The Finest Work Songs: A Tour of Seattle Artists Working Together

“bauhaus nw view” by subsetsum (Flickr Seattle)

Some artists revel in the myth of the Solitary Genius, the person toiling in his/her dusty attic, or (as the case may be) the gritty coffee shop around the corner with Talent to burn and Genius conceived immaculately. As a writer, I want to see my work as a conversation with a community of voices, influences, and ancestry, but I know that it’s also dangerously easy to feel alone and isolated.

I’m also a writer who’s married to a composer. We talk about our work together as much as we can, although we haven’t created art together (yet). I still look fondly back at the few months when both of us lived with my sister, a visual artist. We used to talk about the visual and the aural and the written. My husband would reach for CDs to play, my sister would flip to new images to show us, and I would reach for passages to read from my bookshelf. My work is still an extension of those conversations. And as a result, I’ve wondered about what it takes for artists to work together.

Then a few months ago, my esteemed publisher/provocateur Omar Willey criticized Seattle’s arts scene for its lack of collaboration, for its antagonism between critics and artists, and for the tunnel vision that exists even among artists of a single discipline:

Such a [thriving] community cannot exist until it is cooperative. This has not happened. Critics and artists are at each other’s throats constantly. Artists of one discipline remain largely ignorant of artists in other disciplines–that is, when they are not actively laying siege to them as “competitors.” Even within the same discipline many Seattle artists prefer to carp and bitch rather than co-operate or co-exist.

He continues:

Artists of all stripes should regularly be exploring the arts of their city. Filmmakers should talk to and work with painters. Photographers should talk to and work with dancers; sculptors should talk to and work with theater artists; poets should talk to and work with musicians; writers should talk to and work with architects; comix artists should talk to and work with fashion designers. The livelihood of the city’s arts depends completely upon the artists themselves breaking the boundaries of their own experience.

With all due respect to my publisher—let’s see if he lets this go by, and I think he will—I see the problem differently. I know that interdisciplinary collaboration exists among Seattle-area artists. My husband’s a composer, who’s worked with other composers, dancers and video artists. I know he’s not the only one. I just think that artistic collaborations don’t receive enough coverage. That lack of coverage brings us back to perpetuating the myth: Solitary Artist, Square One.

From these questions and these spaces, I wanted to start something a little different: a series highlighting collaborations among Seattle-area artists. I want to break down the myth of the solitary artist. I want to find out more about artistic collaboration: the rewards, the challenges, and the logistics. I want to get to know the practitioners, the people who are doing collaborative work, not just the people who talk about collaborative work. I want to see the contours of how Seattle artists work together. I want to see how that might inspire other artists within and outside Seattle. And as an artist myself, I want to know more about what makes artistic collaboration work. Or not.

I’m taking nominations for artist to be featured. Artists with one-time upcoming events are welcome with some advance notice, but I’d also like to hear from longstanding collaborators, within a single discipline or across disciplines. Because this is a Seattle Star series, I’ll prioritize artists with ties to the Seattle area. I’ll be writing about artistic disciplines outside my own, which will stretch me outside my writing and knowledge comfort zones. I hope the series will be a collaboration in and of itself: a tour of Seattle arts using unfamiliar guideposts and, perhaps, unexpected vistas.

I look forward to working with you all.