A series just began in Slate about the myth of the lone genius. The author Joshua Wolf Shenk is going to look at creative partnerships, and asks the reader some excellent questions (see below). From "Two Is the Magic Number: A new science of creativity":
So this is the task of this series, to see how creative relationships work. I start with a few assumptions.
First, we can't answer the question with theory. Though science offers some context and insights, we need to look at real lives and see what lessons they offer and what patterns they suggest.
Second, collaborators exist across fields, and in many forms. I'll look for cases in the sciences, arts, business, and philosophy: Watson and Crick belong here alongside Gilbert and Sullivan, Engels and Marx. Hidden partners need scrutiny, as do the frontman and his sidekick, mentors and mentees, masters and muses. Let's define collaboration broadly, as a mutuality that shapes a body of work.
Third, this project won't come from a single mind. Of course, as with everything I've ever written, I'm dependent on my colleagues. But for a subject so vast, I need to invite new relationships—with each of you. If I'm right, your questions, observations, ideas, and criticisms will not only add to my work—it will change its character fundamentally.
And then Shenk asks some questions of the reader.
Which relationships do you find most compelling? Which bonds suggest
some kind of electrical charge? Where does 1 + 1 add up to infinity? Your cases may be historical or contemporary, high culture or lowbrow, famous or obscure. Please give some detail along with your nominees. What do you think accounts for their success? What do you know about their dynamic?
Second, can you suggest a form of relationship that probably eludes mass attention? For example, it was news to me, when I heard from the food writer Amanda Hesser that every star chef has a crucial partner behind the scenes. (She gave the example of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich.) The music writer Richard Gehr told about the role that the arranger played in making jazz compositions sing. (He mentioned Gil Evans and Miles Davis.) The Jewish scholar—and surfer—Tony Michaels told me about the role of the "board shaper," who observes and intuits just what a particular surfer needs, and custom-crafts a board that best rides the waves. Al Merrick, Tony said, is a legend in the profession.
As you can see, I've had enough of these conversations to know how much I don't know. What relationships matter most in your field or one you know well?
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Image credit: Never Get Out Of The Boat.