Do you have your students work collaboratively on art-making projects?

In December 2015 I posted a blog about collaboration (To collaborate, or not to collaborate – that is the question!)

  • But the issue has come up again, this time with some questions from teachers in a visual arts workshop I am running.
  • My usual caveat is to do with problems with assessment of collaborative works, but to be honest that may not be the only problem.
  • There is a general assumption among many that collaborative learning is ‘a good thing’.

A more fundamental issue may be to do with collaboration itself, and the fact that sometimes it just doesn’t work.

People (students and/or adults) in groups do not always work together successfully.

Teachers in the workshop where this issue was raised had very mixed feelings about the usefulness – or otherwise – of collaboration.

Seven Deadly Sins

One teacher in the workshop shared his experience of a ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ project, where seven groups (three students in each group) were asked to work collaboratively to research, plan and create their own depictions of the Seven Sins. One ‘sin’ per group.

‘It was a nightmare. Lust and Gluttony were the only two groups that had any degree of balance in terms of work sharing. Greed and Pride were the worst, with one student in each group doing almost all of the work. Envy, Wrath and Sloth had constant arguments between themselves, spent far too much time talking (not always about their particular sin) and ended up with very little…’

I think we can recognise this scenario.

Many students like the idea of collaboration but in practical terms unless there is willingness, understanding and reasonable dynamic between the members of the group, its not safe to assume that the collaboration is going to be a success.

Also, in my experience a group of students rarely contribute exactly equally to any ‘group project’.

For one thing, some (predictably) are more industrious, creative and productive than others. Does this matter?

I guess that’s up for discussion!

Do artists work well in collaboration?

There certainly are examples of this – e.g. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat etc. – and I can understand that it can be a great and rewarding experience.


But still the student art-making collaborative project can be a risky undertaking, often with varying degrees of success, creativity and productivity.

Collaborate with care!


Photographs show students working in school on different collaborative projects.


Collaborative Learning: