"DO YOU WANT TO BE RIGHT OR IN RELATIONSHIP?"
Chances are you've seen this quote bandied about in self-improvement circles, usually in the context of dating or marriage – one partner wants to be right and defends their point of view, the pair gets caught in a power struggle, unspoken expectations lead to feelings of unmet needs, an argument flairs, and the other partner is left on the attack, feeling defensive / powerless or even worse, gaslit.
This idea of “being in relationship” also resonates in the context of creativity and collaboration, particularly in this cultural moment as we consider the uneven power dynamics and privileges at play within our creative spaces, workplaces, institutions -- and, inside the larger social and cultural systems within which we work, create and live.
What might it mean to build a creative or collaborative process or, to work towards any individual or shared goal while trying to stay in relationship?
The truth is, we already ARE in relationship, but what kind?
What if being in right relationship and taking care of our relationships were our #1 priority - taking precedence over being right and even, for a moment, gasp, over a project's goal or outcome?
How might "being in relationship" change how we show up, how we problem solve, how we respond to harm or conflict (either done to or inflicted by us), and how might this approach begin to shift other aspects of our creative, collaborative and even, collective processes?
In bringing this lens to my creative collaborations, I find that being in and staying in relationship calls for slowing down, for a commitment to creating transparency and a process built on genuine participation, for ensuring access to the process across a full spectrum of needs, for establishing a set of shared (and not assumed) values & agreements for our work, for staying vulnerable (not just once but again and again), for making sustained efforts to reduce harm, to acknowledge and be held accountable to harm done and to ensure that relationships that have been broken, receive the necessary care of repair. And, all this happens before the art-making begins, or rather, as part of the art-making, and certainly before the final product or "show" goes on.
My artistic origins are in the theater, so this maxim that “the show must go on” is in my DNA. The idea that "no matter what happens the show must go on", is often upheld as a testament to the discipline, tenacious spirit and unwavering commitment of the theater artist, but it also speaks to our sacrifice, our ongoing exploitation and let’s be honest, the de-humanizing dangers of capitalism over our individual and collective well-being.
It seems to me that this maxim exists in direct anti-thesis to the relationship-centered model of collaboration that I (and many other artists before me and to the left and right of me who work within anti-oppressive frameworks) have been uplifting.
No matter what creative or collaborative field you call home, I’m wondering –
Who and what are you in relationship to or with in your work, and how conscious are you inside those relationships?
If you were to fully embrace this idea of “being in relationship”, essentially taking care of peoples’ well-being before product, valuing the means as much as the ends, looking for right (and by right I mean, not perfect, but conscious) relationship in all aspects of your process from start to finish, how might this ethos transform not what you are collaborating on -- but what you are collaborating towards?
What else are you in relationship to as you collaborate and create you art? What ideas, histories, institutions, systems, structures, processes might you unwittingly or consciously be in cahoots with?
What does your Art of Being In Relationship look like?
As a white, able-bodied person with unearned privilege, and also as a queer artist, a parent, daughter, partner, citizen, and human animal living in a complex and tender ecosystem – I approach being in relationship as an ongoing life and creative practice. Many days this practice is a big fat flop and my perfectionism, fear of not getting it right, or my need to create a polished outcome, diverts my attention to the end goal thereby sacrificing relationality. Other days, I make progress - engaging in a process of conscious co-creation with collaborators that calls for deeper self and social awareness, and that enables the collaborators to render an artistic outcome that respects the difficult, awkward and tender negotiations of getting into right relationship as part of the work.
In any given moment, we, artists, can ask ourselves: Who and what am I in relationship to right now and how conscious am I in those relationships? If I find myself needing to be "right", what becomes possible when I shift my attention and intention to getting into right relationship -- to people and to the world around me?
Image by Sister Corita Kent