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Post #746 • March 6, 2006, 7:30 AM • 46 Comments

Holland Cotter looks at the new collaboration. My thoughts:

Someone once said that two people getting together to write a book is like three people getting together to make a baby. I believe that in a world of unevenly distributed talent, strong individuals tend to dominate collectives, and eventually split off on their own once their talents self-actualize, in the Maslovian sense. This has been the case throughout the history of artist groups and I see no counterexamples now.

Nevertheless, much of this collaborative work is enabled by technology and seems like one of the first genuinely new developments in recent memory. New hardly means good, of course, and a click through the attached slide show reveals objects that have no shortage of ideas but whose mishmash appearance speaks truly about their origins in committee. But after exposure to so much faux radicalism, this looks pretty radical - working methods that weren't possible several years ago are resulting in art that doesn't fall cleanly within present categories of art-making.

With that in mind, the anticapitalist and anti-individualist angle on some of the work isn't particularly grown-up. (The author shares blame in this:

[The artist collective] may undermine the cult of the artist as media star, dislodge the supremacy of the precious object and unsettle the economic structures that make the art world a mirror image of the inequities of American culture at large. In short, it confuses how we think about art and assign value to it. This can only be good.

Why? Are people insufficiently confused about how to assign value at the moment? Cotter seems confused enough for all of us, refraining from passing judgment on anything until the end, upon one collective whose crime is the excessive fame of its members.) These groups miss out on the promise of the open source movement to harness aggregated talent, which celebrates individual authors working cooperatively. Open source projects can compete against traditionally developed ones; the art cited above can too, but only becuase much of the competition is so poor. Anticapitalist and anti-individualist projects tend to fizzle out of their own accord once they meet up with the realities of staying alive and the desire for recognition. Will Critical Art Ensemble or Otabenga Jones & Associates prove to be the exceptions? Much of that will depend on the museums' collective willingness to keep them alive, not to mention how cool the members are going to be with each other when a gallery sells their work and the time comes to write somebody a check.

More importantly, will such groups ever generate great art? I don't think so, but inspired individuals using their methods could. Dance, theater, and film people already have to work cooperatively as they pursue their visions. Time-based visual artists could do the same, and the new technology combined with the nature of their media could allow for unprecedented kinds of cooperation. Something about this idea of the collectives, although not the art they're making right now, looks like it's worth keeping in mind.




March 6, 2006, 9:06 AM

As you said, the whole thing boils down to: is the art any good? What I have seen, and what they show in the slide show, is just more of the same old business of throwing stuff together so that it takes up a whole lot of room, makes some dumb point and lacks visual interest altogether.

Cotter's mindless chatter is no better, with the tired 1960s mantra about how good it is to "undermine", "confuse", "scramble" and "unsettle" and the evils of 'the artist as media star" and the "precious art object". Good grief, when will we get past these smug simple-minded collective attitudes? Don't the people who mouth them ever reflect on them at all?

On the other hand, there is the marvellous, if badly written, Maslow link, which I thought was wonderful but will undoubtedly bother those who cleave to the equally outworn idea that the artistic temperament must necessarily be neurotic, angst-ridden, constitutionally opposed to authority, ill-tempered and eccentric.


Dave Bricker

March 6, 2006, 1:26 PM

As an inveterate do-it-yourselfer, I gave some thought to your observations about individuals and the collaborative process. While I believe it's difficult to speak in absolutes, I'd conjecture that collaboration works best when the "artists" involved have different skill sets. For example, I'm designing musical instruments in collaboration with people who really understand how to build them. A good designer might collaborate with a good technologist who can add "behaviors" to the visual elements in an interactive work.

It may come down to the degree of exposure each collaborator has in the process. While six people each arriving with a random object to hang on a sculpture might be creating "aleatoric art," it doesn't ring (at least for me) with the same level of sincerity that it would if for example, a great painter were to add color to a great sculpture by another artist in a planned, cooperative effort. In the latter case, the artists' identities are both combined and preserved.

Ultimately, I think art will be more successful when it leverages the strengths of the collaborators over the novelty of creative collaboration.


Marc Country

March 6, 2006, 3:29 PM

Cotter writes: If art can be defined as the purposeful shaping of images to embody and expand ideas, this collective's activities easily qualify.

