Lennon and McCartney. Orville and Wilbur Wright. Mulder and Scully.
As individuals, they’re all brilliant. As collaborative duos, they accomplished things that may have otherwise been impossible.
In Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs, Joshua Wolf Shenk explains that the strongest partnerships evolve from these 5 dynamics:
- They “get” each other
- They embrace rivalry and enjoy the occasional sparring match
- They own their respective roles in the limelight and behind the scenes
- They share powerful bonds
- They find a balance between connection and autonomy
With those in mind, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite creative collaborations in recent history to show the power of pairing up.
Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel
Dali’s known for his haunting-meets-breathtaking Surrealist art. In 1929, he collaborated with filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the silent short Un Chien Andalou, a film that breathes light into the concepts present in Dali’s work: disjointed chronologies, nonsensical storylines, and pieces of reality.
Through that collaboration, the artists became 2 of the first filmmakers to join the Surrealist movement—and they were even commissioned to do a sequel.
The power of converging mediums? The 2 artists would never have created Un Chien Andalou alone.
Marina Abramović and Ulay
For 12 years in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Serbian artist Marina Abramović and her partner Ulay merged their identities through various performance art pieces.
Their romance ran its course, and they said their goodbyes in—you guessed it—a performance art piece.
5 years ago at MoMA, Abramović performed The Artist Is Present, tracing her own career across 4 decades of interventions, sound pieces, installations, photographs, and performances.
As part of the piece, she invited crowds to sit across from her in silence. In the opening exhibit’s crowd was someone she hadn’t seen in over 22 years: Ulay.
They shared an unexpected, unspoken dialogue that left the Internet buzzing.
That performance is a testament to the power of the unexpected in creative work. Abramović went from niche performance art to mainstream with that installation, inspiring Jay-Z’s concept for the “Picasso Baby” music video.
Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog
’90s arthouse films were marked by the partnership of director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski, who worked together on Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde, and Aguirre, the Wrath of God. They even made a documentary about their volatile relationship, titled My Best Fiend.
They definitely embraced rivalry, to put it nicely. During the production of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Herzog threatened to shoot Kinski if he walked out on set.
Still, Herzog admired Kinski as an actor, and vice-versa—they respected each other’s contributions and were highly productive.
Steve Jobs and Lee Clow
Sometimes the best thing that comes from collaboration is simplicity.
For over 30 years, Jobs and Clow created what Business Insider described “some of the most iconic commercials in advertising history.” Clow was the adman who brought Jobs’ vision for simplicity to life. His company even helped with writing the manuals for the original Mac to avoid confusing customers with technical jargon.
From iPod shadow silhouettes to the “Think Different” slogan, Apple’s branding was both simple and memorable.
As Clow explains (video):
I think, even though I’m sure [Jobs] didn’t think it through, that his intuition told him that he’d introduce the world to technology that was going to change everyone’s life and do special things, but at the same time, it was going to be new, it was going to be scary, and people weren’t going to know what to do with a computer, or if they even needed one.
These 4 duos should inspire us to step outside of our comfort zones and see new angles, build upon ideas, and counterbalance weaknesses. After all, even when we’re not designing, we’re artists at heart.