Creating Community and Collaborative Creativity
Making my own music is ALL about self-expression. Working on other people’s is all about the privilege of helping realise their vision – Steve Lawson (@solobasssteve)
Music, like literature, art, film, photography and dance, any other creative medium or form, are aspects of self-expression. As a writer, I use words as my vehicle for self-expression to create stories. I use words to create imagery, atmosphere and stories to create emotional responses in the reader.
Literature, music and dance are the foundational aspects of community; an integral voice of culture and community as representative of a society. It celebrates, connects, questions, makes political statements, raises philosophical debate, criticises and praises.
Without community we are isolated individuals trapped by the artificial boundaries surrounding ourselves. Literature, music and dance create a cultural identity and shared awareness of each other.
“Here we are now, entertain us.”
When did the creative arts become an entertainment rather than a shared community experience?
I postulate we’ve made art, music and literature an entertainment. In doing so, we have made creativity a product, a brand, an identity. Survey the popular artists and look at the products they are flogging apart from their music: perfume, clothing, jewellery, personal hygiene products. It’s hard to see a writer being asked to endorse a product, as if the writer him/herself is a brand and an identity to market.
Music has become a spectacle and an entertainment, dividing the artist from the audience. You go to a pub, a coffee shop, an opera house, and you go to see someone perform for you. You are transferred into the world of the performer as they create it for you.
There are transcendental moments of euphoria, a shared connection with the musicians or performer on stage. I’ve been to gigs where the excitement and passion are almost palpable, but I know I am there to be entertained. I have no personal connection with the artist nor the audience. We share physical space, unknown to one another except in shared connection with the music we are listening to.
I like music, literature and art as entertainment but I want to explore the community aspect of the creative arts. Artists have collaborated and supported one another for millennia. Ultimately I see creativity (literature, music and the arts) as a shared community and communication. Creativity takes on a stronger voice when we combine as a group of people to create, to share, to communicate.
Creativity as entertainment is passive. Creativity as a communication is active and engaging.
The Dichotomy of Audience and Community
What if we changed the perspective and stopped talking about an audience for our work, whether it’s literature or music or art, and talked about community instead?
When we speak of an audience, we are speaking of one-way communication from the artist to the receiver.
When we speak of a community, we enter into a dialogue. Our voice becomes stronger when there are many to spread the message.
Our stories, our music, our dance, our art; this is the voice we have to communicate our message.
By having the artist/audience dichotomy we have weakened our voice to communicate our message.
In the age of digital connection and hyper connectivity, the link between artist and community is ever present and easy to do.
Amanda Palmer’s (@amandapalmer) TED Talk, “The Art of Asking” is a brilliant explanation of her art. It’s worth your time to watch and engage with her vision.
Here is a summary of her vision as I see it and its relationship to creating community in the creative arts.
Art is metaphorically, and sometimes literally, falling into your audience and trusting one another. It is an act of asking because through the act of asking, you make a connection and when you connect, people want to help you. But asking makes you vulnerable and you have to have trust in your tribe (or your community). Give and receive freely. Ask without shame. Musicians and artists (and writers) are part of the community; they are connectors and openers. Celebrity is being loved from a distance instead of being loved up close.
This is what I want from my art, my writing: the direct connection with the reader so that we create a community. In my last post, “What Will Be Your Creative Legacy?”, I spoke about what I will leave behind. I’m not worried about my words; I’m worried about my community. It’s about direct connection with people and creating a moment of contact, a moment of prolonged contact in order to build trust and build a community.
How Do You Create Community? You Ask.
In the last few years the rise of crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding has caused debate in and out of the creative community, but I see it has benefit for musicians and artists like film makers, more so than for writers. Think kickstarter, pozible or indiegogo or something similar. These platforms are generating the community aspect to creativity.
Here are a few examples that I know of where creative people have asked for help:
Australian-based metal outfit, Twelve Foot Ninja (@twelvefootninja) had a comic written for the release of their album, Silent Machine and had the largest and most successful crowd-funding campaign for their new video clip because they had engaged their community.
Helen Perris (@helenperris) was recently able to attract enough funding to record her new EP. One of the contributors was rewarded with time in the studio with Helen and try her hand at backing vocals.
It’s about creating community and connection, rewarding contributors and engaging in meaningful conversations. If you’re an artist, offer the reward to create art and liner notes or design work (cut them in for a share or a fee – I’m all for the artist being paid.) Some may choose to volunteer their time or efforts, but there is also a place for paid contributors.
Other Ways To Create Community?
What if we made venues conducive to community? What if coffee shops, cafes, art galleries and libraries made it a point of creating community between musician, artist, writer and their clients?
Create spaces for creative communities by moving into cafes and coffee shops, parks and houses for art groups or writers groups (I know they already exist but let’s broaden the horizon), perform music in the form of house concerts (Steve Lawson is big proponent of house concerts) and have literature groups meet in art galleries.
Let’s learn from the DIY aesthetic and bring the crowd right up to the band and share in the dialogue and discussion.
One of my favourite bands, Sydney-based post-rock band Dumbsaint, make short films to accompany their post-rock instrumental songs. Both music and films stand alone and the experience of watching the film and the band perform live is fantastic. Check out their new song, The Auteur.
With my current penchant for post-rock (instrumental music) in the likes of sleepmakeswaves (@sleepmakeswaves), Meniscus (@Meniscusmusic) (representing my home town) I’d like to write short narratives based on the titles of their songs to appear on the CD liner notes or on the band’s website. I haven’t asked the bands yet but what if you could engage with the artist in a creative collaboration?
I first came across this idea when reading the liner notes to King’s X album “Gretchen Goes to Nebraska.” You can read it here.
What about collaborating with a band to create a short film or video clip or a visual background for one of their songs? Offer to create visuals for their flyers, website, album artwork. Ask. Ask a writer if you could design a book cover. Ask a dancer if you could write a piece of music for them as the inspiration for new choreography.
It’s about connection (and fandom; can I get a fan “squee”?) and extending the focus outwards, not inwards.
As a writer, collaboration is a great way of helping someone realise his/her vision. The epistolary serial I co-wrote with Jodi Cleghorn, Post Marked: Piper’s Reach, was a way of realising Jodi’s vision for a new writing adventure. We are now at the editing stage, turning it into a novel and pursuing publication options.
The vision we hold for our own creative and artistic endeavours is our self-expression, our goal and purpose.
Yet, it is better to give than to receive.
To help foster and create community and assist others in realising their artistic vision is a remarkable privilege. By creating a positive and encouraging artistic community we enrich our lives.