Group Dynamics

I read this quote the other day, made by Victoria Legrand of the band Beach House:

“I think playing as a duo is a real benefit. It’s like starting with very little and working up gradually as opposed to starting with too much of something and too many directions and opinions. I think a lot of times, with bigger bands, there always has to be a ringleader, and with Alex and I, neither person is the boss; it’s kind of just two minds meeting in the middle. And sometimes we butt heads, but sometimes a little bit of conflict works well.” – Read the interview at Exclaim.

Musically I’m not a major Beach House fan: I think they’re fine, keeping in the American indie rock tradition, sounding like Grandaddy meets Besnard Lakes. In the interview, Ms. Legrand isn’t being nasty or negative, but just stating a simple fact about group dynamics…and it got me to thinking: Can a collective artistic vision absolutely exist? I realised that in terms of an unfaltering purity, it cannot.

Collectivity suggests compromise – and for the sake for this argument, when I refer to the “collective” I’m talking about art that is created by a collective of individuals, not an “artist’s collective” whereby materials and resources are shared. Collectively created art is an ideal as realistic as Communism: human nature prevents it. It’s all nice and good in theory but pretty soon the survival instinct kicks in: protectionism, ego tripping and selfishness, in some way, will destroy the weave of the fabric holding it together.

Years ago, Adrian (aka Enegin) was talking art with Murray and he suggested that absolute art only exists in the mind, and that once it leaves the mind (or once the artist tries to communicate this idea in a meaningful way) it ceases to be art. As if any tangible realisation of an artistic idea signals its destruction. At first my reaction was to reject his theory, but after some thought I realised there was a deeper meaning (maybe the meaning of his true idea was lost in its expression??) to his statement. I bring it up to further illustrate the dilution of collective art: if the expression of one idea is already deviating from its pure vision, then what happens with several ideas collide? The vision is lost and distorted and it becomes something that doesn’t belong to anyone, that doesn’t represent anything.

Yeah, it’s pretty extreme. But I like to make extreme statements (haven’t you noticed?). I don’t mean to discount the value of collective art that exists: I just think that closer examination would reveal that collective art doesn’t exist, and that it can all be traced back to a single individual, the ringleader.

3 Replies to “Group Dynamics”

  1. Comparing my own time spent creating art collectively vs individually, I have to say that some really brilliant accidents came out of the former that may not have come out of the latter.

    Legrand’s comments are interesting, but I can’t help remembering Dave Stewart’s comments on how his post Annie Lennox work with more artists was actually easier at times than their work as a duo. The suggestion was that even a third party can be an ideal mediator.

    Naturally, ideas/messages become diluted as the number of participants increases. (See: “the telephone game” that we’ve all played as children.) But I believe that individuality breeds stagnation. Collectivity bred The Renaissance. And the Three Tenors.

  2. What interesting timing on this post.

    I wrapped up the last mixes on my band’s EP at 6am today, and we went out to dinner tonight to talk about how we were going to do songwriting credits in the liner notes. — Invariably the discussion ended up about how we write together.

    We’ve had quite a few arguments — especially as the songs became more finalized — about directions for songs, parts, etc… It’s been pretty tough, but I think that there’s something to be gained from a lot of it. I think the compromise and the discussion is sewed up in the music now, and it’s often better for it.

  3. I don’t know much about the group dynamic and it’s impact, but I’ll go back to something I’ve said before – on this very blog. The artist or artists can have any ideas they like, put them out there in whatever form they like – it can be very meaningful or not as much to the artist.

    Once it’s out there though it becomes the ‘property’ of the viewer/listener, it either resonates with them or it doesn’t but beyond that it has to spark something inside them, it has to reflect an idea they already have or inspire a new one in them that is wholly their own and may not be the intent of the artist.

    So art, like any other form of communication, can change between point A and point B, or between the mind of the artist and the mind of the audience. I don’t think the artistic idea is necessarily dead, but I do think that until we learn telepathy it cannot be conveyed with purity and that’s fine because if we ever did learn telepathy there would be no point in actually creating art.

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