Tag Archives: art

Art and emotion

I’m writing this post on a bad day. I’m listening to the music that mattered to me in my teens, partly as a way of holding myself together, partly for comfort. This is hardly an unusual thing to do. Music has a huge power to connect us to different times and places in our own history. A song can bring back a whole summer, or a friendship circle. A song can represent a relationship, and all too often when relationships go wrong, it’s music we turn to for comfort.

There’s something uniquely powerful about being held for a few minutes by a stranger’s musical exploration of heartbreak. It eases the feelings of being alone in that, recognising our shared humanity as we suffer. 

People tend not to reflect much on happiness. When we’re happy, we just get on with it, usually. There isn’t the same urge to reflect and to try and understand why we are happy, or what happened to put us in this state. Grief and pain tend to invite introspection and because of that, we can end up seeing them as more intellectually meaningful states while our less considered happiness can seem trivial. This in turn informs how we value certain kinds of art – things that challenge us and reflect distress are often seen as more valuable than art forms that are designed to cheer and comfort.

We need all of the things. We need comfort, and reflection. We need things that lift our spirits and help us process our grief. None of these things is intrinsically more arty or important than any other. Good art is about being human, being real, and making sense of whatever comes our way. Of all the feelings we might have, happiness can be the most ephemeral and hardest to reach for. We live in a state of grief and loss, killing our own home and with most of us suffering immensely from the horrors of late stage capitalism. Right now it’s easy to create and share expressions of distress. Perhaps what we most need are truly heroic acts of creativity that show us how to feel something other than despair.


After the inspiration

Unhelpfully, creators are often depicted making their art in a rush of intense inspiration. In practice it doesn’t really work like that. The rush of inspiration is a wonderful thing, but the results are usually messy and need working on. After the inspiration comes the tidying up, and the working on whatever you’ve got.

What the rush of inspiration gives you is raw material. An idea, or a cluster of ideas for a thing. It might even give you a first draft, a sketch, a design. Then you have to sit down and develop it. The idea for a book has to be developed into a detailed plan perhaps, and then actually written. The poem written in the heat of the moment is probably going to need refining when your head isn’t on fire. The thing you drew in the heat of the moment might require reference material to develop into a finished piece.

It’s all too easy to become focused on the rush itself – which is an exciting part of the process. However, the idea that we can make a finished piece flat out from raw inspiration is so often a misleading one. Creativity is more than the initial rush of ideas and enthusiasm. The crafting part is just as much a part of the process. So is gathering your tool kit and learning how to use those tools. Learning about the form you are working in, finding your ancestors of tradition and your contemporary, living community is also an important part of the process.

For most people, the sudden rush of inspiration is a rare thing. If you wait for it to turn up then you could be waiting a long time for your art to happen. If you practice your craft skills, study your form, and work in more planned ways, you actually make more room in which inspiration can happen. It’s not just about becoming a wildfire of untamed imagination. Inspiration can be with you at any part of the process.


Spirits and Goddesses

These images were all drawn by me, using pencil, and without looking at any references. Partly I wanted to see how plausibly I could draw these figures without having to look at anything else. Once of them owes a lot to Neolithic Goddesses and none of them are meant to be realistic, but I did want to see what kind of bodies I can manage.

These drawings helped me think about what makes the representation of a body seem objectified, to me. I also came to the conclusion that the world has enough images of tormented, malnourished and impossible-sexualised female bodies. Probably we need more that celebrates and is rooted in joy and delight, both in terms of how the person creating the image feels about what they’re creating, and in terms of how the person is depicted.

What makes me happiest are depictions of people who are themselves happy and at home in their own skin.


Inner worlds – fiction

There are worlds inside you. 

This is the place I think of the most, even though the sun can be punishing. I know the landscape looks barren and unkind, yet there is a stark beauty here I cannot help but love. The story of this place is harsh. Terrible things happened here and we do not speak of that. What excites me is the knowledge that this is not the end of a story, but the place where dreaming begins. 

We are going to regreen this land, you and I. We will make water flow again, through the old channels that barely remember they were once rivers. When we are ready, the trees will spring up here again, and there will be lushness and beauty. 

