Making Art in Groups–Thoughts on Advertisements and Film

This article, by the conservative theologian Douglas Wilson, suggests that advertising is the most successful art form today. A primary reason he gives is that it is made by collaborative effort–a sort of guild. The loss of collaboration in other fields has allowed their quality to worsen.

I think everyone involved with Transpositions agrees that the image of artist as lone genius or alienated outsider is false and harmful. There has been much emphasis on the need for community. But what we haven’t discussed very much is making art not just in a group but as a group. By this I do not mean a community art project designed for everyone’s participation, but the collaboration of multiple skilled artists on something that could in theory be done individually. Numerous great works of art have been produced by those working alone, so collaboration cannot be said to be necessary for good art to be produced. But some works of art are clearly greater because of collaboration, or clearly worse because of its absence.

The article’s example of advertising points out that no one making an ad cares about his personal vision of art; rather, the group making the ad wants it to be effective in conveying a message and convincing people to respond. Even though a film, for example, should not be made the same way as an ad, and there are valid considerations beyond audience response, there is a lesson here: part of their work’s effectiveness is that each one cares more about making something good than about being the person who makes something good.

This conclusion indicates that discussion of the film industry often errs in arguing that more auteurs–individuals with creative control of a film, usually by means of both writing and directing–would make for more good films. One of the clearest examples of an auteur in the film industry today is M. Night Shyamalan, who not only typically writes and directs his films, but also produces and acts in them. But from Lady in the Water onward, in which he had a major acting role, his films have been critically despised. On the other hand, Pixar invariably subjects every story idea they have to a sort of peer review by the major writers and directors at the studio. So while the finished film will usually only have one or two directors, and one or two screenwriters, those listed will not have developed the film alone. And the result is a string of films almost universally loved.

The key seems to be understanding that no artist, however skilled, can continually make great art based only on his own skills and insights. There are times when his particular limitations come into play, and he needs others with similar skills to prevent him from erring. Whether it is in deflating egos, pointing out flaws that, due to imperfect judgment, appear to be virtues, or any number of other things, a team of artists with the same goals in mind can provide the environment needed for greater art than any individual could accomplish.


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  1. says: Aaron M

    This is a very interesting topic. As a musician I’ve noticed this concept has been something that has taken the spot light recently with bands like Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, God Speed You Black Emperor, Sigur Ros and more. These bands tend to create together rather than a singular personality at the center doing the work. Or even a group writing situation where each person is isolated to writing just their part. These bands are creating together working off each other. As someone who has played in bands for most of my life, I can say I think that is the healthiest and best way to do it. For two reasons. If you actually pull it off it means you are being forced to seek humility in your craft. You can’t write collaboratively and still hold on too tightly to your work. Two you find a greater appreciation for the art of Occams Razor. There are sometimes so many ideas in group writing that you have to hone the skill of getting down to what is best for the song and context. Which connects to one of the main points of this post. Some great thoughts, thanks for the post!

  2. says: an idiot abroad

    Ideal post! I am only beginning out in advertising and marketing and attempting to discover to carry out it effectively – assets just like this article are very valuable. As our company is based in america, it’s all a bit new to us.

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