Roberto Maqueda

A brief approach to collaborative methods in fine art practices – and its translation into the musical world

 

 

Tags:

Piece, composer, performer, collaboration, female, creation, installation, composition, art, visual, genius, work, creative, cage, tudor, colletive, together, architecture, society.

 

 

About collaboration in different fine art practices

I consider the arts to endow artists, I do not understand co–creative practices as closed dogmas and methods, since they are established, in their multiple variants, by the artists who take part in them. It is tremendously complex to establish a working model for two artists (A and B) that will be valid for another collaboration (B and C), since the creative decisions and synergies obey to the individual freedoms that co–creators decide to establish for themselves.

 

I would like to begin with a quote by British singer Juliet Fraser: To disambiguate immediately, I should say that I think that we chronically overuse the term ‘collaboration’: a mere coming–together of artists is not necessarily collaborative. I would define collaboration as ‘a shared practice that intentionally cultivates an intimate creative space (physical, intellectual and emotional) to produce a distinctive body of work’.[1] 

 

Co–creation is a neologism made up of the name — creation — as well as a prefix — co. The definitions of both terms individually would be:[2]

 

– –creation3: (noun) 1: the act of creating; 2: the act of making, inventing, or producing; 3: something that is created.

– co–4: (prefix) 1: with : together : joint : jointly; 2: in or to the same degree; 3: one that is associated in an action with another : fellow : partner; 4: of, relating to, or constituting the complement of an angle.

 

There is no authoritative definition of the term co–creation as such. Although we could all have a rough idea of what it might mean, and even create our version of it, based on the individual definitions shown above. Co–creation does not, however, make direct reference to the arts, since the term has been used for several decades in other contexts, such as business, where the term co–creation first appeared in 1979.[5]

 

Leaving aside the meanings that this term may have in other non–artistic contexts, I would like to propose a definition. Although it does not pretend to cover etymological aspects, this definition could help to contextualise what is presented in the following pages.

 

Co–creation: the act – or art – of making, inventing, or producing something together, with one or more partners.

 

Co–creative processes are not new. Since the middle of the 20th century, we can find co–creative practices in the arts regularly. Although initially the co–creative processes were more related to the visual arts, they have not been restricted to them. Since the first decades of the 20th century, and the explosion of new artistic movements that followed — Futurism, Dadaism or Suprematism — all were, to a greater or lesser extent, collective movements that produced social or cultural changes united by a shared aesthetic sense.[6]

 

If we look at the past, studios such as that of Peter Paul Rubens (Holy Roman Empire 1577—Spanish Netherlands 1640), brought together numerous apprentices and painters under the teachings of their master, who collaborated on numerous pieces of art by Peter Paul Rubens. Already in the second half of the 20th century, we can find many more groups of co–artists with a particular focus on both sides of the Atlantic. Some groups we could highlight are:

 

– Guerrilla Girls:7 feminist activist artists founded in 1985 in New York that, according to their own definition: Our anonymity keeps the focus on the issues, and away from who we might be.[8]

 

– Los carpinteros: collective founded in Cuba in 1992 by Marco Antonio Castillo Valdés (Cuba, *1971) and Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez (Cuba, *1969) along with Alexandre Jesús Arrechea Zambrao (Cuba, *1970), who left the group in 2003. In their works, architecture, design, and sculpture merge with masterly drawings and large–format sculptures in a surprising and often ironic way. On doing so, the artists are commenting on politics and society employing everyday objects.[9]

 

– Assemble10: is a London–based collective founded in 2010 by a group of architecture students at Cambridge University (UK). They defined themselves as a: multi–disciplinary collective working across architecture, design and art.[11] Some of their projects have important social content. In 2015 Assemble won the Tate’s Turner Prize[12], one of the world’s most high–profile contemporary art prizes.13 Assemble was the first artist collective awarded with the prize.

 

Figure 1: Los Carpinteros, Towers. Installed in Zürich (CH), for the Art Festival ART AND THE CITY in the summer 2012.

 

Related collaborations in contemporary music: towards a terminology Collaborative musical practices are the main focus of this text. More specifically, those related to percussion. I do not want to disintegrate the co–creative practices because I understand that they are transversal to the different arts. However, I would like to point out that in visual arts they were present earlier – in more intense ways.

