Collaborative creating graphic

Opinion columnist Jamie Hawley argues that all artwork is a collaborative effort.


We all know the image of the lonely artist. When we think of novelists, we think of a (white) (male) tortured soul staring out a window in tasteful black-and-white, cigarette smoke curling out of frame. When we think of painters, we think of (white) (male) isolated geniuses huddled in a leaking attic, smearing oil paint on a canvas with their fingers while their unsold work stacks up behind them, not yet worth the millions of dollars eventually paid by the Louvre to house them.

These images are ubiquitous, and to some, the fantasy they create is immensely appealing. But that’s all it is — a fantasy. There is no one universal “artist type.” Every artist is different in numerous visible and invisible ways. More importantly, artists do not work alone, even if they claim to. No one creates anything in a vacuum, and the sooner we break down the myth of the lone creator, working tirelessly in a small cabin on a hidden lakefront, the sooner we can harness the power of our collective creativity.

Functionally, professional creatives cannot work in a bubble. Books on shelves and art in museums are the responsibility of not only the artists but also the editors and curators who present this work to an audience. Every book has an acknowledgements page, and every portrait in the National Portrait Gallery exists because someone posed for it. Someone had to design the cover art of every novel, and someone had to write the copy pasted on gallery walls.

We can zoom out even farther: Someone had to design the buildings the art is housed in. Someone had to design the logo of the bookstore. The work that is put in front of us, polished and preened for public consumption, is the result of entire teams of people, all of whom played a crucial role in making the art on display. One person can write a book in a cabin, but if no one else ever reads it, it’s like they never wrote it at all. (There’s a tree metaphor that comes to mind here. I’ll let you fill in the gaps.)

Except even that is a lie. One person can’t write a book in a cabin, not really, and one person can’t paint a painting alone in an attic. Physically, they can do the work alone, but this work would be impossible without the influences of others. I believe that creators are universally driven, in whatever capacity, by their relationship to other people, whether that relationship is good, bad or somewhere in between. Maybe these people are contributing to art through direct feedback, and maybe their contributions are only known to the artists themselves, but it’s a contribution all the same.

For the last nine years, I’ve done a ridiculous and wonderful thing every November. It’s called National Novel Writing Month. It’s a challenge to write 50,000 words of a creative project in 30 days, and it’s the best proof I have of how seemingly solitary creation is actually the result of so much more.

NaNoWriMo, as we call it, has a robust community of participants. There are forums and social media posts and local writing groups that meet in libraries and coffee shops. There are daily challenges and word sprints, and for one month, thousands of people write their own stories while simultaneously influencing so many others. It’s incredible. It’s heartwarming. It’s my proof that no matter how often I get stuck in my own head, trying to draw words from an empty well, there will always be people around me to replenish my supply. I’ve won NaNoWriMo every year since 2011. If I had done it alone, those victories would not have been possible.

We must destroy this image of the brilliant hermit creating works in a bubble. They never existed, and we should not fool ourselves into thinking they ever could. Art is not made by artists alone. It exists because of the connections we form with other people, artists and non-artists alike. Do not be afraid to harness the creative energy around you, and do not be afraid to show your work to others. If we cease to create together, we will cease to create at all.

Jamie Hawley is a senior from Salina studying English, political science and communications.