Yes, and

So this was meant to be small and short, and isn’t, but I want to get this down because I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Yes, and.

I first heard about it when I interned for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in the early aughts. It’s a part of improv; when you’re working with others, when they throw you an idea, or they throw one out to get picked up and carried over the next goal line:

Yes, and.

It’s a simple principle, and it’s terrifying, and it’s the thing that will make us better people and it’s what shows us to be good people.

In a collaboration, the instict to deny or negate comes from a protection of the self — sometimes a concern over sovereignty, over who gets the credit, over the dilution of ideas. But real collaboration, teamwork, trust, does not happen unless there’s this sense of yes, and.

As I think about it closely I lose the feel of it, and it’s frustrating. It was clear to me when I was at a writer’s festival early last month, listening to people I admire both professionally and now personally, as they talked to one another on stage. Genuine admiration and support — not the sugary bullshit that we can all discern when we see it. There’s a kind of honesty demanded from yes, and.

I think I have notes written about it but I don’t want to go downstairs right now.

Anyway. Yes, and. It forces you to lock down prejudices and assumptions. Certainly, this isn’t the way to go when you’re being genuinely threatened. But when someone comes to you earnestly and honestly and presents something, take the extra seconds of thought to contrast what might be your initial reaction with yes, and. And it’s not a sarcastic and, it’s not

Yes, and?

It’s an affirmation and build. You accept what someone’s given you, you work with it, and you add something of your own that builds positively on what you’ve been handed. The final answers that may come from a long string of yes, and may not be immdiately useful, but what happens around that conversation is priceless. People will trust you when you listen, when you show you listen and then back it up with words and actions. Saying yes, and is an affirmation. And when it’s done toward you, the feeling is deeply surprising, possibly because we as a people are very fearful and cagey right now. But when someone genuinely says to you, “yes, and here’s this thing that builds on what you gave me, on to the next person,” the usual calluses of the heart shear away in that moment of suprise.

Or at least that’s how it is to me.

Being vulnerable, in my mind, is the only honest way of making art. Vulnerable to criticism, vulnerable to judgment. Wearing your heart on your sleeve not only keeps you honest — people can spot shifty art from a mile away — but it keeps your heart honest. You’re forced to think about others because you’re leaving yourself, raw, out in the open, too.

Or at least that’s how it is for me.

I’d like to incorporate more yes, and in my life. I tried to do it, to a limited extent, when I taught first year English composition for a little while. I was still new to the notion of it, and I was also in a fairly nasty financial situation, so my heart-callus was pretty thick and not readily sloughing off. But there were days when I did that: when I was generous with the people I worked with, I was teaching, and even if most of them took advantage of it, the ones who did responded in a way that made the effort worth it every time.

Just a thought that’s been banging through my head for the past few weeks.

Yes, and.

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4 Responses to Yes, and

  1. Kevin Powe says:

    Just wanted to say, read this and really dug it. It’s SO hard to do in collaboration, and so dependent on finding people you trust. But when it comes off right, it’s like playing with the awesomest box of toys ever, and they keep getting more awesome right before your eyes!

    • Lois says:

      Thank you! It’s an idea that I sort of have to talk around; it’s easier to show it in action, rather than describe it in words. The comments on this DeviantArt page are, to me, an example of the YES, AND in action:

      It really is a process in which the whole, ever so slightly and cumulatively, becomes greater than the sum of its parts. My hair stands on end thinking about it!

  2. I love it, Lois. I was just thinking about this this morning, whilst hiding in the bathroom from the children. Because I woke up thinking about how much fun it would be to collaborate and what a monumental shift in perspective this is for me. Even the words ‘dilution of ideas’ crossed my brain, and I wondered if this old taboo could actually improve my work. And then I read your post. To say that I am now lulled by the synchronicity of your words is an under-statement. Perhaps today was the day I was going to dismantle my suspicion of visual artists and their semiotic systems, but it seems you are there with me, after all.