Reading Response – “CAE’s Observations on Collective Cultural Action”

Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) makes a case for thought-out collaboration in an artistic, cultural, political, and social economy in which demand for the individual currently prevails.

CAE states that art schools and institutions prioritize – and in most cases, only offer – education for the individual artist. Collaborative practice is not the preferred ideological imperative in place of individual practice. This kind of education promotes the cultivation of many different skills in one person as per market demand. For example, in the current market, “a single artist must be able to produce in a given medium, write well enough for publication, be verbally articulate, have a reasonable amount of knowledge of numerous disciplines, be a capable public speaker, a career administrator, and possess the proper diplomatic skills to navigate through a variety of cultural sub-populations.” CAE relents that the need for this maximization of skills is because of the “excessive population of cultural producers” so if an individual’s focus is on specialization in a specific medium, his or her opportunities diminish.  But as most artists and producers are unable to become capable of all of those requirements on their own, CAE makes a case for maximizing their opportunities by collaboration with those who possess different skills. This results in a deviation from specialization and the ability to work in a wide variety of cultural spaces.

CAE emphasize the importance of organization and structure of a group in accordance with the size of the group. If the group becomes too large then there is risk of individuals being unable to participate in each task and different subgroups emerge, stepping towards a power hierarchy and a diminished democratic process. Under these conditions, individuals may find themselves underrepresented within the whole group.

For its own projects, CAE uses the idea of a “floating hierarchy.” The member with the most experience with a particular project becomes the leader for that particular project and while others are allowed to pitch in their ideas, the leader makes the final decisions. In CAE’s opinion, as long as everyone is satisfied with the work and with the rate at which the work is progressing, there isn’t a necessity for rigid equality within the production process. CAE does not recommend this process for large groups (more than eight people) because in large groups “members must be able to interact in a direct face-to-face manner so everyone is sure that they have been heard as a person.”

Do you agree with CAE’s suggestions for group hierarchy (or lack thereof) based on group size? Do you have any personal experiences working within groups, no matter the size, where you felt you were unable to fully participate because of  certain group dynamics/hierarchy? If so, what do you think could have been done differently to fix the issue of underrepresentation?

Would you prefer individual specialization in all areas (if you believe that to be a likely option) or to work collaboratively within a group where different individuals specialize in different areas (like CAE)? Which method would provide for the best production rate? For most personal satisfaction?

2 thoughts on “Reading Response – “CAE’s Observations on Collective Cultural Action””

  1. For some reasons I totally believe in small groups. I believe that a great selection of group members can totally push everyone’s abilities to the extreme. It is to say, even there must be specific fields that are unfamiliar to members, but the way how everyone is motivated to learn new things can also be amazingly helpful. And all of the credits go to unity. From personal experiences, it is hard to reach unity if the size of the group is comparably bigger. According to the simple categorizing method we used last time in class, there are people who might be leaders and some might be more quiet. In a large member group, for instance 10 members, and with 4 types of categorized groups, there must be members who likely have same characteristics. And if there are 2 or up strong opinionated leaders in the same group, it will hard to reach unity and agreement. As a matter of fact, if it is inevitable to form a big group, I prefer to have hierarchy in the group. This way a systematic structure can enhance the information transportation which will make the discussion more effective. In short, I prefer small groups than big ones.

  2. I definitely agree that hierarchy within a group will inevitably manifest itself, especially if one member is more knowledgeable than the others. However, like Peter said above, this system seems even more necessary with a larger group, and I don’t concur with CAE’s statement that everyone’s voice needs to be heard directly. In a bigger group, it is essential to have more organization and structure, and this requires the distinction between leaders and followers. By no means does this allow for no substantial input from anyone in the collective, but sometimes there have to be decisions that are made by a designated director. If a person in the group feels underrepresented, perhaps it is because one feels the desire to be the leader because he or she has more to say and share.

    Individuals should specialize in multiple areas regardless of whether they are working solo or collaboratively; in both cases, they have more skills and knowledge under their belt that they can provide and share, and it is always more beneficial to have more to work with. In a group, you can then discover who is better at what if there are crossovers in skills, and at that point tasks can be distributed accordingly to make the work process more efficient. Naturally a person has more specialties that they are more proficient in, no matter how much they have learned in other areas, but it is good to keep a balance between those specialties and other helpful skills.

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