At the same time, certain "creative types"—those who put together television shows or come up with marketing campaigns, for instance—can't seem to get much done unless they're actively interacting with a room full of others, tossing out wild ideas and witty one-liners. It's also true that many artists—like a choreographer who must begin working with dancers to understand how her ideas about movement can translate to the stage, or a novelist who is ready for an editor--need to partner up once they reach a certain stage of the process.
What's more, two of the most revered collaborators of all-time—John Lennon and Paul McCartney—"wrote a lot of stuff together, one on one, eyeball to eyeball," early in their career, according to Lennon as quoted on BeatlesBible.com. While writing the song "I Want to Hold Your Hand," for instance, they would both get "on the piano at the same time," Lennon remarked, and start "playing into each other's noses." However, as time went on—and as their songs arguably became increasingly original and less jingle-like (albeit enchantingly jingle-like)—they began to function more as editors for each other than collaborators. By way of example, they, er, worked things out for "We Can Work It Out" this way: McCartney wrote the verses and chorus ("Try to see it my way!/Do I have to keep on talking until I can't go on" etc.) while John wrote the bridge ("Life is very short, and there's no time/For fussing and fighting, my friend"). And often, in later years, they only contributed minor flourishes to the other's songs.
(N.B.: I collaborated via email with my friend Brian Levinson, a Beatles expert and Jeopardy! champion, on the preceding paragraph.)
Of course, no songwriter in her right mind should kick a friend like John Lennon off the bench when trying to come up with a catchy new tune. But collaboration has become such a buzzword these days that we seem to have forgotten how important working independently can be, particularly when it comes to generating new and innovative ideas. "We overvalue the idea of collaboration," Cain argues. "I call this The New Groupthink—the idea that creativity and productivity comes from an oddly gregarious place."
Perhaps part of the reason collaboration has gained such cachet is because it can be so germinative in the realm of business and commerce. The Silicon Valley culture, for instance, seems to run almost entirely on collaborative fumes. And as Barron puts it, "For a business effort, collaboration is useful because the product develops out of exchange."
But if you're trying to think deeply about something, or you are more introverted, as many artists tend to be, having someone yakking in your ear isn't always productive. As Cain says:
In the age of the Internet, the word "collaboration" has taken on a sacred dimension. Through the miracle of electronic crowdsourcing, the Internet produced astonishing collective creations, such as Wikipedia. But these things were created by individuals sitting alone in their offices, communicating with other individuals across wires and cables. Electronic collaboration is very different from the in-person kind, but we act as if they're one and the same.
Many serious writers and visual artists benefit most from a virtual dialogue that doesn't require a computer—an ongoing mental conversation with a loved one, dead or alive, who "fosters the psychological courage that can feed creativity," as Barron puts it. It's important, she notes, "to have a supportive, trusted, loving other in your life, whether it is someone you hold onto in your heart and head or someone in the flesh—even if they are not directly involved in making the work—in order to create." Unknowingly echoing Ginzberg's words, she adds, "This allows for freedom in the mind and less fear or shame about inept offerings." Which is to say: While most serious writers and artists don't make their best creations working with other people standing over them—or next to them, paint-brush in hand—they are almost always telling a story to, or making beauty for, someone specific.
Basquiat had Warhol, one of his heroes, in his head well before they met; his early work and artistic efforts were clearly influenced by the man who would become his mentor. But perhaps Basquiat would've been better off had he kept Warhol in mind only while he painted—and kept him away from his canvases.