picture. Luckily my regular readers read quickly and with perfect comprehension.