Well, I guess if you define 'art' loosely enough, pretty well anything could be said to 'easily qualify'... with the result that it becomes so broad as to be virtually meaningless.

Other collectives, several of which are represented in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, which opened last week, stretch conventional definitions of art and artist even further, into the realm of activist politics, scientific experimentation and historical reclamation.

Has Cotter just arrived in a time machine from the 19th century? Whose 'conventional definitions' does she think are being 'stretched', exactly? "Art as activist politics, you say? Wow, who'da thunk it?" Somebody should show her a tape of the first moon landing, and really blow her mind.

Are people who write this kind of breathless "This changes everything!" drivel actually unaware of the art of the last 100 years or so, or are they just trying to appear ignorant? (it's a rhetorical question).


The North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop is collaborative, in the sense that we share ideas, tools, materials, opinions, etc... but the individual artists retain authorship of our own works, and reserve the right to incorporate critical suggestions (or not) as we see fit. Yes, it's a 'unique' studio situation, but it probably doesn't differ much from what would have been familiar to Picasso & Braque, or The Group of Seven, or a countless number of other collaborative ventures in art's history.



March 6, 2006, 4:35 PM

i read the ny times article over the wkend and wondered if you'd jump on it. i was very involved in 2 collective groups when i lived in ny. one of them was and the other was an artist's sub-collective of WAC (women's action coalition), now defunct. Collectives were very hot in the 90's and i suppose now have grown into a more professional, marketable organization, and less of a grass-roots sort of artist co-op. afterall, the internet has changed the way groups operate.

in response to marc country, i think the author was merely trying to draw attention to these sort of groupings b/c the biennial seems to represent more of that this year. the ny times reaches the masses and is not specifically an art rag with a particular audience, so the intent is obviously broader in scope.

this gets back to the same topic thrown around here which is whether this is good art or not, or even if it is art, or how we define it today in the context of the artworld. that said, i believe there is good collective art (tim rollins + KOS), and then also the mishmosh of stuff thrown about a room as oldpro has described. good and bad junk as with everything else. this collective thing is nothing new however.



March 6, 2006, 5:19 PM

Marc I think this Cotter guy has been around a long time without paying much attention and still thinks "convention stretching" is hot stuff. If anyone handed in this kind of drivel in my writing class they would get a ton of blue ink.



March 6, 2006, 6:20 PM

of course anything subversive by nature becomes hip eventually, and then loses it's true cause or representation. look at dumbo. it becomes a commodity and the renegade appeal is forgotten. As soon as it's popular it's dead. or jailed, as such is the case with kurtz.

in addition, collectives used to be purely regional. which made them so empowering. artists together working for the same cause or with the same intent can be quite powerful. i'm not to clear on the cyber collective and how that pans out, since the collective requires active participation.

Be the change you want to see in the world.



March 6, 2006, 7:02 PM

MEK, that's why when, in 1950, at Studio 35, when Alfred Barr said that the as yet unnamed Abstract expressionists needed a name, DeKooning said "naming us would be a disaster".



March 6, 2006, 7:21 PM

I suppose some painfully dubious concepts, like stupidity itself, are not only impossible to eradicate, but are also continually foisted on even those who resolutely reject them. The pitiful fetish for "new and different" (as opposed to new and better, which is NOT a synonym) never fails to gain adherents and zealous proponents, who will make spectacles of themselves as if they'd just discovered the wheel and therefore must enlighten the less insightful. Spare me. Please.


i love my fan brush (really!)

March 6, 2006, 7:53 PM

Oldpro's reactions are so predictable that it's no even fun to point out how much of a tick in the mud he is. "

"Ofcourse, this is all a bunch of mindless un-visual hooey...why back when, the abstract expressionists really had things right and true...."

look at this stuff, tell me what you think:
and red76

maybe you all can make your own (nameless) collaborative and take turns pushin' some paint around. brilliant.


bob ross (same person as above)

March 6, 2006, 8:12 PM

and another thing:
Why must all art strive for greatness? Sure there are great pieces, ideas, bodies of work..But, the failures and mistakes are what make the greats possible.
Greatness is an exaggerated condition. Not everyone is destined for greatness. Caravaggio was great. Picasso was great. Louise Bourgeoise will be remembered as great, as will Kentridge, as is Beuys, etcetera.
Most of us are not.
Why should regular artists like your everyday painter at your everyday gallery showing everyday pieces fool themselves into thinking that his/her destiny is greatness on the shoulders of giants like the ones mentioned.....atleast this collaborative type of work is honest and deals with the real world and its idiosyncracies....and, yes , op, it is still relevant to "push against the grain of artistic conventions"....just as relevant as pushing your paint, sharpening your pencils, and peeling your oilsticks.