There are worlds inside you. This world is also inside me. I feel the sand rasping in the wind. I feel the weight of the same sky. I have been burnished rock and endless desert. I remember.

In the end, we must take off this armour. We must lie down in the heat, and become the shade. Where we have merely survived, we must learn to flourish.

(art by Dr Abbey, text mine.)


Accessible art

Recently we had an art show in our home town. It’s an accessible gallery space, with ramps and an accessible toilet, and we did get one visitor on a mobility scooter.

Art is usually hung at a height that assumes the viewer is an adult, and standing up. We took the decision to hang art at various different heights so that some of it was actually inconvenient for standing adults – who could and did crouch down to have a look.

During the course of the week we had a lot of people bring children in. I had the pleasure of watching children work their way along the images that were at a good height for them, looking at the art and enjoying the experience. I’ve never been to a show that hung anything at a child’s eye level before.

It’s all too easy as an able bodied person to go into a space and only see how that space works for you. It’s all too easy to assume everyone else using the space will use it in the same way that you do. I’m committing to thinking more about this, and trying to make what I do in spaces more accommodating of more people.

Here’s a video of the exhibition in which you can see the child-level art, amongst other things.


Art with my ancestors

One of the things I do is to colour comics pages for the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series I do with Tom. Above is a work in progress – we start each chapter with a two page spread. Until now I’ve been doing them with pencils, but am now exploring a mix of pencils and oil pastels.

Pastels are better for colour intensity and covering large areas of paper – especially for land, sea and sky. Pencils are better for details. I can mix the two and get away with it. The oil pastels I’m using belonged to my grandmother. As I was working on this piece I realised that my sea and rocks look very much like her sea and rocks.

For the first twenty years of my life, I regularly spent time watching my grandmother creating art. She mostly did landscapes, seascapes and skyscapes. She was obsessed with tall ships, which I’m not. However, it clearly isn’t a coincidence that I feel most comfortable using oil pastels, and most confident when I’m doing images of land, sea and sky. My grandmother avoided architecture and technology, she tended to avoid people and still life as well. Of necessity, I’ve had to learn how to colour people – I like fabric but honestly faces still scare me. I’ve learned a lot from Dr Abbey about how to handle skin tones and that’s really helped.

We all learn from our families, we all have things passed down to us from our ancestors. Sometimes it’s obvious – but not always. It’s only this week that I’ve thought about the impact it had on me watching my grandmother make art, and just how much I learned from that experience.


Separating art from the artist

Should we draw a line between what people make and who they are the rest of the time? Is it possible to do so?

Firstly, to separate art from artist you have to not have been affected by whatever they did, or are doing. The person who can separate may well be experiencing privileges not available to others and is therefore under some obligation to proceed thoughtfully.

Is the creativity being used as a platform? Does it get this person access to victims? Is it giving them an opportunity to spread hate or cause harm? Is their economic value to their industry resulting in people pretending not to see the harm caused? Where this is true, the decision to consider the art as separate from the artist is the choice to be complicit in the harm they cause.

Where the artist is dead and can no longer hurt anyone directly, it might be less problematic to separate art and artist. However, the notion of whether that harm continues may be less visible to people with more privilege. If we continue to celebrate people who were harmful, and we do so by saying that the art is more important than the harm, what message does that send to the people and the wider communities they harmed? What does it tell future artists about what is acceptable?

Is it truly possible to separate someone’s behaviour from their art? If you’ve experienced the kind of nastiness they pedalled, that art is going to be tainted for you even if the specific content isn’t always visible. If I know someone was abusive, I can’t un-know that to view their art objectively even if I want to.

I don’t accept that ‘greatness’ in any field should give anyone a free pass on being a shitty human. I think for every shitty human who has managed to also be a ‘great’ creator there are many less visible people who are kinder and who do better work. Capitalism favours ruthlessness, self importance, and people who like having power over other people. Gentler people can be disadvantaged by the way the big business side of creative industries work. I’d rather seek out the less famous folk than support the ones whose creative platform has more to do with their pushiness than with their ability.

