We might sometimes think that artistic or creative activity is, in essence, individualistic. The Genesis of Judeo-Christian tradition portrays a God whose decision to create the world is as vehement as the solitude in which it is located. Doctor Faustus is presented as one of the wisest men in history, but one who is also isolated from his peers. And it’s possible that romanticism rounded up that impression of the artist as a character who needs to be alone to exercise his talent.
However, if over the course of history human beings have demonstrated their strength because of their ability to cooperate and work together, art and creativity are no exception. Works of thought are almost always collective, despite seeming to come from the wit of a single person. Dialog is perhaps the most elementary example of this essential feature of human nature: Who could conceive a life where one could never hide his or her feelings of amazement? What’s the point of an invention or a fantasy if it is not shared?
In art, collaboration has been a constant behavior, a natural movement of those who might be considered extravagant and peculiar, but by instinct want to be with others like them—similar in their intellect and perhaps also in their strangeness. This includes artistic groups, currents, and movements; and to a greater degree, more intimacy and friendships, perhaps more discrete but just as fruitful when creative needs are involved. Here is glimpse at some of these pairs, groups and friends who, when sharing and dialoging, found elements that were essential to strengthen their artistic endeavors.
The friendship between these two writers is well-known, but few might know that they also worked together. At first Jorge Luis Borges was a sort of teacher for Adolfo Bioy Casares, but this relationship gradually changed toward camaraderie and complicity. From their years in common, several works stand out, including crime stories starred by Bustos Domecq (a sedentary detective, according to the essential rules of the genre), Anthology of Fantastic Literature (in which Silvina Ocampo was also involved) and the monumental Borges, the book that includes the everyday encounters between both writers and the notable and incessant literary exercise that each performed whenever they met.
An editor’s role involves condensing an important part of the collaborative nature of literature. For example, it is known that the emblematic styles of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver wouldn’t have achieved as much recognition if it weren’t for the guidance of their editors: Maxwell Perkins for the first two and Gordon Lish for Carver. Other legends, such as Franco Maria Ricci and Gaston Gallimard in Europe, or Arnaldo Orfila and Joaquín Díez-Canedo in America, assumed that discreet yet decisive role where a writer joins forces with another until creating that unique polyphony characteristic of certain publishing companies.
Left: F. Scott Fitzgerald, circa 1920 / Right: Editor Maxwell Perkins
The relationship between John Cage and Merce Cunningham produced an emotional and creative bond that had a great impact on the world of music and dance, each one’s field, respectively. Among the many experiences and acts they performed in those disciplines, one that stands out is the introduction of the concept of “random” in the choreographies of Cunningham set to Cage’s music, under the idea that the interpretation could be contingent (in both cases), and also that both disciplines could coexist, but not under the strict rules of those alleged. Collaborative poetry For several centuries, poetry was a reason for gathering more than for being alone, even in terms of writing it. In the dispute over the identity of Homer, for example, it was once assumed that the name was only an historical commodity to designate various rhapsodists that contributed to the composition of the Illiad and the Odyssey. But even without resorting to the enigma or to remote periods, this collective spirit of poetry can be found in forms such as the Japanese renga or the celebrated “exquisite corpse” invented by French surrealists.
In 20th Century pop art, one of the most unexpected duos was created when Andy Warhol decided to sponsor Jean-Michel Basquiat, a young man whose talent when from painting graffiti on the streets of Manhattan to showing his work in the best galleries and museums. Thanks to this friendship, Warhol and Basquiat proved that the borders between different creative manifestations are more mobile and flexible than what we sometimes assume.