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10 November 2013

How to Collaborate

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How to Collaborate With Artists

(   Edited by Jack Herrick, Flickety, Krystle, Richard and 6 others)

Artists are often independent, and this independence can make it hard to work with them. But great things can can happen when artists collaborate–both with one another, and with folks who don’t consider themselves artists at all! Here’s how to make it work.


Be very clear about the ultimate goals you have for your collaborative project. How will it look? Sound? Smell? How will it make you feel? How will it make other people feel? When does it need to be finished? How will you know it’s finished? Write down your ultimate goals in the greatest detail you possibly can, then sort them and list them in order of their importance to you.
Be very clear about the process goals you have for your project. How will you and the (other) artists interact? Will there be a single leader? Chosen how? Will you skip the leader idea, and make decisions by consensus, or by majority rule, or another way? How do you expect everyone to feel towards one another and you at the end of the project–affectionate? Friendly? Willing to work together again? As with the ultimate goals in the first step, write down these process goals in order of importance.
Tell your most important process goals to your collaborators. Let them figure out how to apply them. For example, you can tell them “I want us all to respect every idea anyone suggests”–but leave it to them to figure out how to show respect.
Tell all your ultimate goals to your collaborators. Be prepared to be more specific than you may have been on paper–artists often know when you are missing pieces of a project. If this happens, you have three options: make a snap decision, ask the artist to decide what’s best, or tell the artist you’ll give her an answer in 24 hours–and then do it.
List verbal communication among your top process goals. Explain that you expect everyone to make his artistic needs known, verbally, so that they can be taken care of. The responsibility for speaking up lies with the person who has a need until he speaks up. Then it becomes YOUR responsibility to address that need.
Keep both your process goals and your ultimate goals in mind at all times. Look at the lists daily while the project is ongoing. Most of us favor one set or the other–when working with artists, both are crucial, so don’t neglect either set of goals; if you do, you’ll be unhappy with the results.
Be prepared to sacrifice some of your lower-priority goals in order to achieve the higher-priority ones. If your top process goal was “to finish this project as great friends,” you’d be silly to lose that over an ultimate goal like “I wanted this to be a mauve-y color, and it’s too lilac.”
Find something to appreciate every time you look at the artists’ work. Even if you hate 99% of it, find the 1% you liked and say so. The artists will recognize what it is you like about what they do, and try to give you more of it.
Assess how successful you were in achieving your goals when the project is finished. Ask the artist(s) for their assessment too.


Sometimes collaborations just don’t work, in spite of precautions. When one goes south, finish quickly, and avoid collaborating with that person again.
You will have to be humble. If an artist tells you something is wrong, you need to try to fix it, even if it isn’t your fault.

Be aware that once artists communicate a need, they may not be comfortable until it is resolved to their satisfaction. If you resolve it to your satisfaction, but not to theirs, the collaboration will not succeed.

If you are an artist yourself, remember that your motivations and insecurities are very like those of the other people you are dealing with. Empathy is important; artists do their best work when they believe that other people care about them and about what they do–which, to an artist, is usually one and the same thing.


Never micromanage. Resist every temptation to say “I think a different blue would go better…” Remarks like this, if made too often, are lethal to collaboration.
Never lie to the artist(s) you collaborate with. If they spot it, they will neither trust you nor give you their best work. Be positive when you can, tactfully truthful when necessary.

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