There’s a free exhibition on at the National Gallery in London where they have two Sunflowers paintings by Van Gogh hanging side by side. One of them is normally to be found in London, the other is on loan from Amsterdam.
I went there yesterday, and it’s the most fascinating experience to see them together. Each painting quite clearly features the same vase of flowers. You can look between the two and see that the same flowers are present, sitting at the same angles in the same vase. What is really interesting is to look at the differences. The colour choices and the brush strokes are miles apart. Each one has been composed in its own exuberant way.
I don’t know why this made me think of collaborative writing, but it struck me very powerfully at the time that even a single person creating something is not a machine creating carbon copies. Here we have two depictions of the same thing by a single artist, each confidently unique. If a single writer were to create the same scene on two different days, perhaps in two different moods then they would write two different scenes, but each one would be valid and interesting in its own right.
This is amplified with collaborative writing. We look at the same picture, but make different choices about the words and the sentences we choose. We surprise each other, and occasionally shock each other, but we hope that we manage to make all the pieces feel as though they belong together.
The exhibition is on until the 27th April