There are massive issues around who is allowed to be ‘great’ and shitty at the same time. The further you are from being a white, middle class, straight, cis guy, the less room you will be allowed to be considered great while being shitty. What’s indulged in this demographic isn’t allowed for everyone. While some are allowed to get away with almost anything, others are punished for not playing nicely and not doing what they are told – not playing nicely includes of course calling out the shit of the great white men. The more profit you make for other people, the more likely you are to be considered great and to be shielded from the consequences of your actions.

I can’t separate art from whatever I know about the artist. I can’t separate any aspect of human endeavour from whatever else a person is doing. If it’s something you find it useful or interesting to do – that’s fair enough, but please be alert to who gets harmed when we excuse certain kinds of behaviour on the grounds of certain kinds of output.


Equinox hare

I always find equinoxes challenging, as there isn’t a vast amount in the folk tradition I can draw on. There aren’t a lot of traditional songs with obvious connections to this time of year – that’s always an issue in rituals. I contemplated going with the ‘balance’ theme, but again there’s not much to draw on from my own culture. I thought about the Libran scales in the zodiac, but that’s an autumn sign. I thought about the Yin Yang from Taoist tradition. I have a deep love for and respect for Taoism, and it’s something I’ve explored a bit, but not enough to feel I should but a symbol on my altar for the spring equinox.

I settled on a hare because they are part of my local landscape. The mad March hare certainly has seasonal relevance, too. I put celandines and violets in the foreground because those are both seasonal plants. I’m happiest drawing plants, the hare was a bit outside my comfort zone, but it’s good to push sometimes.


Water Witches

Water magic is all about healing, and emotions. You place bowls of water in the moonlight to gather enchantment, and take healing baths.

Slowly, you learn to listen to the water. You discover that the water is full of sorrow.

There is plastic in the water, and pollution of all kinds. Death flows where there should be life. There is thirst in the land and in its creatures. You stop wondering about how to use water for magic, and start asking how to do magic for water.

You become a water witch. You go to the edge of the desert to make desalination equipment out of rubbish you scavenge from the dumps. You set up camp at the edge of a poisoned lake and dedicate years of your life to fishing out the plastic, filtering out the oil, bringing the plants back. You make sand dams. You try to become a beaver. You make wetlands and plant reeds and dream about hippos.

In a land of intermittent rain, you build barriers across places where the water floods. Your back hurts all the time from bending and digging, but when the rains come you are ready, and some of your dams hold, and ponds form. The soil will not wash away this time, and some of the water will seep back into the earth rather than evaporating.

When you weep for all that has been lost and damaged, you understand that water is all about healing, and emotions.

(Art by Dr Abbey – these are concepts and sketches I’m playing with, but i think we’re going somewhere with all of this…))


Art and the Altar

What do you offer? While I very much like candles and incense, I’m conscious every time I strike a match that fire is part of the problem at the moment. Humans need to burn less, and burning things as an act of reverence or prayer makes me deeply uneasy. But, what do you do with an altar if you aren’t burning things?

I’ve been experimenting with having an altar space for some months now, and trying to figure out how to do that in a way that makes sense to me. I’m interested in the way altars can function as spiritual instillations – I see plenty of photos online of the sacredness people create by making beauty. Changing what’s on an altar to reflect the season, or a festival, or a specific focus can clearly be a lovely thing to do.

I’m short of space. There is nowhere I can keep things that could be on the altar – either it lives there or it doesn’t. I do bring in seasonal finds, but that’s occasional and it happens when it does. I’ve tried liquid offerings, but I can’t leave them out – I’m clumsy and bump into things, and also there is a cat who at some point is going to get himself to the top of the bookcase.

I’m currently experimenting with the idea of making art for the altar. It’s something I can do at need, for whatever reason occurs to me. I can use it to reflect seasons and festivals. It is an offering of time and care, and it means trying to make something of beauty. It’s a lot cheaper than buying things to put on the altar, and paper doesn’t take much storing.

My first serious attempt at this was a set of three roses for Valentine’s Day. I’m not much into the hetronormative romance as performance. I don’t like commercialism around this day or any of the other social festivals. But, I also had a lot of other things going on and I wanted to honour the idea of love, and this seemed like a way to do it.