Is art important? Would you say that we need art in our lives?
Art is a subjective word. Things that some people define as art others will define as trash or a con. In either case, it’s hard to argue against art as an important aspect of everyone’s life.
This is perfectly illustrated by Maleeha Jaffery who made the decision to forgo a trip abroad to explore the art on her doorstep in and around London.
Being half-asleep was a painful state of being. A state of being I realise now I was in my entire life. Before a series of events took me through the threshold and awoke me fully.
The feeling of always knowing there was more to know and more to see but just not being able to…
So why is Art so important?
I am not someone who has any creative talent in the visual arts. I scraped a C at Art GCSE many years ago and have always preferred words to visuals as a means of personal expression. I was a teacher for many years, in schools, colleges and within the criminal justice system – and my subject was always literature – the written word or the spoken word. I am not an Artist.
I have always loved exhibitions though.
Despite managing a large team these days, there is a part of me than cannot let go of actual teaching and group work with children in some form. My own manager is disdainful of this – what do I have a team for? That is their job. Over the years there is one group I have never been able to let go. A group for vulnerable girls in primary school, to increase their self-esteem, through using creative arts and relaxation and meditative techniques for children.
But why this group?
A few weeks ago I took a week off work and decided unusually for me, not to take the opportunity to travel abroad, as I usually do. I was going to have a week exploring the world on my doorstep. A very good friend and colleague of mine had given me a wonderful gift – unlimited access to a range of art exhibitions around the UK for a whole year, so it was time to start exploring. A few days away from a job that I love.
In those few days I first saw Bob and Roberta Smith’s ‘Art is your Human Right’, the highlight being a creative campaign to bring art and art education back into the political agenda, as awakening these interests must start with our children.
Feeling slightly nostalgic for aspects of my own childhood, I then visited the Dickens Museum in London (I was once in a school production of Oliver Twist). There was an inspired reimagining of A Christmas Carol and specifically the character of Scrooge and his path towards redemption, by some current art students. My personal favourite was ‘Not My Business’ two etchings from Vitoria Bastos, illustrating firstly how the enlightenment brought to Scrooge, was not in fact as a result of the 3 ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future who visited him, but was already there inside him.
A quote from the artist illustrates the second
“I chose hands to illustrate the lives Scrooge touched, consciously or not. Hands can also symbolise generosity, or the lack of it”
Then a hugely moving exhibition by the Chinese activist/artist Ai Wei Wei. In 2008 a devastating Earthquake struck the Sichuan district in China. The government refused to release the names of the victims or acknowledge the scale of the loss of life. Ai We Wei began a campaign to have the names of the victims released and mobilised the followers of his blog to do this. 5000 children were among the victims, as the earthquake had struck an area with a high density of schools which had been poorly physically constructed.
The exhibit itself comprised the transcription of the names of all of these thousands of children and almost 100 tonnes of the substandard, twisted, metal rods that had been used to construct these schools, that had been salvaged from the wreckage of the earthquake – and then painstakingly straightened by hand.
The feeling of walking into that space, reading the children’s names and seeing the tonnes of now straightened metal rods will stay with me forever.
Finally a beautiful and uplifting exhibition at the Wellcome Collection on Tibetan Temples and how various meditative practices are now becoming much more widespread around the Western world.
So why is Art important?
I went back to work and surprised all around me when asked where I had been travelling and replying that I hadn’t actually been abroad. I’d been exploring all the treasures on my doorstep in London.
The current creative arts group I run is in a special school for children with a range of learning difficulties.
They are different from children in mainstream school, in that they may never have ‘book intelligence’.
They are no different in other ways – their joy in creating is just the same.
But they respond better than most children to relaxation and meditative practices.
I am not an Artist, a critic, an expert or have any knowledge beyond that of the ordinary woman or man in the street when it comes to Art.
I can only really respond to what it is that I see and describe what that makes me think and feel and how this compels me to act.
Some interpretations of religious doctrine would have us believe that Art is a barrier to the divine. A distraction from the Almighty.
I see Art in all its forms as a way of expressing aspects of our collective spirit, for those of all faiths and none.
In the words of the great Sufi poet Rumi
“Set your sights on a place higher than your eyes can see”.
It’s all in your mind’s eye.
I am not an Artist…but I am an artist.
And so are you.