Art and Collaboration

The University of Alberta has a lot of art hanging around it. There is the Artists on the Ward program, which places staff and volunteer artists in patient rooms, doing literature, music, visual art. There is the McMullen gallery on the first floor of the hospital, which offers a quiet reflective space and free drop-in sessions for staff and visitors to the hospital. There is the Arts and Humanities in Healthcare program, which instigates all kinds of art initiatives in The U of A medical world. There’s even the Medical Student’s Association Art In Medicine group, which I head.

So, in the past year-and-some of medical school, I’ve had a surprisingly large amount of time to experience and work on art. This means that I’ve also been exposed to a sort-of cognitive error that is, I hear, common to art these days.

It’s the idea that collaboration is automatically excellent, that if only people can come together over common ground, (common art-making ground, anyway,) then something really cool will happen.

I blame brainstorming.

Brainstorming is an idea that we all think we know, and it’s supremely useless. Brainstorming is not coming together and throwing ideas around; it’s coming together and throwing ideas into a space that is safe from criticism. In non-brainstorming, people will say that my idea is stupid, though they’ll probably be nice about it. In brainstorming, people actually cannot criticize my idea, so they have to sit there in frustration while stupid idea after stupid idea stalls the group with their inertia. At the very worst, the project snowballs into something that makes the audience or viewer react with a resounding “meh.”

What I still don’t understand is why groups-making-art seems like such a good idea to so many people. Perhaps it’s a desire for equality, or balance. Surely, a large group of people will come up with something that says something to everyone. Well, no, not necessarily.

I’ve sat in on or heard about a couple of projects of this group-work nature, and I couldn’t help but feel stifled, and frustrated.

That is not to say that groups cannot work out something meaningful. At this moment, the Art in Medicine club is engaged in making a group piece, and it is pretty cool. I think that the strength of the project lies in our clear direction, and ability to direct each other.

I suppose my big concern lies in funding. Lots of art projects these days rely on funding from somewhere. And lots of funding (or so I understand from my more artistic friends) is directed towards what fits the present idea of what the creative process should look like. I worry that art projects, whether or not they are medicine specific, that are not group-generated will be easily passed over for something sub-par. I further worry that individual artists will be stuck in a paradigm where art should be made in groups, and never develop their own process under the public eye. Even this medical student can worry about our souls.

I could be overreacting. But living in the land of “I could be ___” just puts on blinders, and I don’t want to have tunnel vision. I want to see art—and good art at that.

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