Be Smart About Art

Art doesn't need deep meaning - beauty matters too

written by: Susan Mumford March 12, 2017 Sunday blog - The art world in bite-sized stories 1449 views

Art doesn't need deep meaning - beauty matters too

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As a kick-off to Women’s History Month* this year, I moderated a panel discussion that contemplated “Bridging the Divide.” This was in mind of the polarization between people with differing views that’s been sweeping the USA, UK and beyond, and considered the roles of art and community in bringing people together.

At the reception afterwards where attendees could meet the speakers, a photographer told me what brought her to the occasion: she wanted to find out if there is still a place for an artist like her. She was concerned that since her work isn’t political or activist in nature, as she produces images of beautiful landscapes, there was no longer any point in carrying on making more.  

It so happens that the role art plays, from expressing life to displaying the beauty of the world, had already been raised in the lead up to the panel discussion. No matter the political landscape or societal upheavals, nobody, and I mean nobody, can take away artistic expression, including the photographer’s landscape pieces, musical compositions, dance performances, poetry – you name it.

And not only is art important for the makers, it plays an important role for the viewers / participants, too. It can take people on journeys to other worlds, ground them, provide relaxation, feel at peace, and much, much more.

While concerns about art for art’s sake might be particularly noticeable during turbulent times, related concerns are always bubbling away underneath the surface. I recall a painter who liked making portraits purely for what they were, without any serious concept behind them. While it took him a few years to stop worrying about the pressure applied by other artists and industry professionals who wanted there to be a conceptual twist that simply didn’t exist, he eventually came to peace with the truth: he loved the craft of painting, pure and simple.

And if you’re still concerned about the role your art plays in the current day, consider this point: It can help to bring together people, no matter their political views. Someone with opposing political perspectives might have complimentary artistic sensibilities to yourself. This area of common ground can play an important role in maintaining friendships and acquaintances, and can also aid the willingness of people to work together.

Whatever your creative discipline, it plays an important role today, as it does every day. It’s a form of expression and experience that stands to bring people together. Remember to cherish art as a discipline that transcends all else.


*Women’s History Month takes place annually in March. Find out more in Wikipedia here.  

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I had this debate with myself as an actor about 8 years ago (when I nearly gave it up). Art (in whatever form - theatre, dance, painting, sculpture, music) does two things: it reflects life or it relieves it. Beautiful photos, paintings, the entertainment industry have just a valid a place as social drama, reportage, satirical songs etc etc. They all serve a purpose. And unwittingly make a political statement (though some not as overt as others). But just as valid, even if to give relief or add beauty to the world. Sometimes, even more necessary than the political statement. Keep doing it. X

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A friend of mine who is very much a reSister (new word from last week ;) posted this to her Facebook account just after the womens' march in January. I share it here because I think it gives insight on the importance of all art (political and non political, perhaps the latter more so in this case) from someone who is not an artist/maker herself but an activitist deeply engaged with current American politics in ways that leave me exhausted just to think about:

"This has been a shitty week. There is no getting around that fact. I've been active politically and have worked my job and volunteered and been a mom and a wife and a friend...but I've retreated a lot. I've read 5 books. I've watched 3 movies. I've watched countless tv shows. I've gone to a concert. I've lost myself in art. So my request to artists, authors, actors and musicians is simple - keep doing what you are doing. In a shitty week your work has been my solace and my source of rejuvenation and joy. Don't stop creating, because we need you now more than ever. In return I will fight for the NEA and the NEH and public radio and tv. But I need your sanctuaries to retreat to so that I can keep up that fight. Don't stop. Keep creating."

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I am in Japan at the moment, have been here for 6 weeks on a self funded residency and have a further 2 glorious weeks left. I really do not want to go back home. I have been to many diverse galleries, seen the Yayoi Kusama exhibition and been able to conduct my own work which has included wandering the streets of Tokyo in the early hours of the morning... in complete safety. It has been harmonious here, and my work has gone berserk with colour because I finally feel alive! It so fresh clean and invigorating.The clear blue skies have definitely helped too.

Going back to UK feels like omg I have to go back to such a depressed country. It's all about the rage and the protests and the someone done me wrong songs, being an old white woman also means I have no political axe to grind, apart from the raging ageism in art. Emerging has to be under yadda yadda, like do me a favour, we can all die anytime so just quit with the young need it more than the old and look at the work, emerging is emerging.

I want my work to remove people from the grey not hammer it home til we all just kill ourselves. We all know their are many injustices in the world, we all know the environment is being wrecked, we all know the seas are dying and suffocating in plastic, we all know horrible people abuse, torture and kill animals, we all know our food is being tampered with and its highly likely once the bees die off, big agriculture will move in with the GMO's and hike up food costs, we all know fracking takes clean water and renders it useless waste, we all know oil companies do as they please, we all know the UK government is breaking up and selling off the crown jewels, (green fields and the NHS), to the highest bidder (entrepreneurs, business men and developers), we all know women get a raw deal, (well less so in Japan because I rate being able to wander alone in the dark without fear of being attacked by a man and being told 'well you asked for it being out alone' as one massive bonus!)

I want my work to be an escape from all the crap we all read every day of our lives of facebook. Art is allowed to be fun, we are allowed to have fun, we are allowed to celebrate the fact we are still breathing! Yes fully aware we are breathing air pollution and yes planes do chem trail us, but let's have a time out from all our worries and let art be art, a thing of magnificence and wonder if just for a brief interlude in our ragey protesty lives. Art can serve a purpose in that respect too.

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Thank you for introducing this subject that clearly affects us all. I know that the world is always full of beauty, ugliness, peace and violence. That is a constant. As artists, we make a personal choice to calm, shock, inspire, motivate, or depress our audience. Expression of our own personal imperative attracts others who think or feel like we do. I believe that if we are true to ourselves, our art will communicate an honesty that transcends current trends and superficial style, regardless of medium.

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I am very involved with the healing arts and believe that art, for both the maker and viewer, can play a restorative role. Today more than ever, we need to enter our homes, offices and wherever life leads us and feel refreshed. Go ahead and paint, photograph and enjoy beauty! Where art soothes, hope rises.

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An interesting perspective on an issue that I've also been thinking more about in recent months. I think we can all make use of a bit of straightforward beauty in these ugly times, although an image of a beautiful landscape can't help but be political too, probably more so now than ever.

Anyway, thanks for another interesting blog. My weekly blog is down to about one every six months. I don't know how you do it...