 

The myth of artist as a genius has been present in our society for several centuries. Immanuel Kant in his The critique of judgement (1892) stated the following regarding the relation of genius and taste: If we consider genius as the talent for beautiful art (which the special meaning of the word implies) and in this point of view analyse it into the faculties which must concur to constitute such a talent, it is necessary in the first instance to determine exactly the difference between natural beauty, the judging of which requires only taste, and artificial beauty, whose possibility (to which reference must be made in judging such an object) requires Genius.14 This issue has frequently been present in societies since ancient Greece. Plato himself, in his book Republic, was one of the first philosophers to differentiate between the concepts of genius and talent, establishing that it is not only a matter of doing more or perceiving more, but of doing differently and perceiving differently. Later thinkers, such as the Italian Cesare Lombroso (Italy, 1835–1909), stated that ingenuity had to do with mental illness.[15] He did not advocate practice, training and constant work, but rather that success is due to being chosen, by divinity or nature, to create a masterpiece of various magnitudes.

 

How we can appreciate the conception of the genius artist and his «capacities» has been present in our society since its beginnings. Until now, we have not differentiated between the various artists (visual and musical), since the canons are shared. Some examples that may help us to understand this:

 

– Visual arts: Ernst Gombrich16 in his book The Story of Art (1950), which set out to track the entirety of art history from ancient times to modernity, he included not a single female artist.17 He defended that the prototype of an artist was white, European men. In 1996, in an interview for The Independent (UK), he stated the following in reference to Alfred Brendel (Czech Republic, *1931):… is simply a better pianist than most others. Not everyone can do what a genius can, and not everyone can produce a masterpiece even after long training.[18]

 

– Musical arts: If we regard who are considered the foremost classical composers of the last centuries, a list could look like this: Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Debussy, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Boulez, etc; a long list of white European men, that excluded, implicitly or explicitly, women and people of colour. Writer, composer and musicologist Elmer Schönberger (the Netherlands, 1950), who in his book De kunst van het kruitverschieten (The art of gunpowder), stated the following:

 

The question ‘What is a genius?’ turned into ‘Who is a genius?’ […] Bach? Yes, yes, yes. Beethoven? Yes, yes. Bartok? Yes. Brahms? […] There was one composer I deliberately forgot in the C–list: John Cage. It was only when I wrote down the name John Cage that the full extent of the genius problem hit me. What was it that Cage had said about himself, and Schoenberg about Cage and Leonard Bernstein about Schoenberg? One question leads to another. For example: Does a genius always produce the work of a genius? When does a genius stop being a genius? Is Mozart, as Professor Reeser told his first year students in 1968, an even greater genius than Bach because, unlike Bach, he also wrote operas? So is the versatile genius greater than the one-sided genius? Debussy followed by Wagner, Schumann followed by Chopin, and, talking of opera, Dvorák followed by Brahms? Did I really say that: Dvorák followed by Brahms? Are there gradations of genius, and if so, what is the lowest grade of genius? Is the creator of a bar of genius, a genius for the duration of one bar? And is the creator of a work of genius, a genius for the duration of one whole work? Is there really all that much of a link between a composition of genius and an oeuvre of genius? What are we to think of a note or harmony of genius in a nongenius context?.[19]

 

As can be seen, the various conceptions and relationships between talent, genius and art, do not differ so much between different art practices. However, and returning to the subject which concerns us here, in the visual arts the artist is the main (if not the only one) responsible for the artistic work. While in the performing arts, and more specifically in music, on most occasions the creator/artist/composer is one of those responsible for the artistic work. Obviously, one could discuss whether he or she is the most responsible, but that is not the aim at this point. The responsibility is shared with the performer. It is here that I, as an interpreter, became aware of my role in the creative processes in which – with greater or lesser accuracy and involvement – I have taken part (from 2013 to the present). Below are two cases of co–creative relationships in music.[20]

 

Figure 2: John Cage & David Tudor.

 

John Cage and David Tudor

Their artistic relationship has probably been one of the most fruitful of the 20th century. The American pianist began to collaborate with John Cage in the 1950s, through the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. 21 Interestingly, David Tudor finished his career «reconverted» into a composer of live electronic music.

 

The passing of time has left us a vision of a «subordinate» David Tudor in John Cage’s service, though here one might differ. As an example, I present a transcript of a lecture given by John Cage and Morton Feldman[22] in the 1960s (probably 1968) at the New York Studio School. Cage mentions in this fragment his work Music for amplified toy pianos (1960):

 

I remember in this connection a performance at Wesleyan University of a piece that I’d written for amplified toy piano. I had previously written a suite for toy piano (unamplified). Then, in a drug store in the course of one of our tours, David Tudor noticed these little toy pianos that were just like grand pianos, and the lid would come up, and there were these bars and so forth. The whole thing was suitable for amplification by means of contact microphones. And he assembled all sorts of small objects to set the various parts in vibration, like nail files and toothbrushes, all manner of things. It was an extremely interesting piece. When I heard it, I was absolutely delighted. And then one of the students at Wesleyan came up and said “Couldn’t you have made it more effective?”[23]

 

I do not want to suggest that Music for amplified toy pianos, or any other work by John Cage was composed (or «more» composed) by David Tudor. However, this transcript does show the naturalness of collaboration between the two. This is an example that could be extrapolated to so many other collaborations that take place internally between composers and performers, but that perhaps do not transcend the public sphere.

