Photography is mostly considered a solitary pursuit, like many other forms of art. Art itself is usually a form of self-expression; an individual’s take on a particular subject. Art gives us not only the freedom to create, but to create something that we can take credit for completely; something that is truly “me”.
When we do our work, however, very few of us can say that. We nearly always need to collaborate: with our clients, with our co-workers, with our suppliers. Those of us that create for a living still find ourselves listening to other ideas and working under the constrains of money and time. We need help to make all of it work and work well.
When I’m not out taking photographs, I work for a design studio. I collaborate daily with several very talented designers, developers, copywriters, and others. Most of us consider ourselves artists in some way, and we have various creative outlets to channel that inner fire into. But what happens if you give a group of creative people the chance to create art… as a team-building exercise?
Whoa… back the truck up. How can a group of creative people collaborate, but still satisfy the individual need for self expression? Well, that’s the question we asked ourselves.
So how did it turn out? Pretty damn well, I say.
How did this come about? It’ s a bit of a long story, but I think it’s a good one.
Every January our company takes a few days to get away from the office to plan for the coming year. We’re a small company, so it’s fairly easy to close up shop for a couple of days and hang out together. We have activities and meals together, and a big meeting where we each share our individual goals for the year; both for the company and for ourselves.
This year, we planned a team-building activity where we would create a collaborative painting of our company logo. (You were wondering what that was, weren’t you?) We had an instructor at the local Art Center to coordinate our efforts, again with the idea in mind to collaborate on this as a team. We broke the painting up into eighteen 12″ x 12″ canvases and sketched the logo into the center of it. Before we began to paint, the art instructor talked about how we should work together to decide things like color palette, materials, etc. In her mind, if we didn’t lay down some ground rules, the final result “would probably not look very good.” You can probably see where this story is going, right?
After much discussion and gnashing of teeth, we decided to do exactly the opposite: allow each individual to create a 12″ x 12″ painting however they wanted to, with no thought to how others might paint theirs. After we were done, we would lay them out together and see how it came out. We kept the logo of course, but there were no other constraints to the individual squares.
After about 2 hours of painting, pasting, scraping, glueing, and blow drying, we placed the finished squares on the floor and stood back to take it all in. It was pretty amazing.
Now, maybe we got lucky and the next time we try something like this, it will turn out badly. But maybe not. Maybe the fact that even though we really wanted to be individuals—to own our 12″ square—opened us up to possibilities that I think we would have missed had we followed the standard pattern of collaboration. I think it allowed us to express our working relationship more honestly than any planned activity would have.
I think we broke the “rules” of collaboration… and found a way to create harmony.
UPDATE: By the way, you can see our actual company logo along with other stuff about us at http://www.outsidesource.com.