Friday, 18 September 2015

Why Paint Together?

As a part of our workshop, the activity which participants enjoy normally is called ‘Paint Together’.

On a large piece of paper, participants paint one by one. There’s no particular subject/theme for the painting and the only theme behind it is to explore individual creativity by getting inspirations from other participants. But a closer look into this activity can reveal some interesting facts about the group psychology, and how this activity can scale up to open new ways to an expression that cannot be experienced otherwise.

Do the participants become one even while maintaining the individuality? Do they follow others? Do they feel bad for someone overwriting their work? Do they get inspired by other participant’s activity on the paper? This post is an attempt to explore all of this.

Individuality (Dissolved?)

To work together, in conjugation with another, you have to let go of your individuality and feel a part of a larger group. This can hurt personal space as you have to accommodate and give space to others. While this looks a bit threatening in the first place. ( what about my creativity? What about my idea of expression?). Working together can help participants avoid getting caught up in their own form of expression, it can help them broadening their own ideas and expand their understanding.

A painting gets evolved from imaginations of so many brains and emotions from so many hearts. It’s like one entity with multiple bodies/souls.Many can relate themselves to a particular strokes/lines/colours/creation of others. Many can get inspired by someone’s style. It allows them to work on a common goal and it’s a balance between keeping their individual expression as well as evolving a group expression.

It’s like a Street Music: where people come together jamming without knowing each other, one begins, other adds and it keeps going, giving it a dynamism. A painting becomes a Conversation of many. A person who is painting has a dialogue with painting. And multiple people have dialogue with other people as well as the painting. Self takes a backseat. You work as a entity higher than self (all selves become one). You realize that you are not only yourself but someone else too. You have to accommodate that as well.


With no predetermined aim, it allows free expression which is spontaneous, surprising and enriching giving immense joy to the creator.

React to it, Inspire and Get inspired

Participants enjoy if they are given freedom to Ideation and Expression. While you can express your idea, you can also react to someone else’s idea as a trigger to your creativity. This calls for inspiration. While inspiration is a larger term, the basic point is ‘reaction’. If you react to other’s creation, they in turn will be motivated to react to your creation creating a dialogue between expressions.   The whole work  becomes a Polylogue (Many people communicating to each other) or a Visual Polyphony.

Art as Commodity/ possession and sense of ownership

When a piece of art is created or is in progress, there’s immediate sense of belonging to it. The sense of ownership, can act two ways, it makes us too cautious and at the same time responsible.

‘Cautious’ kills the free expression in individually created work. While Responsibility can bring a sense of order/elegance to the painting. Now if participant works on a group painting, where sense of ownership is lost, she is free to indulge in expression while keeping a sense of responsibility intact, she can also contribute to adding a balance/elegance.

Clash of egos

With participants so disparate in their thoughts, beings, the Conflict is sure to arise. But it can be resolved if there’s a mutual respect. Only such group can create work that bears no conflict.

When participants ‘Paint together’, they can work over other’s work: overwrite. This is beneficial for removing the sense of ownership. For some, it can be satisfying because there’s complete Freedom from ownership burden. However, some might consider it as a breach to their creativity and free expression. Many would be inhibited to overwrite somebody’s work. It breaks that inhibition too. Many would (at least in their minds) not allow their work to be overwritten, which allows them to be accepting to others. The important thing for the participants is to build a relationship of trust in such a joint process.

Cheating cheating …

During the workshop, a group of children were enthusiastically painting on a large piece of wall paper. They were supposed to finish their turn in pre-defined time, One participant painted for a little longer. Other participant noticed and shouted ‘cheating’, then all started shouting ‘cheating cheating’. It was hilarious at the same time, thought provoking to note how crowd thinking works. The crowd can express a common gesture against an individual (a rebel) and also can show disapproval. Isn’t it contrary to the freedom?

Compromise? How can someone get a fulfilling experience without compromise?

There won’t be a compromise to your personal expression. But what about the overall work as a whole? If you find yourself thinking, ’Oh. What are others trying to create?, this is not what I want to be painted..’ It could end making you feel you are ‘compromising’. But this is actually not true. The very sense that you are a part of the group is that you have to dissolve your personal taste of self and enthusiastically open up and get lost in the expression of others. (Can you ever do that?) Well, the answer to this stands open to further explorations from the experience of the workshop outcomes. Only if you lose yourself in the whole, if you are able to see and appreciate Unity in the disparity, you can get a satisfying feeling without a compromise. It will be compromise only if one is unwilling to open up to new ideas and freeing oneself up to listen to the ideas outside self.

Order and Chaos: Unity?, Disparity? or Unity in disparity?

Here are the works from the workshop (still more to come in future). The most important point is that there’s absolutely no subject, no direction in which the work progressed with these paintings. But it cannot be ruled out that a particular subject develops/is likely to be seen in future with such a painting. What results is the ONE expression of the group. Like the first one, it is more depicting the sober colours. A slight order is also seen with bold rhythmic lines.   
Paint together Activity's result 1
Where as this one below shows less orderliness but is more colorful and more vibrant.
Paint Together Activity : result 2
After the above painting was done, some participants tried to locate /identify something in the painting that seemed familiar to them. ‘This looks like so and so’, ‘that resembles something’ and so on. Why? Because it’s basic Human nature to try to find order out of chaos. It was pretty amazing to notice this fact with this painting that they created.