 

 

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Notes:

[1] Juliet Fraser, SHARING THE SPOILS OF A SHARED PRACTICE, (2019). Published in Tempo; February 2019.

[2] Consulted in the Merriam Webster online Dictionary.

[3] Definition of creation in The Merriam Webster Dictionary, accessed March 26, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/creation

[4] Definition of co– in The Merriam Webster Dictionary, accessed March 26, 2020, https://www.merriamwebster. com/dictionary/co

[5] ‹Neeli Bendapudi and Robert P. Leone, Psychological Implications of Customer Participation in Co– Production, Journal of Marketing Vol. 67, No. 1, (2003).

[6] Early examples in classical music were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austria, 1756—1791), who finished, just a few months before his death, his Clarinet Concerto (1791), in collaboration with Anton Stadler (Austria, 1752–1812). The dating on the autograph sketch of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto does suggest that it was their collaboration specifically that encouraged Stadler to develop the basset clarinet further. Colin Lawson, Mozart: Clarinet Concerto, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Similar case was Johannes Brahms (Germany, 1833—Austria, 1897), who wrote his two Clarinet Sonatas in collaboration Richard Mühlfeld (Germany, 1856—1907). So much so that, the first edition of Brahms’ two Clarinet Sonatas (1894) described them as “for piano and Mühlfeld” rather than “for piano and clarinet”. Mark Pullinger, Brahms’ muse: Richard Mühlfeld, autumnal inspiration, in Bachtrack (2018), accessed April 8, 2020, https://bachtrack.com/es_ES/feature-richard-muhlfeld-johannesbrahms- clarinet-month-may-2018

[7] For more information about works, calendars, and biography about guerrilla girls, refer to https://www.guerrillagirls.com/, accessed April 8, 2020.

[8] From Guerrilla Girls Website https://www.guerrillagirls.com/our-story, accessed March 26, 2020.

[9] Towers by Los Carpinteros https://www.zuerich.com/en/visit/culture/towers-by-los-carpinteros , accessed March 26, 2020.

[10] More information about: https://assemblestudio.co.uk/, accessed April 8, 2020.

[11] About Assemble Studio https://assemblestudio.co.uk/about, accessed March 25, 2020.

[12] The Tate’s Turner Prize is a prize that yearly shortlists four artists for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation from 1984.

[13] Ellen Mara De Wachter, Co–Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2017), pages 19; 192–189.

[14] Immanuel Kant, Kant’s Critique of Judgement, translated with Introduction and Notes by J.H. Bernard (London: Macmillan, 1914).

[15] Evan Williams, The Myth of the Composer–Genius, accessed March 27, 2020, https://www.icareifyoulisten.com/2019/03/the-myth-of-the-composer-genius/.

[16] Ernst Gombrich (Austria, 1909 – London, 2001) was one of the most influential art historians of the twentieth century.

[17] Cody Delistraty, The Myth of the Artistic Genius, accessed March 27, 2020, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2020/01/08/the-myth-of-the-artistic-genius/

[18] Interview by Blake Morrison to Sir Ernst Gombrich for The Independent (UK) on May 5th, 1996, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/writing-on-the-wall-1345801.html, accessed March 27, 2020.

[19] Elmer Schönberger, De kunst van het kruitverschieten: ‘De geniale componist’ (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1998). Translation: Suzanne Jansen

[20] Special focus on the co–creative relationships between composers and performers, the main object of study of this work.

[21] David Tudor’s biography, https://davidtudor.org/, accessed March 26, 2020.

[22] David Tudor (US, 1926–1996), although as I have indicated before he has come down to us almost as «John Cage’s pianist», was in fact in contact with many of the composers of his time. Examples of this are his CDs with music by, among others: Morton Feldman, Sylvano Bussotti, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Christian Wolff.

[23] James Pritchett, The unclear boundary between David Tudor and John Cage, accessed March 28, 2020, http://rosewhitemusic.com/piano/2013/12/22/unclear-boundary-david-tudor-john-cage/. This information was facilitated by the John Cage Trust and her Director Laura Kuhn.

 

Date Published

July 2021