Art is a Team Sport

There was an interesting post last week at Parabasis about the dangerous myth of the individual artist (think "you didn't build that"). It sort of fits with Polly Carl's post at HowlRound about truthiness in theatre, and our tendency to exaggerate, mainly to validate what we do.

I think the myth of the individual artist is definitely dangerous. When we put ourselves in the position of sole ownership of art, it's treacherous. We forget about a very valuable team around us, that make our jobs possible/easier/more enjoyable. Most of us don't create dance without music (And we  often didn't compose it.) Most directors didn't write the show they're crafting. And then there are the players, the donors, the guy that cleans the bathrooms. 

When we're creating, we are definitely deeply invested in what we're doing. And maybe more so than anyone else in the process. Because it's our vision. But that doesn't make it our product.

Courtesy of

It's like a non-profit- it doesn't belong to the person who founded it, or currently runs it, or even serves on the board. It belongs to those it serves, whether that's homeless people, endangered animals, or arts patrons.

The moment the art we create exists to serve its creators, it ceases to be art. As Seth Godin is so fond of saying, Art is a Gift. Something given away to bring joy or ease or knowledge to others. Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre describes the job of an actor as inviting the audience to join a conversation. Not observe it, analyze it, or any other objective stance, but to join it.

This choice of words is telling. His view is that art is participatory. That it can't exists without the audience being as involved as the players. So clearly, there is no individual artist here. Art is a team sport, and everyone is on the team.

Maybe if we recognized the value of our teammates, whatever their position, we would not be tempted to exaggerate or spin or positions or productions, in order to make ourselves or or organizations appear better than everyone else. If we were honest, we would acknowledge that the community creates art. And art creates community. And I think that is often the goal of artists- to create a community around an idea of how the world is, could be or ought to be.