Collaborative Arts

By Neu, Regina E. | School Arts, February 1990 | Go to article overview

Collaborative Arts


Neu, Regina E., School Arts


Collaboration among the arts is not a new phenomenon, but interdisciplinary arts programming, especially in our schools, has not been widely accepted. Even composer Richard Wagner in 1846 had trouble getting the public to accept his Gesamtkunstwerk [the total music-drama). His collaboration synthesizing "Dance, Tone and Poetry" was boo'ed from the opera house, but artists continued to collaborate. The ballet Parade shocked Paris in 1917 with its extreme avant-garde costumes, sets, music and choreography by Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie and Leonide Massine. In the 1970s, painter Robert Rauschenberg, choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage began collaborating at North Carolina's Black Mountain College. Black Mountain College, in the 1950s, was a center for many new ideas in the arts.

Today, more and more artists are working with writers, choreographers, architects and composers. Barbara Kruger collaborated with horror novelist Stephen King on a limited edition book for the Whitney Museum of American Art's "Artists and Writers" series. Robert Rauschenberg has worked on numerous group projects including his ongoing international enterprise "Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange." He has also collaborated several times with choreographer Trisha Brown on set designs.

Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, architect Frank Gehry and Oldenburg's wife, art historian Cossje van Bruggen, have collaborated on building design. They designed a building to look like a pair of binoculars for an advertising agency. Van Bruggen writes that the reason they work well together is "Gehry's desire to make a 'strong sculptural statement of the shell' ... converging with Oldenburg's idea of enlarging stereotypical objects to an architectural scale.... Both wanted people to relate directly to the exterior regardless of the building function." (1)

The state of the arts

In our schools today, for the most part, we teach the arts--visual arts, music, theater, dance--as separate and unique entities. The 1988 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) report, Toward Civilization, focused on arts education in the United States. The report states: "Basic arts education aims to provide all students, not only the gifted and talented, with knowledge of, and skills in, the arts. Basic arts education must give students the essence of our civilization, the civilizations which enrich world civilizations as a whole. It must also give students tools for creating, for communicating and understanding other's communications, and for making informed and critical choices." It further states that "basic arts education must also include art forms that are interdisciplinary ... opera and music, theatre, film and television, and new work that extends the frontiers of current artistic convention."

During the past decade, many states have begun to adopt plans for comprehensive arts programs-programs that encompass all arts for all students. Implementation on the local level has not always followed. At the state level, only thirty states have high school requirements that include the arts and only forty-two states require local school districts to offer arts instruction in elementary, middle or secondary school. Arts graduation requirements are often vague and sometimes listed as alternatives to requirements in other subject areas (i.e., states accept courses in domestic science, industrial arts, humanities, foreign languages or computer sciences). …

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