Tag Archives: art

Art and comfort

It’s the challenging art that gets taken most seriously. Literary fiction is difficult, and may be uncomfortable. Anything that is mostly written to make you feel good, is usually deemed frivolous. It’s the same with film, with music and all other creative forms. If it requires effort then it is ‘good art’ and if it is easy then what you have is low brow, trivial and unimportant. It is my considered opinion that this is useless thinking.

Good art should discomfort the comfortable. This is a useful idea and it is well worth creating things that get under the radar and challenge people who mostly have things all their own way. But the flip side of this is that good art should also comfort the uncomfortable – and right now that’s most of us. The vast majority of us are one or two paychecks at best from total disaster. We’re dealing with a pandemic, with loss of liberty, fear of our political leaders and the horror of climate chaos. There are a great many of us right now who urgently need not to be challenged any more than we already are.

Good art does not have to make everyone uncomfortable. Comforting people is a good thing. Joy is a good thing. A happy ending isn’t somehow less meaningful than a harsh one, and right now may be the more imaginative stretch. We need hope, and ideas and a sense that it is worth keeping trying. Wherever you find that, is valid.

Beauty is not trivial. Bringing beauty into the world for its own sake is a good and worthy activity, and just as virtuous as challenging people. Happiness is not trivial, and most people could do with a good deal more of it.

Anyone who has enough emotional resilience that they can afford to be knocked around by things they engage with recreationally, clearly has plenty of privilege. They should totally get on with whatever painful education they feel they need. Anyone whose personal situation means they need to grapple with the hard stuff for processing, for catharsis, for understanding how they got where they are – should be free to do that on whatever terms they like. But if you don’t have the emotional resources to be heartbroken over art on top of everything else, don’t internalise any weird judgements over that. Delight is valid too.

And right now, hope feels considerably more radical than despair.


Not Punching Nazis

Realistically, I am never going to punch a Nazi. I’ve never punched anyone, I’m not especially strong, and in an emergency, it is unlikely to be my first response. If it was a case of fighting for my life or trying to protect someone else, I’d be more likely to kick than punch, but in a scenario where there is violence, I am going to be injured, or die.

What I can do more usefully, is put my body in the way. I’m large, white and female. Some of that might function as privilege in some contexts. Some of it might make another person pause for a few seconds. And also, I have size. I can do a fair bit of getting in the way. I’m heavy enough that I can be a nuisance to remove. I can put my body between people who are more vulnerable than me, and possible threats. It’s something I’ve already explored a little bit and is one way I am confident that I can be anti-fascist in a physical context.

I’m openly queer, openly polyamorous, openly Pagan, openly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, openly opposed to fascism. These are not things that can automatically be identified by looking at me. But I have no doubt that if the fascists took over, I would be on a list fairly quickly. I am exactly the sort of person to be disappeared in that kind of scenario. I would like to think I’d manage to put up some kind of fight, but it would also depend on whether I would make other people safer or more at risk by so doing.

The state of the world frightens me. But, resistance is important, and there are many ways to resist. Kindness is resistance. Putting love and beauty into the world is a good way of pushing back against hate and intolerance. Make good things, share good things, take care of who you can, speak up when you can, amplify whoever you can. Vote, petition, march. Share, gift, feed people, help out. A culture of kindness and inclusion is the only thing that will work for the longer term. Punching a Nazi doesn’t deal with the underlying causes of fascism, and we need to deal with those underlying causes.

One of the key things that takes people into far right thinking and the desire to hurt and harm others, is lack of empathy. We can learn empathy. One of the most powerful teaching tools for building empathy in others is in fact the novel, as through novels we can live many lives, understand different perspectives and learn how to empathise with others. (There is science! The novels-empathy thing is evidenced.) Buying books for people might be more effective than punching them. Writing books and telling stories turns out not to be some kind of self indulgent silliness that has no place in the revolution… art may in fact be the revolution. It may be our best way of saving ourselves from the worst parts of each other. And if all else fails, I guess hitting a Nazi with a really heavy fantasy hardback is always going to be worth a thought.


Not doing Inktober

October is the month when Inktober happens, with prompts to do an ink drawing every day. I’ve tried it twice and never quite managed. There are of course many of these out there, for art, writing and probably other things too. The idea is to build skills. I find them to be a bit of a mixed bag.

There are obvious advantages to doing something every day – you build skills and discipline and you improve at doing the thing, whatever it is. Much of what we do is habit, and getting into the habit of doing something creative every day can be really helpful. Making time every day for creativity is a good thing, too. Sharing creativity with friends who are doing the same month long whatever it is can be fun and community building and mutually supportive.

