Art of Collaboration (part II): practical approaches to collaboration in theology and the arts

This is the second post in a two part post collaboratively written by Jenn Craft and Anna Blanch. 

We began Art of Collaboration (part I) by suggesting that collaboration is a necessity for scholars of theology and the arts particularly, as well as academia more generally. But what do we mean by collaboration? In this post, we’d like to outline the kind of collaboration we are encouraging, and offer some practical considerations to keep in mind when approaching a collaborative process in theology and the arts.

While it is helpful to acknowledge that collaboration can encompass a range of activities, we concluded part I by saying that, at its heart, collaboration is about respectful dialogue. We’ve been asked whether we believe collaboration might include the editing process or commenting on another’s work. The answer is tentatively yes, but with a caveat: to limit collaboration to superficial tinkering is not what we were seeking to propose. While offering thoughts and comments on the work of others, or editing, might form an aspect of the peer review process, it is not the kind of radical co-operation we were hoping to encourage when talking about collaboration dialogically.

The kind of collaboration we are proposing involves a co-ownership – not just of ideas, but an awareness of the resulting work or direction of thought being something more than each person involved could have achieved on their own. It involves trust and respect even as it involves risk. Collaboration is, in our experience, an iterative process.[1]  It involves a constant back and forth to get our ideas out as we rephrase and reframe them in images and words. We are admittedly being self-reflexive in writing these posts about collaboration, in collaboration, and while co-authoring is a good example of what we mean by a dialogic understanding of collaboration, it is not the only productive expression of collaboration possible in theology and the arts scholarship.

Jeremy Begbie’s edited book, Sounding the Depths: Theology through the Arts, provides a helpful example of what we mean by collaboration, specifically in an arts and theology context.[2] Here, we see scholars and artists engaging with one another to create art projects and series of essays for the volume. One of the main themes that Begbie draws out is the notion of responsible respect between participants and for the fields in which they work. In order to have a collaborative dynamic, there must be a trust and respect between parties. In Begbie’s examples, the arts are respected for what they can do for theology, just as it is expected that theologians might add something to the way in which an artist approaches the creation of their work. Flexibility and adaptability of the gifts and skills of each individual is necessary. Collaboration often requires each party to work both from within the skill set they already possess and be willing to stretch themselves as they engage with the ideas and skills of their collaborators. But, this does not mean that collaboration always must be collective – that is, not every sentence or piece of a work need be jointly created. Moreover, the theologian need not write the lyrics to a song or revise the composition of a sculpture for church use – the point is to work together organically and respectfully.

Simply put, we believe that collaboration should involve a “looking outward” to see how one’s own ideas fit within a context, while genuinely opening oneself to the influence of that context and the possibility of being transformed by it. We acknowledge that it is risky to trust in the gifts and talents of others, but we also believe that the resulting quality of scholarship and art that is possible when working collaboratively is an expression of the body of Christ at work.[3]

1. What is the difference between a collaboration and commission? (see also: Ben Guthrie’s piece about serving clients with bad taste)
2. Can editing and review be understood as a means of collaboration?
3. Are there any other programs/online tools that you use to productively collaborate on scholarly work?

[1]We began this piece with a conversation on a train and then edited in turn using google docs now that we live on different continents. Iterative means to repeat the process, to go back over it multiple times.

[2] (London: SCM, 2002)

[3] we refer to the Pauline metaphor of Christian community as body.  For example, see 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:32.

Fair use justification: the above image is considered to be used fairly because the post is commenting directly upon the book Sounding The Depths.

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