Sometimes people say you can tell it’s art because it’s useless. What they mean is that it is not part of everyday life, that it is somehow separate; it’s in a gallery.
“Arthur Danto, a philosopher, said an artwork is about something…The artwork isn’t just there; you have to fill in the gaps. But he also said that art needs an art-historical context. This is an institutional definition of art. The artwork needs to be in the context where you might find art.” P58, ‘Playing to the Gallery’, Grayson Perry.
I don’t want that for my art, and I don’t want it for art in general. Because I think we really need it. I believe, and know through experience, that art does things. It enables us to see ourselves, and believe that others like us exist in the world. It’s a way to express things that otherwise build up and make us sick. It can create physical spaces that are not commercial, reminding us that we have built this world, and we can build alternatives.
Art does things in the world, and it does things to us. And we’ve always done it. Those 30,000 year old cave paintings help me to remember, that we have always made images, of ourselves, each other, of every day life. And the extraordinaryness of everyday life. They think those images were lit by firelight. They think that they would have looked like they moved in the flicker. They think we might have danced there. They think they were FOR something. This is the art I want to make.
Sometimes I forget this- to trust in the work, to just get on and do it.
Recently I got reminded.
I’ve been doing a contract in place where people use mostly words, and make plans, and use the analytical, planning mind to do their mahi. It’s an important place, doing work that affects a lot of peoples’ lives. People really care about what they do, and they want to make a difference. I want to be here. I want to be in new contexts that are unfamiliar to me, and value the different ways of thinking that others have. And I’ve always wanted to be of use, to serve lots of different kinds of people, not just people who regularly access art spaces.
We are in a historical moment where divisions between people and perceptions of incompatibility are causing so much damage in our world. I have been consciously and deliberately challenging myself to make connections, listen and find common ground with people who think differently to me. I strongly believe that only by doing this difficult and delicate work of working for shared understanding, can we build bridges and connections that our future desperately needs.
I’ve been brought in to do what I do; tell lived stories in powerful and creative ways that reach people, and work to create change. I’ve experienced an unfolding trust in what I do being able to work in this new context, even though it doesn’t look like anything else around me. I’ve been listening hard, empathising, drawing in a way that I can share, showing my process, and storing every scrap of encouragement. I’ve been using my teaching experience to piece out digestible chunks of learning about the creative process, building capacity and a shared vision. Everything I do is called something different here; I’ve been learning a new language. And everything I’ve ever done is relevant.
I got to share some of what I and a team have been working on, to test how it works. Telling stories with words, but also images and experiential learning is what I do. I nearly pulled a drawing at the last minute, because it seemed so different to what I felt people would be expecting. It’s a pencil drawing of groups of people, looking straight out at you, meeting your gaze. My team encouraged me to keep it in, and I’m so grateful they did. We work-shopped the content, and I was shocked at the responses to the drawings. They told me yes, I love what the art is doing! / They put a face to the stories. / I can see the passion, and the pain, through the drawings. / Do more, we need to see them. / They are challenging, they are looking right at me, and we need more of that. / They bring it all to life. / Less words – the drawings are a place I can rest.
Make the faces, the people , a river that runs through everything.
I got reminded. Do the work, trust the methods, trust the people, all people, to respond to what we humans have done forever. Making images, sharing our lives, our experiences. And keep doing it everywhere, and draw the connections between peoples different worlds of work, and compassion, empathy and connection. Because we are all in this together, and we need every skill to be used.