[FISEA’93] Keynote: Brenda Laurel – ART/TECH COLLABORATIONS: some tips on getting along


You have to fall in love. Not necessarily with each other, although that helps — but with a vision of what you are trying to do together. Mistress of brushes, catgut physicist, ballet biomechanic — every artist’s practice involves rigor, knowledge, precision and curiosity.  Painter of light, code composer, algorithmic alchemist — every technologist’s practice involves beauty, harmony, intuition and protean transformations. We are more alike than we are different.
Somebody has to be on top. Like directing for theatre, the central task is creating the shared vision. Good guidance in visioning means getting peoplewith vastly different skills to see pictures of the finished whole that converge as they work on it. First, agree on how it looks, tastes, feels. Then go away and apply individual expertise to describe how it is made. Come back and explain it to one another. Iterate. Collaborative process and leadership are not mutually exclusive. Know when it is time to make a decision. Make it. Bad communication will kill you — not listening to people with different expertise than yours, not bothering to translate your ideas into a common tongue, thinking you are a specialist, being secretive or territorial.

The flipside: thinking it’s not your business and holding your peace, avoiding conflict by avoiding communication, being afraid to ask stupid questions, waiting to express yourself until you’re angry or alarmed. The most important thing you will do together in the course of any project is to design tools. The technologist’s tool seems indirect and arcane. What is he seeing when he uses it? The artist wants a capability that seems uncomfortably obscure. What kind of  precision is she seeking? Good tools will be there long after the piece is forgotten and the team is dissolved. They will influence the medium more strongly than any individual piece ever could. Good tools are the enduring fruit of successful collaborations.

  • BRENDA LAUREL, Interval Research, Palo Alto, CA, U.S.A.