collaboration vibration

After a profound difference of opinion with a professor about what counts as art, I switched my college major from art to science. I decided I could pursue art on my own, but I loved being in school, and science was as far from art as I could get … or so I thought.

What I hadn’t expected was the discovery that science, the way I was introduced to it, was all about asking questions and keeping an open mind about the answers. At some point, that struck me as being a form of art.

By the time I arrived at the small, progressive college (Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio) that I transferred to after the art professor debacle, I’d been out of school for two miserable years and had become a sad loner, uncertain of myself and yearning for something to devote myself to.

I stubbornly stuck with my decision to study science, even though my newbie learning curve was dauntingly steep. By the time I passed Chemistry 101, I’d taken it three times (but become a chemistry tutor in the process). By then, I was totally hooked.

What made me fall in love with science to the same degree I’d always been in love with art (and still was) surprised me. I’d always made art alone, but the science I was learning was full of collaboration.

We explored in labs as a group. We went on long botany and geography field trips together, to places like Wisconsin and the Florida Keys. I spent three summer months with ten other students and two student teachers traveling around the Pacific Northwest studying environmental issues and group dynamics. I collaborated with my professors about the direction of my education. And through it all, I developed a devotion to the value of companions in the pursuit of my goals.

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What happens when we enquire together is different from what happens when we enquire alone. Not better or worse, but definitely different. There’s a vibe, like tuning forks in synch, when we go in the same direction side by side. Our differences become advantages. We naturally view and consider things differently, even if only subtly, so we help each other see differently. It’s incredibly, rewardingly fun.

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Many years after I’d graduated with a B.A. in science, I lived on a little island near Seattle. Soon after I moved into an apartment of my own, after living with housemates for many years, I found myself craving that collaboration vibe. My solution was to initiate a weekly Art Night with my friends. Not to work together on the same piece of art, but to create whatever we wanted to in each other’s company, to be together as we enquired.

I mailed out invitations, we tried it out, and before long I’d become dependent. We met in each other’s homes. We didn’t eat together. We didn’t drink. We often didn’t even talk much. But we created. People sat in companionable peace and painted, made collages, played the guitar, knit, glued sequins, wrote. And became. We became more of who we were, as individuals and as a group.

Art Nights recalibrated me to a place of peace. Every Tuesday night I knew my world would be set to rights again. It was like remembering that I belonged to a humanity I adored. After those Art Nights, every time, I felt new and complete and grateful on a wondrously deep level.

We created much more than art. Our art, created together, created us.

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Related reading: Chemistry Lab and Let’s Pretend

12 comments to collaboration vibration

  • Helen

    This is really amazing, I just sent this mail to Grace (right at the bottom of this comment) to ask if she’d be interested in joining a creative group. She replied to my mail with a link to her article and now, here I am, and I scroll down and find all these kindred spirits…. A bit of a wow moment. This is confirming my faith in the human spirit. It also reminds me of one of my all time favourite quotes from Einstein… “Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it”. This somehow touches on what is happening in these groups, we are actually doing some real learning. And whilst looking for that one I came across this one, also Einstein..
    A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.

    This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us.

    Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

    Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”

    …..which says to little old me, that being creative and imaginative with others is actually a way of embracing ‘the whole of nature in its beauty’ to get out of the ‘prison’…

    and here is part of the mail which I, quite wierdly, just sent to Grace….
    ‘I am toying with the idea again of meeting up with a few people on some vaguely regular basis (1 x monthly?) to try out a few different creative ‘things’ ie. drama, games, art, language, poetry…..
    I think I might grow from it and enjoy it, but at the same time, I feel like I need some courage cos it is jumping into something new and unknown. I have never done anything like this before.’

    Grace, this is a fantastic webite, really pleased I visited you all.

    • Helen! I’ve felt that kindred spirit feeling since I first met you at the English-speaking women’s group here in Freiburg. I’m so glad you’re finding some other great folks via their comments here. Thanks for your thoughts and for the quotes.

      I particularly like this bit: “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” That’s a goal I can make a life out of.