So does a painting always need to have an order? , when entire life is full of randomness and chaos. While order and Chaos are vast concepts I will restrict them to only the boundaries of this topic here. 
Order: It’s an arrangement or occurrence that follows largely some pattern. Order brings Coherence, uniformity and consistency. People recognize, relate to it easily.. and they try to bring and find order. If the arrangement looks unfamiliar they will still try to figure out familiar patterns in it. 
Chaos: Haphazard and unpredictable occurrence following no particular pattern. No rhythm no harmony.
Neither, complete order nor complete chaos can bring aesthetic value to the outcome: the finished work. Too much order leads to boredom and too much chaos leads to disharmony.

When this is applied to Group expression, The outcome largely depends on the aim/challenge that the group will see collectively. It also depends on Collective emotion the group will share and the ability to gel with each other. The results might vary as per the age group and social and behavioral patterns.

One of the aim of any creation is making something aesthetically appealing (i.e beauty but not in a traditional sense). But as every person’s aesthetics in a group might vary and conflict with each other, the resulting work may or may not be coherent. If conflict is balanced, it will give rise to work that represents oneness. If conflict shifts on one side: the outcome may be incoherent showing disparity. 

Whether it’s Unity or Disparity: It’s a voice of the group. If there will be a balance between order and disorder or a equal contrast between them, then the work will look interesting to look at.

While Chaos is likely to occur in disparate group, chaos can also have patterns of order somewhere. And the order might be seen when larger part of the group is in synch with each other. It will be interesting to identify this more and more. Does the crowd follow few people who come out as leader? Yeah. Well it can. There are all sorts of possibilities that make this activity even more interesting phenomenon. 

The thin line between inspiration and copying 

While the aim is to get the participants inspired by one another. Who knows when inspiration starts and borders on copying and how do we differentiate between the two. This opens up for more observations to be noted in this activity.

‘Paint together’ and the real world  

The idea of ‘paint together’ activity that we conduct in our workshop was developed without any prior knowledge that similar acts of collaboration existed in the past. So it’s even interesting to look at acts of collaborations from history and real world examples.

Artistic projects used the collaboration from number of artists for centuries. During renaissance, many old masters had studios where paintings were made in joint effort. Also, many artistic expressions found in Indian art (Ajanta Murals, Sculptures from Indian temples) is a collective creativity of a group. [It’s a topic of exploration that why individuality was so dissolved in such masterpieces of creation in Indian art. But it cannot be covered here] During Pre-modern art era, there is an explicit example of such joint association between Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Jan Breughel the Elder[Reference 5]. They both worked on several paintings together.

Although such efforts went on in historical times, the activity of group expression started getting acknowledged in 20th century.  Early 20th century, artistic groups worked together to produce art. Mainly Dada, Fluxus, Situationist International, Colab etc. Some outstanding examples of working together and producing visual art by collaborative effort are:

Gilbert and George: They consider themselves as two people but one artist.(They say : “a lone artist has a problem because you have to ask questions and no answer comes back. With two people, its easy, you ask a question, somebody gives an answer. An artist is so alone in the world, especially when you are rejected all the time. With two, you are able to comfort yourself and invent this idea that nothing matters. (Contrary to their actual physical collaboration, they say this is not collaboration, we are one artist), here's their work called 'The Singing Sculpture'
Gilbert and George: The Singing Sculpture 1970
© Gilbert and George 
Surrealist’s game: Exquisite Corpse: Surrealist artists played a game together where each person has to contribute his share of drawing to the existing composition either by some rule or by seeing only the end of what the previous person has contributed. Each participant would draw an image (or, on some occasions, paste an image down) on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal their contribution, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution. Although this was not explicitly deliberate collaboration, the resulting work does show the group expression. Following are some examples:

'Untitled' from Exquisite Corpse, by Jake and Dinos Chapman (2000), Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Cadavre Exquis with Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró, Max Morise, Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) 
Collaboration for a cause:  Artist Navjyot Altaf and Adivasi’s of Bastar, India
Indian Artist Navjyot Altaf worked together with advasi tribal and peasant communities to create clean environment and beauty at village (water) hand pump sites and places for children called children temples (Pilagudis) . She began working in villages around Kondagaon in Bastar, central india with a goal of creating more efficient pump sites using ergonomic designs that would ease the physical burden of collecting and transporting the water by villagers. She along with Dialogue(An association) held several workshops that brought together adivasi craftspeople , villagers, teachers, college students and other volunteers to create quasi-sculptural constructions around the water hand pump sites. The structures are practical in the sense that they allow the villagers to rest their vessels and ease them to lift the water filled vessels. The structures incorporate the symbols and forms associated with local cultural and spiritual traditions. Check out this work on the website mentioned under [Reference 3]

Tunisian Collaborative Painting
This is an art developed in Tunisia in 80s. Group of artists work on a single canvas simultaneously with no prior planning or discussion about the painting to be created. They work in complete silence adding their share to the canvas. In order to mark the work as complete, the voting takes place and its mutually decided. This concept was created by Tunisian artist named Hechmi Ghachem in 1988, when Tunisia was under dictatorship rule and had restriction on freedom of expression. He formed groups called Brigades d'Intervention Plastique which allowed artists to come out from their individuality and collaborate with others on the same artwork. The group created ties built on several collectively felt emotions and created works that had their part as well as parts from other artists. It was like one painting representing individuality of all at the same time dissolving individuality of all.  
For checking out more about this, visit the page for Tunisian Collaborative workshops conducted in US here: [Reference 4]
There are artists who work with people or groups outside the art world like children, senior citizens, sanitation workers or a particular neighborhood. They create art by interacting and sharing the ideas with the people. These works express variety of social and aesthetic values. Wendy Ewald, Fazal Shaikh, Eric Gottesman, Harrell Fletcher are some of such artists.


1.The One and the Many : Contemporary Collaborative Art in a Global Context : Grant H. Kester

~By Shiwalee

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