But…

It can also be a distorting experience. I’ve seen how some people react to NaNoWriMo around expectations of published success, and I worry for them. I see what not completing the month can do in terms of feelings of failure and inadequacy. It can turn something that might have been a pleasure into a chore. For people working in creative industries, it can be one more burden, one more stress, feeling the pressure to get involved but not really getting much benefit from it.

I’m not doing Inktober this year. I don’t have the time or the energy and I don’t want to make my life any more challenging right now. However, I am trying to make time to draw more often as something I do for me. This has definitely improved my drawing skills, and I enjoy it more when I’m not trying to keep up with some arbitrary program.

The key thing, clearly, is to do what works for you. This means paying attention to whether something really works for you or not. If it makes you happy, do it! If devoting a month to something is useful, or productive for you, then go for it. If the tools, community and sharing aspect helps you get motivated, excellent! Do it your way. Do it on your terms. Ignore any aspect that doesn’t suit you. If it’s not giving you something, you don’t owe it your time and energy.

I firmly believe that everyone should have the time, energy and resources to be creative on a regular basis. I also know that many people do not have that. I would like it to be much more normal for people to do creative things for the sheer joy of it, without having to make it pay, but in reality many people cannot afford that time. We need better distributions of work, money and play, and then any month could be a month you devote to doing something special.

Here’s a recent ink piece of mine – Salamandra from Hopeless, Maine.


All art is political

All art is political. If you can’t see the political dimension of a piece of art this is because it aligns neatly with your own world view and requires no effort on your part. If you are cis, white and male and you’re used to it being normal for the main character to be cis, white and male, then you won’t see anything remotely political about this representation. This happens at the unpleasant end of comics reading rather a lot. To introduce diversity is political, to carry on with this – from the perspective of those who support it – isn’t.

Anything that upholds the current system and gives us what we expect can be misread in this way. However, given the many problems and failings of western colonial culture, to present it unchallenged is to be political. We are killing our planet, ourselves and each other with pollution, climate change, loss of resources and over-consumption. To ignore that is political. Art that doesn’t mention these issues is political.

Equally, art that has no room for vast swathes of diversity and experience, is political. If there is no room in your story for queers, if disabled people don’t exist, and poor people are just cannon fodder and BAME people don’t get speaking parts, or are just there to be exotic eye candy… then the art is political.

All creators exist in a political context. All creators are impacted by the laws and financial realities of the time and place in which they create. Some creators have massive privilege – family wealth, education, support, nepotism, opportunities… some creators do not. Publishing is not good at diversity. Getting an arts education is a lot easier if you can afford one, and doors open for people who know people who work in the right places. It is impossible to make art that is not political. If you find it easy to make and sell your work and give no thought to the context that makes it easy for you, your art still has a political dimension.

If you can ignore the political context in which you create or consume art, that’s political. It means you are safe, and have privilege and can choose whether to engage or not. Marginalised people don’t have the luxury of that choice. If politics are done to you, then you don’t get to choose whether you engage or not, and the political dimension in which your art occurs is there whether you wanted it in the mix or not.

Then there’s the politics of how we think about it. Whether we see an art item or a craft item is a political issue. The way in which beautifully made and decorated items with utility are hived off as craft is a political decision that impacts on how the arts of working people are understood.

So, next time you see someone complaining about an artist bringing politics to their work, bear this in mind. Some creators don’t get a choice, because who they are means that their work will always be viewed in political terms even if they don’t really want it to be. Art only seems not to be political if it expresses and reinforces your world view, and that’s a very politically loaded thing to have happening unquestioned.


Art and intention

The images in this blog post are inspired by pre-historic art. The hands come from cave pictures where pigment has been blown around hands to leave the shape of them. The surrounds are taken from rock art styles. In the normal scheme of things these two arts would never meet, but I’m not doing this for reconstruction.

I started this quartet because Dr Abbey Masahiro asked me to draw the four of us. I’m not good at literal representation, so the idea of drawing around household hands appealed to me and let me play with the pre-historic imagery as well. Tom had to draw Dr Abbey’s hand from photos so that one came out differently, it doesn’t have quite the same shape as a hand pressed down onto paper and drawn around.

Dr Abbey has been bringing magic into my life for some months now. I’ve been cautious about what to say online. But, he’s very much co-dreaming the future with myself, Tom and James at the moment and it felt like the right time to move from alluding to him, to naming him outright and claiming him.

Also, I did these pieces with my grandmother’s paper and oil pastels. Today is the 100th anniversary of her birth. It seemed like a good day to post this.

