The Artist’s Collective

Unsplash Photo by Karen Maes

By Christy Gualtieri

In the 2005 documentary film “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” director Michel Gondry showcases a variety of hip-hop and soul musical artists as part of a concert held in Brooklyn.  The concert, organized by comedian Dave Chappelle, was a chance to bring to one collective stage the many artists who had influenced him – and worked with each other – over the course of many years.  Along with being a concert film, “Block Party” presents interviews with many of the artists, who tell the stories of what it was like to work with each other both before many of them achieved fame – and what it was like to be honored later on as well-known cornerstones of the hip-hop industry.

Although the film is unique in that it revolves around these particular music artists (including Kanye West, The Roots, Erykah Badu, The Fugees, Talib Kwali, and Mos Def, among others), the idea of collaboration and community in the creative world is nothing new.  From writers of great literature to masterwork painters to film-making communities, there is a power in community that is recognized across the board.  Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was married to Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her social circles included the poet Lord Byron and John William Polidori, the author of the first modern vampire novel.  Ernest Hemingway famously was close to Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound when he lived in Paris; arguably, one of the greatest musical supergroups of all time was the Traveling Wilburys, combining the unparalleled talents of Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison; and Tim Burton hasn’t made a film without Johnny Depp in it for quite some time.

In short, there have been some glorious contributions to the creative world that grew out of collaboration.  Something special happens when a few people come together to create something bigger than themselves.  It reminds me of the John Dunne quote, “No man is an island.”  What we create impacts someone around them, no matter how small a way, and it can be a great encouragement to be an artist today, knowing that you are truly one in a million – an individual that is part of the many.

The greats, however, always know how to keep their individuality.  In “Block Party,” singer Jill Scott is interviewed by Gondry as she watches singer Erykah Badu on stage:

“I really love that woman.  We all have our own thing – that’s the magic.  That everyone comes with their own sense of strength, and their own queendom.  Mine could never compare to hers, and hers could never compare to mine…she definitely led the way for me and a lot of other sisters, and you know, I appreciate it.”

Later, when asked if she was nervous to be going on after Badu, Jill Scott laughs at length and looks at Gondry, coyly: “Have you ever seen me perform?”

What gives you your confidence? How much time have you spent – artist or not – comparing yourself, or your talent, to someone else, using them as your measuring stick? Do you see others in your community as people who value you, and lift you up, or are they people to be taken down? How can we use this time to evaluate who we are in relation to those around us? Just some thoughts for you.  I hope these questions lead to good answers for you!

Until next time, be well!

Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and children, blogs at, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health.