March 6, 2006, 8:18 PM

Oldpro's reactions are so predictable that it's no even fun to point out how much of a tick in the mud he is.

Then don't. Come up with something interesting. If you can.

I had heard of the big rabbit. That sounded impressive and I enjoyed seeing the images. The rehashed Kaprow by the same group and the other one I could live without. Thank you for the links.



March 6, 2006, 8:23 PM

I didn't know ticks were in mud.


drive by shooter

March 6, 2006, 8:26 PM

9 is right

so predictable



March 6, 2006, 8:26 PM

Why must all art strive for greatness?

It doesn't have to. It is free to do whatever it wants. Including suck.

It comes down to the standards you have for yourself. Most people will not succeed at achieving greatness, despite their attempts. The ones who are not attempting greatness, let's just say their chances are even slimmer. It is possible to have lazy standards and enjoy the results. I've seen many people do it. So did Leonardo - he spoke of people who were nothing more than conduits for food. If that's enough for you, enjoy your life. For me, it's inadequate.



March 6, 2006, 8:50 PM

atleast this collaborative type of work is honest and deals with the real world and its idiosyncracies

Some of it does, some of it merely claims to, and practically none of it is much good.

it is still relevant to "push against the grain of artistic conventions" ....just as relevant as pushing your paint...

Depends on who's doing it, how, how well, and why.

so predictable

Not as predictable as empty disagreements with well-formed thought.


Marc Country

March 6, 2006, 10:27 PM

Oops... seems I inadvertently bent Cotter's gender in my comment.

I'm sure you're right mek, when you write "... i think the author was merely trying to draw attention to these sort of groupings "

While that was no doubt he ostensible purpose of the article, such a goal could be accomplished without Cotter's accompanying suggestions that such groupings inherently possess some shocking, new, cutting-edgey value in and of themselves. Since, as I noted, I'm in one myself, I've got nothing against drawing attention to art collectives, and art in general, especially when it educates an otherwise un-art-interested crowd (this might not be the way I'd characterize readership of the NYT...I'd bet more than a few readers would be familiar with previous collective-movements like Dada, Fluxus, etc). What I object to is spefic art writing that serves to mis-educate, like the example being discussed.

Cotter writes: "By far the most interesting option so far, one that began to be news a few years ago and has increased its visibility since, is the work of miniature subcultures known as collectives."
The part I have trouble with is the "began to be news a few years ago"... what's a few years? 50? 100? This just seems sloppy, the kind of writing NYT staff shouldn't be able get awau with (although, with folks like Judy Miller, etc. I suppose the NYT isn't the Gold Standard it once was...).



March 6, 2006, 11:04 PM

It is possible to have lazy standards and enjoy the results.

Actually, it's possible to have no standards and enjoy the results, which is pretty damn easy on such terms, and that's one big reason why "anything goes" or "anything is valid" or "anything is as good as another" has such appeal to certain minds. It's much less work, stress, pressure, etc. It also sounds conveniently open-minded and PC. For the audience, it means no shortage of things to enjoy, at least after a fashion, and no need to look high and low or scour the woods for real quality. I'm OK; you're OK; it's all OK--more or less. No standards, no problem.



March 6, 2006, 11:04 PM

Gilbert & George?

Stop laughing.



March 6, 2006, 11:16 PM

Damien Hirst and his staff of nameless painters (but he puts on the finishing touches, so of course that makes all the difference.)



March 6, 2006, 11:27 PM

We "strive for greatness" because otherwise we are just a stick in the mud.

That's "stick", by the way

I don't mind being predictable at all as long as I am right.



March 7, 2006, 1:07 AM

Being stuck in the mud is predictable. Being right or great, hardly.