      Bis bald,
      Grace

  • JennyRock

    And in the spirit of the first spot-on point of the blog -that science and art arise from the same creative source- I propose another type of communal evening that might do us all good. Science Nights – and though we might not get together to do science together we could support each other in MAKING and SHARING MEANING of important (or just interesting!) science. I think the support of the communal is key here too because it provides the inspiration TO DO (how often are you aware of the blogs and articles and books about the state of the oceans, climate, genetic engineering, renewable energy etc that you just don’t make enough time to read and understand!!???) and it makes us feel not alone in our understanding (or confusion) doing it together. For me it would make me feel so much better if I read about the frightening science of climate change if i did it with a group – not even reading the same things, or interpreting the same graphs, just being together to do it. A community response. Just like an art night this would CREATE new meaning, new understanding, new empowerment and new resolve to act with more confidence in our own lives.
    AND THEN WE MERGE THE TWO!!
    we have the Art of Science Night: where we use creative means to help communicate what we have learned in science night- but share it more broadly using art as a way to entice, inform and compel! What about it? Three nights each month. Every month. How much good could we do for ourselves and others!?

    • Hi, Jen.

      What a hugely pleasing riff. You’re someone with a long history of ART + SCIENCE in your life, too — and knowing that makes me appreciate your brain wave even more. I love the idea of looking at scary knowledge together. It makes me realize that if I’d had a buddy to do earthquake prep with when we lived in B.C., it would have made a gigantic difference.

      I’ve just been writing in my journal as a way of musing about how to tap into something like Art Nights for those of us who are interested, but not in the same location or time zone. I wish the world was tiny enough that I could invite you and everyone else who commented here over to my place for an ART + SCIENCE NIGHT BRAINSTORMING SESSION. I keep wanting the in-person magic.

      Andrea told me about a group she was in of about eight people who got on a phone call together, told each other what they were going to work on during the next hour and a half, then they all hung up and worked on their projects (knowing all the while that everyone else was working on their projects at the same time!), then got back on the phone and debriefed. I’m drawn to that concept.

      Thanks for taking the time to lay out your great ideas for us here! It’s gotten me percolating …

      Love,
      Grace

  • I love this idea! Once again Grace, you inspire. :)

  • Wouldn’t that be great to have an Art Night with all of us here? Oooh, I’d love that.

    My mom lived near us in Vancouver for a couple of years and we had our own Art Nights together, just the two of us, but of a different kind. She was an artist, too, so we’d take turns leading the project for each Art Night. One evening when she was leading, we made little books together that were gorgeous (she was a bookbinder, among other things) and another night I led us through a project that resulted in framed original colored drawings. She hung hers on her wall and told me later that she laughed with joy every time she saw it.

    **SIGH**

    Thank you all for your comments and thoughts. I love them and they help me a lot.

  • Grace, I remember those Tuesday Art Nights! I am so non-arty, but I was so honored to have been invited. The silence was daunting for me. But I loved just being in the room with people creating. I can’t remember a single thing I made or did, but I remember the love and support in that room.

    Maybe we could start Virtual Art Night? It could be fun….

  • Tracy

    Art night is a fabulous idea! I passed it on to our local arts center director. Grace, I really enjoy your articles and often forward them on to friends. And since you mentioned Antioch, I just got back from the reunion. Good things happening there again!

  • Just found your blog…I relate to this post and I like how you expressed basically art is more isolated, solitary, but science was group exploration. Clicked something inside my head so thanks so much for sharing this. And maybe we do need to create our own groups, which I would have loved to be a part of those creative-making sessions!

  • Mary Beth Leisen

    I loved this post! The biggest fear that’s blocked me as I’ve pursued an alternative career is about being alone too much. It’s not just that I’m an extrovert – it’s that I get some of my best inspiration and ideas while collaborating or just being in the presence of like-minded folks. I love the idea of Art Nights – and of finding ways to be in-presence with others, even if we’re not actively collaborating on the same project. I also really enjoyed the reminder of how juicy and fun group collaboration is. I need to make sure I have that on my new path, no matter what form it takes. Thanks!

  • hatt kelley

    I would love to have been at those Tuesday night gatherings!Several items interest me about this written piece; its peace (no bitterness about the art professor though I imagine it was painful), how it demonstrates the unexpected benefits to unplanned journeys when one is open and dedicated, and the innocent quality of the narration. I like it! thank you!