Tag Archives: art

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.


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.