Many years ago I travelled from the south of England to Chesterfield, North Derbyshire for a job interview. As I came off the motorway and travelled towards the town I was struck by the industry, the graffiti left over from the miner’s strike and the foul smell that met me from the coking plant. Decades later and the smell has gone. Chain restaurants have replaced the industry as have empty offices and DIY stores. But the biggest difference, for me, is the recent appearance of a glorious artwork in the middle of the roundabout as one enters the town. The work by Melanie Jackson represents a pomegranate flower in eight parts, made from stainless steel and dry stone walling. In this way it links to the coat of arms, the eight areas of Chesterfield, the twisted spire, local industrial history and the local rural heritage. The work is called ‘Growth’ and it is an uplifting influence on those, like me, who are local residents. It is an example of the role of public art and how it can relate to and influence the community.
Not all art is public. For myself art has been a therapeutic influence. Although not a trained art therapist I used art within therapy for over 20 years – my main methods involving drama in either a dramatherapy, socio drama or psychodrama format which is the area in which I do have direct training in. For me art can be pretty, well crafted things, that bring joy to the world. These pretty things, the wonderful watercolour landscapes and delicately designed vases, not only make the world nicer to live in - they make a statement. I seldom create a watercolour landscape but I was acutely aware that the last time I did I was doing so as a way of saying ‘I appreciate this view – it is important’. Most of my work is to do with exploration and expression and as such it often centers on things I struggle with. My work looks at depression, sin, pain, inner conflict and many other dark or uneasy subjects. When it comes to joyful topics I tend to be less natural and rely more on design methods and technique rather than direct expression
There are those who are not restricted to one particular style or form but seem to be able to cover the personal, serious, sad, vulnerable side of expression whilst also being able to create works of joy, fun and celebration.
I recently discovered the music of Lux Lisbon a 4 person Indy band that formed at Nottingham Uni. They are one of the few music makers that I listen to and have that ability to be able to explore heavy subjects with music that also lifts one up. In a similar way I have enjoyed the music and poetry of my friend Dave Banks who is able to move from the funny ditty to the chronicle of conflict. The lighter side not only energizes the listener but it serves as a life raft, one feels safe in entering the theatre of sad thoughts or the empathy of sharing another’s experience if one believes that the music can also bring us back to a safer place.
Whilst many find social media as a place for lonely souls and hatred expression I find it a place of sharing and connecting over many things – not least being art. When down or in need of culture or simply for it’s own sake I have found that a scroll through the right places will reveal a constant stream of wonderful images. In doing this I have recently discovered 3 artists who present very different works but give great examples of the process I have been talking about – the process of exploring both the celebration of life and also the darker areas. Before I mention them I would like to say something about how I see art as it has relevance to what is said later.
As far as one can define art my preference is the definition put forward by George Dickie -
A work of art is an artifact of a kind created to be presented to an artworld public.
This means that art is open to all forms of possibility and is not restrained by material, subject or mode of expression. It is a definition that I like but do have some problems with. When I wrote my dissertation I was interested in the question of ‘where’ art is rather than ‘what’ art is. To cut a long story short I came to the conclusion that art is not in the artist, the artwork or in the artworld public. The answer I came to was that art resides in the relationship between the artist and the public. The artist may well express, although it is far from uncommon for the artist to be unsure of what they are expressing, find this through process or may even avoid being consciously aware of what it is. But this is not art, the artwork may be a lump of stone, some sound waves or a bit of cloth with paint on it – in itself it is not art. The public may view or listen but unless that is done in an engaged way there is still no art. It is at the point when engagement happens that art comes alive. It is the relationship – the connection, which is the home of art. The artist creates/ expresses through an artwork and the public finishes it through their engagement with it.
Steve Fox is a clear example of this. Much of his work seem to be inspired by the great icons of recent decades, as a celebration of musical and fashion trends that captured our society. Another area of his work that overlaps with this is a personal style that is full of colour and life, having been described as being almost aboriginal in appearance. However, there is also another side to his work, a side that makes statements that are thought provoking and prompts the viewer to examine their own positions. Steve has this mastery of utilizing the works title into the impact of the work. An example of this is his work ‘The Chair’ in which a scantly dressed woman sits astride a chair. The focus is on the woman and the chair is drawn in a way that almost makes it a suggestion rather than the topic. The work itself shows the desperation of the woman whilst the title emphasizes how her state goes unseen – the parallels to how we fail to see the plight of people is apparent.
In a way this can also be seen by the work of Alison Jardine. Born in Yorkshire but now living in Texas, Alison’s work is varied in many ways. Much of her work has a sumptuous connection with nature – full of texture, depth and colour they are works that draw you in to a wonderful world of exploration. Working with a wide range of mediums her work also reveals the many levels that she operates on. Yes there are these wonderful nature based works but there are also other works such as her charcoal and graphite pieces that have equal depth and texture but in a different direction. Whilst her colourful works show an inviting unexplored land her charcoal works often have a sense of familiarity about them – that sense that although you have never been there, the woods in front of you trigger memories as if you had. But her work does not stop there – there are other works that have a clear personal and painful association. These works are not directly obvious in their history, two broken wine glasses do not give all the specific information about her past or an actual loss – and yet the power of the work engages you with those emotions – and that is it, that is the important bit.
As an artist Alison may be exploring her own past and hurt – that remains personal to her and yet the viewer can engage in that emotion whilst filling in the spaces with ones own information.
I never got into music, I was never a mod or a rocker and much of the sixties I have forgotten – but the celebratory nature of Steve’s work goes beyond the detail – I may not even know who the work is about but I can feel the sense of joy and importance and respect that it holds. In the same way I am able to understand the message of what is being shown through the title and the work and then fill in the spaces as I am energized to do so in a far deeper way than would have been achieved by a written statement. The music of Lux Lisbon with it’s energy, youth and life mixed with the messages behind it carries me to new places whilst the poetry and music of Dave can make me smile long enough to cope with the solemnity and importance of his other work.
This is why art is important to me, or at least it is part of it. Art can affect a whole community, it can make the world more joyous, it can help with personal development and the healing of wounds, it can help share and connect and it can find other ways of seeing.
And yet this barely scratches the surface of why art is important – it can do all this and all the examples I have given are from contemporary sources that I have had contact with. Art goes far beyond that. What I have said about these people I could be saying about other people who lived and died thousands of years ago. Even early cave paintings somehow give us a timeless connection. The music from the renaissance and the pop singer Vitas (витас) could not be any more different and yet I feel a connection with them both. Art transcends time and distance and whilst one can try to explain why it is so important there is always more that is unsaid – art runs through us as part of our life force – we can calm it – sometimes – but it always finds a way out - it is not a desire it is a basic need and that is why I agree with the likes of the energetic and gifted Jesse James Rice, writer, director and performer, when he shares the sentiment -
Doing, on the other hand, wastes very little time at all. I've decided to focus on doing.
And no great film was ever finished by anyone just 'being'. They had to put that body in motion, throw a camera and lights up, and organize a team to shoot, record, and edit those pictures.
Who wants to do with me?
Jesse, like everyone else I have mentioned, is not an artist by choice – the choice is not ‘whether to be an artist’ it is only ‘how to be an artist’.