“When I say artist I mean the one who is building things … some with a brush – some with a shovel – some choose a pen.” ~Jackson Pollock
We all, consciously or not, have our own idea of what art is.
Personally, I align with Mr Pollock – I believe art is intertwined with creativity and that humans are innately creative beings. But there are people who feel compelled to create things that we classify as art and so there is an arts industry full of people who are committed to their creativity.
I’m going to guess that when I say art you will likely think about painting, sculpture or drawing; perhaps the names van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol; maybe the works of Michelangelo and Da Vinci.
The Oxford dictionary defines art as: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
I would argue that art serves a greater purpose than just this.
Lately the arts in Australia has come under fire by the federal government with cuts and changes to the industry’s funding. It appears that the arts serve no economic purpose to this country currently worth supporting – look no further than the lockout laws of Sydney that have curbed many venues that were once the launching pads for emerging musicians or the artist run spaces closing down in the inner west as a result of noise complaints from the new rich flooding the neighbourhoods.
There is also this notion of free work that a lot of people who work in creative industries do to cut their teeth. Graphic designers, curators, installers, workshop facilitators, critics and reviewers are often exploited freely by people in exchange for “experience”. Could you imagine telling a stockbroker, dentist or lawyer that they will be working for free for their first few years after graduating?
And the loudest view of art held by the general public, at least during the reign of the current government, has been that it is a wasteful industry full of bludgers and hippies.
So where does that leave art in the modern day? Adrift at sea, somewhat misunderstood and awfully under supported.
As the dissenters say, what’s the big deal? It’s only art after all, right? Tax paying dollars could surely be better spent.
But think for a moment about how we know about history. How do we find out what has happened before our time?
Opera singer Beverly Sills said that “Art is the signature of civilizations”
Nowhere clearer can this be seen than in the legacies of ancient societies. The Ancient Greeks with their gods, philosophers, and their legacy of democracy are immortalised through sculptures, paintings, pottery, architectural feats and poetry. The Roman Empire left behind tomes of literature, perfected sculptures and heroic architecture. The Byzantine Empire dazzled us with prolific use of gold leaf used in their meticulous biblical paintings and the Ancient Egyptians scribed onto walls their rituals, customs and religious beliefs.
What would we know about these cultures without the art that preserved them in time? Without their art, what legacy would have been left for us to know where we have been and how we have come to be as we are now?
Is it important for us to know these things? Could we survive without knowing? Probably – but I think it would be boring.
So it appears that once upon a time the arts were held in high esteem and patrons supported artists. No longer, with the modern century art has become a cutthroat industry of survival. For every artist that makes it are hundreds of artists who have fallen by the wayside.
But more than the legacy that art can leave behind is also the immediate impact that art can have. It is something that is allowed to operate outside of normal, accepted social conventions. Art doesn’t have to adhere to linear rules and regulations. It is limited only by the imagination and perception of possibility. Art can reach beyond rhetoric because it comes in many different forms that are accessible by all kinds of people. Look to the works of guerrilla artists like Banksy, lyricists like Kendrick Lamar, Lorde & Rage Against the Machine and the works of Australian spoken word pets L-Fresh the Lion and Candy Royalle to name a few.
Art has the power to change the world by challenging our existing notions – but only if we let it, only if we support it.
It is the films and tv shows we watch, the music we listen to, the books, journals, newspapers we read, the galleries and music venues we visit, the technology we use every day, the cafes we sit in, the restaurants we dine in and even as commercial as our consumer experiences that are all a result of creative minds reaching out with their stories, words, pictures and ideas.
We are a society becoming increasingly more censored by our government and it is in these confines that creativity flourishes most. It is perhaps at this time that we need those creative voices to speak out for us. When we the normal citizens are shut down, it is our artistic community that has the power to subvert the mainstream narrative – to leave a lasting legacy of our time – and the tenacity to defy dictation.
The question I would put to you is how you value art in your life?