This is my hand – the left as I mostly draw right handed. The background is inspired by Irish rock art that I saw referred to online as being flying saucers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tom’s hand came out a little chunkier than it is in real life. The background for his was inspired by Newgrange rock art and is my favourite of the backgrounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James’s hand. My very large Tigerboy, often alluded to here over the years, now all grown up. He has the same thumb shape as me. I gave him geometric rock art because he’s the one with the maths and science skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abbey’s hand with a background taken from cup and bowl rock art. We had to guess relative hand sizes – his hand is about the same size as mine here. There’s none of the shape distortion that comes from pressing down. It was a strange and emotional process for me, working with the shape of a hand I have not touched, but will.


The Enemy of Art?

“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall” – Cyril Connolly.

“Ash is sitting on the potty doing a pencil drawing while reciting loudly and accurately from Fortunately the Milk. I have to go away and hide and write for two weeks. I am going to miss this little wood-elf more than I can say.” Neil Gaiman, twitter, this week.

As a writer who had a baby (I’m female-ish, non-binary) I had to figure out how the writing was going to fit around the child. As a relatively poor person I had to take care of the child, the needs of the child. I could not have ever afforded to take a couple of weeks off for writing while someone else took care of my small child. I regret nothing. I would not have done differently if I’d had the money.

What I hate, passionately, is this idea that to be a good creator you have to be cut off from life in this way. I hate it just as much as I hate it when Tory politicians speak with pride about having never changed a nappy. I hate the way we devalue parenthood, and I really hate the way we devalue fatherhood.

I hate the way in which Neil Gaiman has presented this like the only way he can possibly write is by going away for two weeks. It perpetuates the idea that serious work has to happen outside the domestic sphere and that for people (usually men) who are important, going away to do the important things is just what you have to do. This is bullshit.

It isn’t easy being a parent and anything else at the same time. Most of us who have children do that, though. We have jobs, and other responsibilities, and we figure it out as best we can and do what we can, and take pride in the work and the parenting. It isn’t easy finding the focus and energy to work on creative projects when raising a small child. Many of us manage, all the same. Many of us do not experience that managing as some kind of heroic sacrifice.

I have every sympathy with anyone whose economic situation impacts on their scope for parenting – that’s a very different thing. I have every sympathy for parents whose work involves travel, and for the challenges and juggling involved. I’m frankly tired of the affluent men who think that raising their small children is someone else’s job.


Tree Love

I took a tree theme for this year’s inktober, although I didn’t manage an ink drawing every day. For the first time, I did the ink drawings without sketching in pencil first.

 

If you’d like to join me in supporting The Woodland Trust, visit https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ 


What makes some art sacred?

Fellow Moon Books author Imelda Almqvist has suggested using #SacredArt over on Twitter to talk about just that thing. So, what makes art sacred? In the bard tradition, it’s not just visual art that has spiritual significance. For bards the word, spoken or sung is primarily where its at. Modern bards tend to embrace all forms of creativity as potential bardic expressions, but that doesn’t mean all creativity is necessarily bardic.

Here are some thoughts about what separates sacred bardic creativity from regular creativity.

  • Where you get your inspiration from. If the work is inspired by spiritual experience then it’s fair to think of it as a spiritual activity.
  • If you are doing the work as an invitation for something to work through you, to receive messages and insights or otherwise open yourself to magic and inspiration, then there is a sacredness to it.
  • Who you create for – now, there may have to be a commercial aspect to this because everyone has to eat, but if your primary concern is with offering your creativity back to whatever you hold sacred, then there’s clearly a sacred art aspect to your work too. On the bard path, we also identify a spiritual aspect in using your creativity for the good of your land and tribe, so art for activism, inclusion and culture shift can also be seen as having a spiritual dimension.
  • If you create to bring spiritual ideas and feelings to people regardless of how spiritually inclined they are – there’s a sacred art aspect to your work.

Any piece of work could be driven by one of these factors, or combinations of factors. It may be the essence of the whole piece or project, or just a part of it.

In terms of that fourth point, it’s often work that isn’t overtly spiritual that has the most chance of connecting with people who are not currently feeling inspired or magical. Work that gets in under the radar can have powerful, transformative effects. It can impact on people who would actively turn away if they thought you were going to offer them something with a religious aspect. Sometimes, it’s by having that sacred aspect be one thread amongst many that you have the best chance of engaging people whose hearts might otherwise be closed to you.

To be recognised as a bard means persuading other humans that what you do is bardic. However, when it comes to the question of whether your art is sacred or not, no one else has any right to try and define that for you. If it feels sacred to you, then it is sacred.


