Taylor Hadley interviews Victoria Tane and Amee K. Sweet McNamara about their artistic collaborations.
Click here to catch up on Part I of this interview!
Q: What skills have you learned from each other that are evident in your work?
Victoria: I have learned to tighten up and refine my process, and make my jewelry neater and cleaner. Amee has learned to look at things like old broken costume jewelry in a completely different way.
Amee: Victoria taught me almost all of my “Jewelry 101;” – before working with her, I did not know how to make a centered loop or use crimps. She also introduced me to “Sheppard’s Crook” closures which I used in my necklaces for a long time.
Q: This great article from the Huffington Post talks about artist collaboration – my favorite part says: “Questions will come up around collaborative projects. Where did the original idea come from? How was it transformed by the conversation? Who had more of a hand in the final execution? The answer to all of the above is, “Who cares?” While artists each deserve fair credit and compensation, openness, humility and commitment to the output or product are most important.” How would you respond to that?
Victoria: I think when it comes to collaboration, there is a certain point at which the contributions of the two people are so great and so back-and-forth that it’s hard sometimes to remember who had the original idea. That said, it’s human nature to want to get credit for an idea. But collaborating means putting ego aside and embracing the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Amee: “Who cares?” is a sort of shorthand for suggesting that these things are unimportant. In truth, however, I think collaborative efforts work best when both parties care very much – about the other person. Victoria and I are relentless promoters of one another’s work and talents. I know that when she shows or sells a necklace that contains components I made for her, she talks about me and my business. And when I discuss my book with anyone, I am quick to point out the foreword Victoria generously wrote for me and I use that as a platform to talk about her eclectic, “Elegance through Upcycling” jewelry and the tremendous positive force she has been in my creative and professional life.
Q: Many artists feel very protective of their work and are afraid to share their resources or information, how do you feel about that and what limits do you have on sharing information?
Victoria: I think it’s really a matter of the personal relationship and the sense of trust between the artists. My feeling with Amee is to share whatever I have without limit because I know she has a completely different way of approaching jewelry. We inspire each other back-and-forth. But in the end, neither of us can steal the other’s brain.
Amee: Victoria and I have an agreement that – other than with each other – we are very careful about sharing wholesale resources. This is simply to protect the uniqueness of certain ingredients we both use. Other than that, we both share and teach pretty readily.
Q: Has there ever been a time where you felt threatened by a piece that the other person has produced?
Victoria: I don’t really feel threatened by a piece that another person has produced that may be inspired by mine. My inspiration largely comes from the materials that I find which a lot of people just consider to be junk. I tend not to produce the same design over and over. I may use conventional techniques in the creation of my jewelry, but the end result is different because of my choice of materials. I have seen knockoffs of some of my better pieces in magazines. And I have to say rather than being angry I am very flattered.
Amee: No. I have a vague idea that there have been times that Victoria has asked me, “Do you mind if I use thus and such? Would it be OK if I made/sold this thing?” and I’m sure there have been times that I’ve said, “No – I’d really prefer that you don’t,” and I’m equally sure that the same conversation has been had in reverse. But I can’t recall ever feeling threatened or uncomfortable with anything being produced or sold precisely because we have always been able to so comfortably communicate.
Q: How do you continue to grow as an artist and not fall into the “scarcity mentality”, or the idea that there is not enough to go around?
Victoria: To continue to grow as an artist, you really need to keep a fresh and open mind, which is easier said than done. For me, an example of the scarcity mentality is the fear of never having another good idea. People who have known me for many years have heard me worry that this will happen. But by the very nature of the creative process you are constantly moving forward and finding new inspirations. It’s hard when you make art for a living not to fall into the scarcity mentality. Trusting that there is enough to go around comes from being generous with your knowledge and encouraging the creative exchange of ideas. Picasso copied George Braque during his Cubist phase, so it is the history of human kind to teach and to learn. Donna Karan worked for Ann Klein before she went out on her own. It’s the way of the world that people learn from each other. By being so protective of one’s process and materials, it really limits the artist to doing the same thing over and over again, and really not allowing them to learn or to grow. The opposite of the Scarcity Mentality is the Generosity Mentality.
Amee: “Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” -Alice in Wonderland. I think that if you’re truly an artist and not just a one-trick pony, then your brain is almost constantly bubbling over with ideas – six impossible things before breakfast. More than you can act on. More than you can implement. And the end-result is a sort of treasure-chest of concepts, like a trunk full of high-end designer clothes that you’ve never worn either because they’re not quite your color or not quite the right fit… they basically still have the tags on and might be a great fit for somebody else… why not share them?
Q: Talk about what has worked well, and what has been a challenge, of the time you spend sharing ideas.
Victoria: What has worked the best between Amee and me is when we work alongside of each other. We have flirted with the idea of being in business together, but decided that we would bring out the best of each other if we can work side by side as fellow creative spirits without the demands of running a business.
Amee: What works best for Victoria and me is keeping our time together focused on “pure creativity.” That might manifest as a sort of show and tell, sharing recent work or a full-on “play date” where one of us brings a bunch of supplies for a new technique and we just sit around a work table gleefully dabbling. What has not worked well in the past have been attempts or discussions revolving around trying to “work” together – any ideas that have revolved around merging our businesses, one of us working for the other or creating a new, mutually owned company have flared up with tremendous energy but then fizzled almost immediately. We’ve gone through those discussions several times and have come out the other side with a clear understanding that our friendship and our creative/collaborative relationship (not to mention our fierce passion about our own respective, individual businesses!) are too important to be subject to the vagaries and pitfalls inherent in a financial/business partnership.
Q: Would you call your time sharing together a conversation? Describe the process that leads to an end result, is it mostly casual and random, or is there a process each time.
Victoria: I would definitely call our monthly time together a conversation. As a matter of fact we often sit over coffee first catching each other up to date on the new things in our lives whether it be relationships or art or business. Although it is casual, we do plan a project which we don’t always complete. I work slower than Amee. Because of my Parkinson’s I am not as deft with my hands. Recently we were working with my kiln and precious metal clay. Next time we will fire the pieces we made.
Amee: Our time together is probably best described as “play.” We’re like little kids allowed to have what is now called “unstructured time” together. It’s very casual and it changes every time. Sometimes we work all day on a specific technique. Sometimes I bring materials we never touch. The point of it, I think, is to not try to adhere too rigidly to any particular process or schedule other than “show up and see what happens.”
As an introvert with creative tendencies, I can certainly relate to the often solitary work style of artists. Although I am often drawn to do my work alone, I found great inspiration in hearing from both Victoria and Amee that while collaborating is not always a walk in the park, it can provide fresh perspectives and encouragement that might not happen otherwise.
I think that too often fears of criticism or being knocked off, and a desire for credit, inhibit our ability to share and collaborate. Victoria and Amee have shown me that, especially when collaborating with someone you trust and respect, it is not necessarily to produce one final product together. Rather, it is an opportunity to teach and learn and foster the “Generosity Mentality”.
Taylor Hadley is a Public Relations student at Loyola University Maryland, and has worked with Victoria Tane Studios since 2010.