What 3 Great Creative Teams Did Differently

From the days of construction paper hearts with glued-on macaroni right on through to university, I always hated groupwork.

No matter if we were planning a book report or studying en masse for a major exam, one of two things would often happen: either the control freak in me would go rogue and take on way more of the project than I could  handle, or the other people in the group knew this about me and so would step back, making it so that I had to take on more than I could handle.

This system, although it stressed me out to the max, was one I thought “worked” for years.

The problem is, most of the world runs on teamwork and collaboration of some kind.

And the creative stuff, be it painting a portrait or writing a beautiful piece of software, is certainly no exception.

From your new earworm’s producer, songwriter, lyricist, and recording artist to the teams behind major artistic movements, collaboration is essential not only to inspiring great creative works, but making these works relevant to as wide an audience as possible.

So what do great collaborative teams do differently? And how can we do it that way, too? Here are the stories of three different teams, and how they have gotten things done.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin

  • Elton John and Bernie Taupin have together been writing iconic pop songs like “Crocodile Rock” and “Bennie and the Jets” for almost 50 years.They’re musical legends, not the least for the power and longevity of their artistic partnership. So how have they collaborated so well for so long?
  • The reality is that they haven’t; Taupin largely writes the lyrics himself, and John sets the songs to music. They rarely see each other.
  • As Taupin revealed in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview: “The fact is, you have to see each other for [resentments] to happen. We live such separate lives. We are two separate people. I think had we been the same kind of personalities and been in close proximity of each other these past years, I think there probably would have been a more acrimonious kind of thing between the two of us.”

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat

  • Two of the great masters of modern American art met for the first time in 1980:
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.
  • Prodded along by art dealer Bruno Bischofberger, Baqsuiat and Warhol began to collaborate on a series of paintings that sought to erase boundaries between the “high” and the “low”, melding the street art that so inspired Basquiat with Warhol’s Hollywood pop sensibility.
  • They were collaborators until 1985, and often worked on the same canvas at the same time.

The Impressionists Who Almost Weren’t

  • When Renoir, Cézanne, Monet, Morisot, and other artists mounted an exhibition in 1874, they called themselves the “ Société Anonyme des Artistes”.
  • But after art critic Louis Leroy, referencing Monet’s painting “Impression, Sunrise”, jeeringly called the group “Impressionists” in a review, the name stuck and they mounted seven additional exhibitions together.
  • In this case, the artistic collaboration was already present, but without the art critic’s mocking epithet, we might not have remembered the “Société Anonyme des Artistes” as readily as we do the Impressionists.
  • Louis Leroy unwittingly became a collaborator in the creation of a major art movement.

“I’ll always be grateful to the public of intelligent amateurs.”
–Paul Cézanne  

It’s almost enough for me to rethink groupwork.


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