#10 - "Greatness is an exaggerated condition." Yeah, like 'mind-blowing' is, or 'glorious'. When there aren't sufficient words for the effect of an artwork it might be a great one, but y'gotta keep on your toes, cause it might just be a misplaced word. And the judgments keep coming. No one can stop making comparative assessments - the best thing is to identify them for consideration and then again for reconsideration and not stop there.

Oldpro's comments might seem predictable to the patsy or weakminded, but as I see it, his is actually an attitude that never settles for pat or weak answers, no matter how assumed society at large takes them to be.

I find it inspiring. Really great.



March 7, 2006, 4:25 AM

I yahned through the first page and then a 'pop-up' occured during the second which allowed me to click out. Why has it been that when I read something here there is always something parasitic - negative comments, personal bias, immature jargon, anonymous commentary, and even freaken POP-UPS! Franklin, what have people done to your garden?



March 7, 2006, 6:53 AM

Thanks, Ahab. I think what is really predictable is the way the sides form, and the character of each, as you imply.



March 7, 2006, 9:03 AM

I'm here to lodge a protest on behalf of the Revolutionary Folkloric Aphorists. We find this phrase, "two people getting together to write a book is like three people getting together to make a baby", to be outmoded, un-forwardthinking, not at all charming, and ignorant of the facts.

Three people try to make a baby all the time, and it is generally sucessful. If you do run into the someone who said that pithy phrase, Franklin, you might like to remind them of the existence of in-vitro fertilization as well as gay and lesbian parenting strategies (two moms, one dad; two dads, one mom; two dads, two moms; etc.).

The RFA has also been lobbied heavily by the Ghostwriters Collective to speak on their behalf in this matter. Though I am not at liberty to reveal either their identities or specific contribution to this protest, I can say that they are extremely interested in this matter. Suffice it to say that they do not concur. If you are interested in rewriting this any part of this post, feel free to contact them.



March 7, 2006, 9:05 AM

Oops. Looks like I'd better hire them to edit for me.



March 7, 2006, 9:15 AM

I think the Mormons are also pissed off, KH.



March 7, 2006, 10:00 AM

OP, true!

However, the RFA finds the Mormon Multiparent Eugenics program to not be adherent to the true spirit of collaboration. Statutory rape and patriarchal intimidation tactics are not acceptable.



March 7, 2006, 11:50 AM

Curious this seemed like a topic which could have produced an interesting dialog from several different angles. Unfortunately not, it's the same set of predictable defensive responses.

For Marc, since you would have no way of knowing without close reading, re: "began to be news a few years ago" is referring to the agitprop gallery (Reena Spaulings) on the lower east side as a response to the hype and commercialism in the artworld.

At it's core this type of activity, with ample historical precedents during other periods of political turmoil, is a reaction against certain social issues and the commodification of the artist. It is the avant-garde.



March 7, 2006, 12:06 PM

George, the predictable among us wish to express our condolences over your equally predictable discomfiture. In a related development, the sun sends its apologies for persisting in doing the same damn thing every day. I hope you understand and find it in your heart to be charitable.



March 7, 2006, 12:49 PM

Jack, I had thought of invoking good old Sol myself. Clearly he is not Postmodernist enough to shake things up and just decide to do something different, willy-nilly, like not come up tomorrow.

Wouldn't that be fun!



March 7, 2006, 1:00 PM

Fun? Really, Oldpro, you should know better than to be frivolous. The sun not coming up would actually be an example of rebelling against convention. Get with the program. If you're having trouble with that, I'm sure George would be glad to provide certifiably proper advice.



March 7, 2006, 3:30 PM

yes george i thought it was going along an interesting thread...but i dunno, mormons and so forth. i thought KH had experience with a collective here (maybe i am wrong?) and she and/or others could move the discussion along. also franklin, since i you have mentioned a few times about online collectives and have questioned regionalism...perhaps a collective can be a glorified blog of sorts? just wondering if anyone has further thought.

I think the term "collective" is a loose one, and isn't necessarily an organization or group such as the one in edmonton that someone mentioned, but more of a co-op and generally with a socio-political slant. in any case, even a segway into a discussion of the biennial would be of interest. i am not in nyc so i have no idea. since you are, george, what's your take?

also the mud slinging is humorous but way tiresome.