Things I am up to

This week I finished colouring volume 3 of Hopeless Maine. It’s the second graphic novel I’ve coloured, and the first time on my own project. For those of you less familiar with the mechanics of comics making – this is normal. Making a comic involves writing a script, drawing it, colouring, inking (or over-lining in our case) and lettering the pages. These can all be done by different people, and in the more famous comics there is more of a production line approach to creation.

I started working on pages back when Tom did a project called The Raven’s Child. I took on some of the shading work to try and get him some breaks and time off. It’s not unusual in the comics industry for people to work ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks, and for a while we did that. We’ve since decided that the artist-killing industry model is not for us and that we’d like to spend the rest of our lives with functioning spines.

The first graphic novel I coloured was mediaeval set and a take on King Arthur. Bold mediaeval colours were called for, and anyone used to Tom’s work will know that he’s not really that into bold colours. So, I offered to do it. I worked in oil pastel because it’s my medium of preference. Good for the strong colours. An arse for scanning and impossible to pencil over.

Here’s an admittedly less colourful piece from that project…

For Hopeless Maine, we don’t want serious colour intensity, and we do have a lot of delicacy, so I moved over to pencils. Easier to scan, easy to pencil over, but not, I confess, quite as much fun. I had to figure out a whole new set of approaches for seas and landscapes – previously dealt with by smooshing the oils around. Unable to smoosh, I have to spend a lot more time physically getting the colour onto the pages (A3 for a standard comics page, if you were wondering!) It’s taken a toll on my hands, so music and crafting and been much less of an option for me over the last six months. I’m looking forward to a rebalance.

I’ve enjoyed being more involved in the process – by the time previous comics have come out, my involvement as the writer has felt distant. It’s been more fun being in on the whole thing. We’re evolving ways of working together and I like that process. What we do together is a long way from what we would do separately, and that’s rather cool.

Here’s a chapter cover from the next Hopeless Maine volume…

My crowning achievement for this book has been to learn how to do glows. Candle glows and eye glows, are very much part of Tom’s look, and were something he did when the scanned, hand drawn pages went into photoshop. I have found ways of getting something plausible onto the page, and this cheers me greatly. It was something I didn’t even attempt in the previous comic.

There’s finishing up to do, but the next volume of Hopeless Maine will be entirely uploaded to the publisher over the next few weeks. Copies are already on pre-order and we’re expecting it to be released in the summer. And before then, on to the next one, with an eye to a gentler pace, and me being able to do comics alongside crafting and playing music, without hurting my hands too much.


Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit

 

Sacred Art, a Hollow Bone for Spirit is a new book from Imelda Almqvist. As the title suggests, this is a book about sacred art. However, it’s published by Moon Books (this is where I first ran into Imelda) and Moon Books is not set up to do lavish, image-heavy publications. As a consequence, this is a book about sacred art that doesn’t have any images in it. This limitation has, I think, paid off rather well and led to a book that invites its readers to think and imagine rather than showing them what sacred art is.

The art in this book exists primarily in your head. By this means, you might start to see the forms sacred art could take for you, rather than being focused on what other people have done. There is nothing to be intimidated by, or directed by about how the art *should* look. How you imagine the art as you read the book may well take you towards your own process of sacred art-making in a way that being shown other people’s work might not.

In many ways, this is a philosophical book. There is a steady stream of small activities to explore, but the bulk of the book is an investigation of the nature of sacred art. As someone who trained as a fine artist and has worked with art in various capacities for many years, Imelda knows a great deal about art. She’s also been working with shamanism for a long time, and is well qualified to speak about the role of art in a spiritual and shamanic context.

While shamanism is the focus of the book, you don’t need to be on that path to benefit from reading it. I think this is an ideal text for people exploring the bard path as well. There’s so much to chew on about how and why and what we create, that anyone interested in exploring any form of creativity linked to any Pagan path will likely find something they can use.

In the absence of art, and being light on the how-to instructions, what this book leaves you with is the clarity that sacred art is something you do. It’s not something other people tell you how to do. It’s not something other people can give you marks out of ten for. You do not pass or fail on human terms here. If you can take onboard the philosophy and open yourself to working in this way, what follows is your personal journey, for which no maps are available.

For anyone serious about this journey, the book is rich with suggested reading and other resources to check out. You could take this on as a workbook and treat it as the core content of a spiritual art course, read all the extra materials, do all the exercises, and see where it takes you. Equally, you can read it from a place of curiosity and see what sticks. Imelda is clear that everyone needs creativity and everyone has the scope to be creative. For some, that will mean a devotion to sacred art, but the rest of us will benefit from whatever we are able to do.

Find out more about the book here – http://www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk/info2.cfm?info_id=225883