March 7, 2006, 5:43 PM

Mek, I'm not interested in taking this further here, I'd be driving the wrong way on a one way street. I haven't seen the biennial yet, but I read the press/blogs and it looks like a biennial, of the moment.



March 7, 2006, 8:40 PM

george, yes i'm sure you'd be ticketed. when you update your blog i'll pass thru on my vespa. ciao.



March 7, 2006, 8:50 PM

Well, mek, there are certainly more proper art blogs out there (some of which might as well be run by a schoolmarm). They tend not to work for me, but then I'm nasty, authoritatrian and incorrect, so that figures. Besides, Franklin's a cat person, so it's only fitting that his blog would attract creatures that can't resist taking swipes when provoked. I'm sure Franklin understands the behavior perfectly.


Marc Country

March 8, 2006, 1:42 AM

Re #28:
For Marc, since you would have no way of knowing without close reading, re: "began to be news a few years ago" is referring to the agitprop gallery ...

That may indeed be what Cotter was thinkinf of (I don't know), but. re-reading the line in the original context, "began to be news a few years ago" doesn't refer to a specific gallery at all. It refers generally to "the work of miniature subcultures known as collectives", as "the most interesting option so far" to a "used-up" "Contemporary art... industry".
If Cotter's intention was to refer only to a specific gallery, his writing did not make that very clear... despite close reading.

Mind you, I quit reading the article after page one... I know a dead end when I see one.


Marc Country

March 8, 2006, 2:00 AM

Re #32

This blog is not only a successful example of more than two individuals coming together to write (what at least in some ways functions like) a book, it is also an example of a technologically-enabled collective. Now we can all feel special.

My dictionary defines a collective simply as "a collective body (a GROUP)", or as "a cooperative unit or organization". I don't think a 'socio-political' slant, or whatever it is that mek feels makes a group 'more of a co-op' are necessary conditions.

Then again, I've never heard of a group that didn't have a socio-political slant... I mean, wouldn't not having one, itself be one?



March 8, 2006, 7:11 AM

Yes, this blog would probably fit the definition of a collective. The "membership" is fluid, voluntary and random, and the "members" disagree all the time, but it has its own character and could even be said to be an unusual and particularly interesting type within its species. And, as Jordan says on the next page, it is fun. For me, anyway. That's why I take part in it.

Some complain that it does not follow a logical thread, or does not follow the topic, or is not "serious" enough, but these are part of the reason I enjoy it and why I tolerate the occasional out and out total jerk contributor. Franklin dispatches them handily anyway.



March 8, 2006, 8:50 AM

mek, my apologies, but I stopped trying to move the discussion along here many months ago. After all, the sun does rise every morning and I have better things to do with my day.

Jack: "schoolmarm", eh? Would you say that is related to an "old biddy"? Just curious.



March 8, 2006, 10:43 AM

Why, KH, whatever do you mean? I would have thought that you, of all people, would resolutely eschew ageism (sounds kind of Jansonesque, doesn't it?). Well, I suppose everybody backslides on occasion, even those of the highest moral character. Human nature, I guess. Anyway, I forgive you.

As for your having better things to do than trying to, uh, elevate the tone of the discussion here, but of course you do. How could anyone even begin to doubt that? Still, some people might be dim and clueless enough to misconstrue your aspirations, so it's sweet of you to spell things out. Cheers.



March 8, 2006, 3:05 PM

Ah. Thanks, Jack. I'm so glad you've forgiven me. After all, yours is the only opinion which counts.



March 8, 2006, 3:26 PM

You said it, KH; I didn't. Much obliged, though.


Marc Country

March 9, 2006, 12:32 AM

Wow... some of the comments sure have been catty lately... or, maybe it's me.

Aside from petty aggressions like these, however, i think one could make the argument that human evolution, as a whole, generally speaking, is perhaps moving out of a period characterized by selection based on pompetition (the classic 'survival of the fittest'), to one which rewards more cooperative attributes.

I know it's a little tangental to the topic, but at least it's a little more communicative than mysteriously ROTFLOL.


Marc Country

March 9, 2006, 12:34 AM

That was an interesting typo...

>b>Competition, I mean...



March 9, 2006, 12:34 AM

I give up.



March 9, 2006, 8:59 AM

Pompetition - the struggle to prevail by means of extravangant display.



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